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What happened when I snorted the horse tranquilliser ketamine at my teenage daughter's party – by a middle-class mother

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From the other side of the party, a friend of my daughter’s waves at me. I’m ecstatic to see her. I try to wave back but I can’t move my arm.

I stare at it incredulously. ‘Send the message,’ my brain tells me. ‘Pick up your hand and use the levers in your elbow to move it up in the air. Turn your wrist to the right. Spread your fingers. Move your hand from left to right.’

I concentrate hard and, finally, I can wave back — jerkily and a little mechanically but recognisably a wave. The friend has, of course, long since moved on.

I’m waving blankly at a group of quizzical young people in my own kitchen while peering out from within a body that no longer seems to belong to me. The euphoria that had buzzed through my entire body only moments before ebbs and turns into something else entirely. Fear.

This wasn’t how I had expected my experiment with the illegal ‘rave drug’ to go. Yes, this is me, a 55-year-old mother of three, confessing that at a party at our house hosted by my 19-year-old daughter last month, I took the illegal Class B rave drug ketamine, known on the streets and in clubs as ‘Special K’ or ‘Vitamin K’.

Figures out this week show the illegal use of ketamine — known as a horse tranquilliser but also used as a medical sedative for humans — is at a record high among young people

Why on earth did I do it? I’m not an ageing raver, nor a criminal. I’m much more comfortable watching University Challenge on the sofa with my husband, or gossiping with my similarly-menopausal friends about the benefits of Pilates.

The answer lies in my long mission to be a good mother. I am trying ketamine for the sake of my kids.

Figures out this week show the illegal use of ketamine — known as a horse tranquilliser but also used as a medical sedative for humans — is at a record high among young people.

The number of 16-to-24-year-olds taking it has quadrupled in a decade, partly because it’s cheap (at £20 per gram) and partly because, wrongly, it’s seen as a ‘safe, fun’ mood-enhancer without the headline-grabbing calamities of the more expensive MDMA.

Elon Musk says he uses it on prescription to treat symptoms of depression.

Given its obvious popularity, I wanted to know what I was dealing with when it came to warning my children, aged 16, 17 and 19, about it.

My policy around drugs has always been to come at it from a point of knowledge. I see little point in lectures of disapproval on subjects I know nothing about. I have always thought the best way to learn about something, and thus to offer a properly credible perspective, is to try the thing for myself.

You can call it naïve — I think of it as the opposite.

I want them to have all the information they need, not from TikTok, not just from ‘boring’ catastrophising in school anti-drug lectures and not solely from their peers, but directly from me.

I know some will roll their eyes at the dinner table conversations we have had, but I firmly believe it’s an effective way of keeping my children safe. Over the years, we’ve covered most illegal substances. To be honest, I knew quite a bit already from my own youth.

Spliff, I told them, ignoring their smirks at my use of such an uncool moniker for cannabis, just makes you sleepy and unable to get out of bed and get on with your life. Cocaine is expensive, turns you into a shouty bore and is often cut with nostril-strafing horrors like laundry detergent.

Molly? Oh, you mean MDMA? In our day, we called it ecstasy. Well, if you want to lose your individuality and all discernment and get yourself arrested for making faces at a policeman, be my guest, but it’s not worth it: the best night I ever had at the Ministry of Sound was when I danced until dawn and drank only water.

The number of 16-to-24-year-olds taking ketamine has quadrupled in a decade, partly because it's cheap and partly because, wrongly, it's seen as a 'safe, fun' mood-enhancer

The number of 16-to-24-year-olds taking ketamine has quadrupled in a decade, partly because it’s cheap and partly because, wrongly, it’s seen as a ‘safe, fun’ mood-enhancer

This attitude worked well for a while but as they got older — and, more importantly, as I got older — I could tell I was losing them. My ‘cool mum’ persona lost its ability to convince as soon as I hit 50, and now they saw straight through it.

Even my husband, hitherto loyal to what he called my ‘I’m mad, me’ anti-drugs approach, started to snigger when I tackled the discovery of a metal cylinder of NOS (nitrous oxide, or laughing gas) in my eldest son’s backpack with a damning story of the inefficacy of the gas-and-air I had inhaled in labour.

‘I’m not sure he’s really with you on that one,’ he mocked. ‘He’s at the Reading festival, and you’re trying to dissuade him from laughing gas by saying it wasn’t much good for your contractions? Give it a rest, love.’

So I distilled everything into one simple mantra, ‘never take a pill’, because I truly believed that therein lay the true danger of drugs. ‘You just never know with pills,’ I lectured the kids. ‘You don’t know what’s in them, you don’t know the dosage, you don’t know what they’ve been diluted with. Just. Avoid.’

And then there was ketamine. My generation didn’t encounter it at parties in the 1990s, but a conversation with my children and their cousins convinced me how widespread it was for theirs.

‘Everyone’ does it in the cousins’ peer groups, I was told — it’s at every party, every club night, where it’s used often as a cheaper alternative to expensive alcohol.

And yet ketamine can also be very dangerous. Its use was cited as a factor in the demise of Friends’ Chandler Bing actor Matthew Perry.

Ketamine has been implicated, too, in the tragic deaths of 41 students at UK universities since 1991, with seven in 2021 alone. With my eldest already at university and the second about to go, I feel an urgent need to understand why young people are taking it and to tell them about the risks.

Which is how I find myself at my daughter’s party, looking nervously at a young man I don’t know, but who I have overheard laughing about using ketamine at a friend’s birthday the week before.

‘Do you have some now?’ I ask, smiling as if this is something mothers in their mid-50s ask every day. ‘I’d love to try it.’ The poor boy looks terrified. ‘No, seriously,’ I assure him. ‘This is what I do. I try everything once.’

He’s a well-brought-up lad, whoever he is, so he finds himself unable to refuse his hostess. We go into my husband’s empty office, just off the party room. He takes out a little plastic ‘baggie’ from his pocket and tips out a pinch of white crystals on to the space between my thumb and forefinger.

‘Um, hold your other nostril closed and sniff that,’ he says awkwardly.

‘Just one bump, OK?’ And just like that, it’s done, and we go back to the party.

I’m not afraid, exactly. I know what I am doing is illegal, but I also think it’s not innately dangerous, in the same way that driving at 95mph on an empty motorway at dawn is illegal but not innately dangerous — unless you overdo it, or do something wrong.

Ketamine has been implicated in the tragic deaths of 41 students at UK universities since 1991, with seven in 2021 alone

Ketamine has been implicated in the tragic deaths of 41 students at UK universities since 1991, with seven in 2021 alone

In the heat of the moment, this is how I rationalise it. All I have to do is avoid the ‘k-hole’ — the ketamine equivalent of a very bad trip, when people take too much and have wild hallucinations, often finding themselves immobilised.

My nephew had described seeing his grandmother being given ketamine by paramedics to anaesthetise her pain and calm her when she fell down the stairs at his house.

‘I knew she’d gone down a k-hole when she started wittering on about the lovely blue light that was coming out of the paramedic’s eyes,’ he said afterwards. So even that sounded harmless. Yet even with the tiny dose I tried, my experience is very far from what I had been told by my nephews would be a ‘buzzy high’.

I do not have a pleasant out of body moment, but instead am rooted inside this restrictive armour of limbs. The lights of the party, which had very briefly seemed to glow with lambent warmth and possibility, rapidly dim and cool.

I try to move away from the throng but never have I been so acutely aware of having to laboriously plan my movements.

My heart is beating fast, but the rest of my body is agonisingly slow. The apparent split between the two makes me feel anxious and sweaty.

Almost the worst of it is that my mind remains horribly clear. I note my symptoms dispassionately and tell myself to focus on getting away from the party and riding this out until I regain control over my treacherous cage of a body. But it’s too late. Because a young woman has noticed my unnatural stillness and is standing in front of me, her hand on my arm.

‘Are you OK?’ There is a note of concern in her voice.

‘She’s fine,’ says the provider of the ketamine, who is still standing next to me. ‘Yeah, I gave her her first bump of ket and I think now she’s feeling it a little.’ The young woman’s eyes widen. ‘Ket? Ketamine? Mum? What the hell?’

Yes, she’s my daughter. My humiliation is complete. None of it goes the way I planned. I stand there, rooted to the spot, staring guiltily at my eldest child. Not in a k-hole, not hallucinating or actually paralysed, nothing so dramatic, just conscious that I am not the master of my own body.

And inwardly I’m furious with myself. I was meant to get through this quickly, then present my findings to my children as another example of their level-headed mum doing her research, and now here I am, caught in the act like a teenager, by my teenager.

Even worse, I can feel the ketamine making me grin inanely, giggle stupidly. I don’t think I have ever felt so foolish.

‘Oh, Mum,’ says my daughter heavily. ‘You’re so embarrassing.’

We get through it, of course — the effects of a single small ‘bump’ last no longer than half an hour — though I have sacrificed all parental dignity for an unknowable length of time because, naturally, my daughter can’t wait to rat me out to her siblings. My husband is aghast. My authority within the family is at an all-time low.

A month later, I think that my ketamine experiment hasn’t totally backfired because my daughter sees for herself how demeaning it is to be ‘caught’.

I’m quick to share my observations about the lack of pros and the major cons. I am also careful not to let on about the lack of toxic after-effects, partly because I still feel poisoned by shame.

But when I tell an A&E doctor friend about my humiliation, I realise what a risk I was taking.

‘The trouble with ketamine is that the more often you use it, the more you need to get the same high, but then it’s easy to get the new dosage wrong. After that initial pinch or ‘bump’, casual users don’t know how bad more can be — and getting just a little amount wrong can tip you into an unresponsive state, which is what we see more and more of at work,’ she says gravely.

‘Repeated use — but sometimes just from the first use, if you’re unlucky — can lead to ket bladder, where ketamine interferes with the lining of the bladder, and makes users permanently needing to go to the toilet every 30 minutes or so.

‘There’s also a small risk of ’emergence phenomenon’ which kicks in as the ketamine is wearing off, making the person very paranoid and psychotic, and sometimes frighteningly aggressive. It’s rare but scary for us in A&E.’

Our young people are tempted into ketamine use by its allegedly gentle effect and low cost, but find themselves sucked into increasing their usage by the need to chase the same high. Now even their peers are attacking its popularity, with London DJs accusing it of killing the clubbing scene, the dance floors full of ‘zombie ketters’ shuffling around.

Too many teenagers view ketamine as temptingly fun and just a little bit rebellious. The reality, as I can testify, is uncomfortable and weird. I think I need to re-appraise my policy around drugs — this is one experiment I wish I’d never done.

Names have been changed.

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