Study sounds alarm for social users of ketamine

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 January, 2010, 12:00am

The use of ketamine and alcohol together kills twice as many brain cells as use of ketamine alone, research by the Chinese University has found.

The finding sends a warning to social drug users, who are more likely to combine alcohol and ketamine when socialising in entertainment venues than habitual users of ketamine, according to the officer in charge of a centre that provides counselling for drug users.

Because habitual users have less money and fewer friends, they are less likely to attend gatherings and take drugs along with alcohol, Carol Ng Suet-kam of the Evergreen Lutheran Centre said.

'People used to think habitual users were exposed to more harm, but the findings indicate we can't be sure,' she said.

The university's research was conducted by professor of anatomy David Yew on a group of 20 mice.

All the mice were given ketamine for six months. Then 15 of them were given red wine and ketamine daily, while the other five were fed ketamine alone. The volume of red wine given to each mouse was roughly equivalent to two glasses for a human.

Within two weeks, nine of the 15 mice died, but none of the five only given ketamine died.

'It shows there is definitely an interaction between ketamine and alcohol,' Yew said.

More brain cells were killed when the two were mixed, but further research was necessary to determine how much alcohol and ketamine would kill a person, he said.

A person would die if the brain cells responsible for controlling the heart and breathing were killed, he said.

Taking just ketamine affected the activity of the brain and could result in various conditions, the research found.

When the part of the brain responsible for controlling movement became too active, the person would suffer from a disorder that plagued them with involuntary movement. The person would have irregular contractions in different muscles.

Because of the dance-like appearance of the twisting movements, the condition was called chorea, a Greek word meaning dance.

In contrast, if the drug caused activity of part of the brain to slow down, people could suffer from Parkinson's disease, a form of dementia.

At least HK$1 million was needed to conduct a similar study of the effects of alcohol and ketamine on the nervous systems of monkeys, Yew said.

In the first three quarters of last year, 2,292 people were newly reported as ketamine users, comprising 68.3 per cent of all newly reported drug users.

The inauguration ceremony of the school of biomedical sciences in the faculty of medicine took place at the university yesterday, and a symposium was held.

The school was formed in June last year but the inauguration and symposium were delayed so overseas professors could attend.