Ketamine is becoming the new drug of choice for many young people, with increasing numbers of users injecting it to maintain their "high", a survey has found.
Users are taking higher doses because of the relatively inexpensive cost. At £20 a gram, ketamine is half the price of cocaine, the DrugScope poll found.
Researchers discovered that use of the drug is on the rise in nine out of 20 areas surveyed. An investigation by Druglink magazine found that rather than snorting or swallowing ketamine, more people are injecting it in order to strengthen their hallucinations.
Ketamine, also known as "Special K" or "Ket" or simply "K", has been ranked as more harmful than the class A drug ecstasy in a survey of harm carried out by Professor David Nutt, who chairs the government's drug advisory panel, but it is only rated as a class C drug.
Martin Barnes, DrugScope's Chief Executive, said: "These trends are concerning. Ketamine has been increasingly common on the club scene but there is worrying evidence that people are experimenting with larger amounts or are even injecting the drug. Ketamine's harms increase considerably at high doses and injecting users risk exposure to blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis C or HIV."
It is used as a horse tranquilliser in low doses, but in recreational doses of up to 200 times the medical dose ketamine can cause heart or lung failure.
"The government and police authorities need to make a 'stand' on drugs totally. So many of our younger generation are being dragged into the drug culture that they now perceive it as normal behaviour to get totally 'off their heads' every time they go clubbing. Those in authority and parents who turn a blind eye to this situation are totally to blame. My son has now turned to ketamine for the higher 'buzz' and it has split our family apart. I have informed the police authorities in Lincoln of dates and locations of the drugs being sold in my son's social network but they have done nothing. I think they cannot be bothered as there will not be a result and therefore not worth the paperwork involved in arresting these youngsters." - B Collinge, Lincoln