Government drug advisers say ketamine should be upgraded to a Class B drug following new evidence of its dangers.
People caught possessing the substance could face up to five years in prison, rather than two years, under the recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
There is “a worrying trend of serious bladder damage occurring among frequent users”, the ACMD said, as it released a report on the issue.
Prof Les Iversen – the ACMD chairman – commented: “In some cases this has led to young people having their bladder removed”.
Currently ketamine is listed as a Class C drug, but raising it to Class B would group it with cannabis and amphetamines.
Figures show requests for treatment of ketamine-related problems rose sharply from 114 to 845 cases in five years.
The drug is most commonly misused by men aged 20 to 24, but is safely used in various areas of human and animal medicine.
According to the advisers, as well as potential damage to the bladder, effects of taking ketamine can include impaired consciousness, agitation and hallucinations.
The Home Office and Department of Health will hold a consultation on the ACMD’s recommendation before deciding whether to make the change.
“It is a potentially dangerous drug at high doses and with frequent use with serious psychological and physical implications for those who misuse it.
“That is why we have recommended it is re-classified to Class B and that there is an improved public health message around the risks associated with ketamine”, Prof Les Iversen said.
However, making ketamine a Class B drug will “entail a host of added, often undesirable, side-effects”, Guardian commentator Max Daly claimed.
A student caught with “enough ketamine to share among their friends for a night out will face five years in jail, rather than two”, he said.
“As most parents, families and taxpayers would agree, it’s generally preferable for society as a whole to keep non-violent citizens who just want to get high out of prison rather than in it”, Mr Daly remarked.