Cut-off proposal for the detection of ketamine in hair

Forensic Sci Int. 2015 Mar;248:119-23. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2014.12.030. Epub 2015 Jan 8.


Ketamine is a powerful anesthetic drug used in both human and veterinary surgery, but it is also commonly misused because of its psychotropic properties. Since the abuse of this drug has been reported in many countries worldwide, its determination in hair samples is offered as a specialist test by hundreds of laboratories. However, unlike other common drugs of abuse, a cut-off level for ketamine in hair has not been fixed yet. Therefore, aim of this study is to propose a concentration value for ketamine in hair analysis, in order to discriminate between chronic and occasional use, and between active use and external contamination. After considering the chemical properties of this molecule, and the experimental data collected in our laboratory or reported in several other published studies, we propose a cut-off level of 0.5ng/mg, as indicative of repeated exposure to ketamine. Additionally, we suggest that the detection of the metabolite norketamine should be mandatory to prove active intake and exclude false positive result from external contamination. Thus, a reasonable cut-off value for norketamine could be fixed at 0.1ng/mg, while the minimal concentration ratio norketamine/ketamine may be positively established at 0.05.

Keywords: Cut-off; Hair; Ketamine.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anesthetics, Dissociative / analysis*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods
  • Female
  • Forensic Toxicology
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Ketamine / analogs & derivatives
  • Ketamine / analysis*
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Young Adult


  • Anesthetics, Dissociative
  • Ketamine
  • norketamine