China and Ketamine

15 Feb

China and Ketamine

In recent years China and Hong Kong have both seen an exponential growth in the use of Ketamine, especially amongst its younger population. Both parties blame the other for the increasing figures. The extremely low market price and its easy accessibility has made ketamine immeasurably appealing to the young populace.  One gram of ketamine sells for $13, whilst cocaine sells for $103 (Chiou, 2009). Many young users have compared buying the drug to ordering a pizza, ‘with deliveries straight to your door’ (Chiou, 2009).  Commissioner for Narcotics Sally Wong believes that this growth in popularity has led to a direct increase in the arrests of users, as well as sellers with one as young as 13 for drug offences (Chiou, 2009).

Perhaps Chinas increasing age gap is partly to blame in the ‘alienation’ of the younger population, this is perhaps correlated with the rise in drug use. By 2050 more than a quarter of the population will be over 65 years old (Bailey et al, 2012). Different generations have different attitudes. In the late 70s and early 80s, the Chinese government (Bailey et al, 2012) supported and spread a campaign of a “later, longer, fewer” lifestyle. This encouraged people to marry later, to have wider age gaps between children and also fewer children overall, they also implemented the One Child policy which was the governments attempt to control the population to help stimulate the economy (Bailey et al, 2012). China’s world famous ‘One Child policy’ has resulted in a huge number of kids almost raising themselves, as the parents are both usually working and there are no siblings. These factors have culminated perhaps in a tearing of the fabric of Chinese culture.

An additional reason for perhaps the rising popularity of drugs amongst the youth is the ‘rise of the middle class’. China has experienced unprecedented economic growth since 1979 (Deng, 2008), with economic growth occurring in 3 stages (Cranshaw, 2014) because of the reforms, the economy was allowed to become more open. This rise of the middle class has led to a whole new group of Chinese youth with wealth, who have moved from the rural areas of western China into the huge bubbling super cities of the Eastern Coast of China (Global times, 2014). Zhong Yan, a Dean of the northeast Jilin Police College, aptly explained the ‘crisis’ “Young people in China wish to be ‘edgy’ and consider the ability to take K as a criterion of being ‘cool’” wrote (Yan, 2006)

Authorities have now decided to take the unusual step of random school drug tests to directly target and control the substance abuse in the young (Tan Ee Lyn, 2011). This is a positive step forward; as for many years the Chinese government turned a blind eye to substance abuse, with perhaps too much focus in implementing an open market policy. In the UK for example we have an established open market, thus can pursue reducing the black market economy.

Hong Kong’s government has also been accused of rather lax restrictions against drug misuse within the financial expat community (Danwei, 2010). Substance abuse has been widely reported amongst white worker collars sent overseas on business. Hong Kong’s government apparently has been turning a blind eye to such behaviour in order to keep their status as one of the world’s largest financial hubs (Danwei, 2010). The common use of drugs within financial industries was highly publicized in this year’s film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, which highlighted exactly how ubiquitous drug use has become within the finance industries.

Cracking down on ketamine is particularly difficult in comparison with other narcotics as it is legally produced and shipped for medical use in both human and veterinary medicine. This legal availability has increased its prominence as a recreational drug. There have been many reports of criminal gangs targeting veterinary practices and hospitals to raid and gain access to very large quantities of the drug, which go on to the black market (UNODC, 2010). In order to combat this, China has now limited production to only five licensed factories to produce ketamine in an attempt to stem the free flow.

Ketamine is known by many street names, ‘Special K’, ‘Kity-kat’, or, simply ‘K’, it is most commonly taken in powder form, but also can be taken in a tablet or liquid form (WHO, 2006). Sometimes ketamine is mixed with synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and then sold as other drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy because it looks similar and gains a higher price than straight ketamine.

Ketamine has psychedelic effects that can create insights into the perception of personality, self-awareness and reality. In sub-anesthetic doses it does not usually lower breathing and heart rates. (Timeout, 2011) It also has dissociative effects, which can create a sense of, disconnect with reality, ‘floating’ and ‘dreamlike’ and lasts for up to two hours.

The risks of taking ketamine are that you are quite disconnected with the world, so hence are more susceptible to danger. You are sometimes not in control of your body and have a reduced perception of pain with increased hallucinations and paranoia. The effects begin about ‘30 seconds after an intravenous injection, two to four minutes after an intra-muscular injection, five to 10 minutes after snorting or intra-nasal use and about 20 minutes after an oral dose on an empty stomach’ (Timeout, 2011).

The emergence of ketamine on the synthetic drug scene has mostly gone unnoticed until quite recently in many parts of the world. The government in the UK for example has been forced to address its growing popularity and increasing number of health problems, (namely severe bladder problems) by re-classifying ketamine from a class C to a B (BBC, 2014). So how should China address this growing health and social issue? First by educating the young of the dangers of consuming high amounts of Ketamine. Many people understand the dangers of Heroin, however the relative ‘newness’ of Ketamine means that we are only now becoming aware of the high health and psychological risks it carries. Ketamine in China isn’t at all vilified as it is here in the UK; it is seen as more socially acceptable. A report published this year suggests that ketamine rarely has fatal risks and when it does it is because it has been mixed with other drugs, in despite of this, acute risks like reduced pain perception can lead to severe health risks. So to educate the young of China about consumption in moderation or abstinence would perhaps be the best way in reducing the health risks and incidences of addiction.

Word Count- 1098


Pauline Chiou (2009) “Hong Kong youth caught in wave of ketamine addiction” CNN ASIA [online] [Accessed 15 February 2014]

Bailey. D, et al, (2012) “Aging China: Changes and challenges”, BBC News Asia, [online] [Accessed 15 February 2014]

Deng, X., Huang, J., Rozelle, S., & Uchida, E. (2008). Growth, population and industrialization, and urban land expansion of China. Journal of Urban Economics, 63(1), 96-115.

Cranshaw. M, (10-03-2014), “Urbanisation and China’s rising middle class”, Understanding Modern China Lecture, Southampton University.

Global times, (2014), “More rural Chinese migrants, to enjoy urban living under government plan”, Global Times, [online]  [Accessed 14 February 2014]

Yan. Z, (2006),Wanfang Data [online] [Accessed 14 February 2014]

Tan Ee Lyn (2011). “Asia’s party drug Ketamine carries incontinence risk” REUTERS [online] [Accessed 14 February 2014]

Danwei (2010). “Bankers of Hong Kong” DANWEI [online] [Accessed 14 February 2014]

UNOBC (2010). “Ketamine sweeps the rave scene” UNOBC [online] [Accessed 14 February 2014]

WHO (2006). “Critical review of Ketamine” WHO [online] [Accessed 14 February 2014]

Timeout Hong Kong (2011) “Lost in the K Hole” TIMEOUT [online] [Accessed 14 February 2014]

BBC (2014). “Ketamine to become a class B drug” BBC News [online] [Accessed 14 February 2014]


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