Experiments in voluntary death Ketamine research study

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The following sections will be based on results that emerged from a research study that I carried out among a group of 36 ketamine recreational users, who tried the substance in order to experience its intriguing effects. Timothy Leary called these 'experiments in voluntary death' (Leary 1997: 375). In order to fully grasp the meaning of these experiences, I suggest that you suspend any possible judgment or habitual thought about drug-related experiences, and try to assume an open and unprejudiced attitude towards the accounts that you are about to read. The discussion will continue in the next chapter where I will present a comparison between ketamine experiences and those reported by a group of 36 individuals who had NDEs as a result of either (1) a cardiac arrest or (2) other life-threatening circumstances, but always while awake.

Methodological issues

For recruitment purposes, a general request was made via popular announcements and through a network of informants for persons who would be willing to provide an 'account' of their ketamine experience(s). The study was also advertised on the Internet. A web-site was created and kept updated for the first two years of the project.11 This facilitated easier and faster access to information. If respondents had both a previous recreational ketamine experience and recollected what they believed to be an NDE, they were invited to fill in a validated and standardized 16-item questionnaire, known among researchers as the 'Greyson NDE Scale' (Greyson 1983). This has been successfully validated in previous NDE studies (Parnia et al. 2001). A score of 7 or over is accepted as compatible with an NDE.

Those 36 respondents who described an experience suggestive of an NDE and also reported a minimum score of 7 on the NDE scale were invited to a face-to-face interview. Answers to the questionnaire were used as a basis for the discussion, which was carried out as an open-ended interview. Subjects' interviews were recorded and notes were taken as well. Overall, 65 subjects made at least an initial electronic contact and sent me online their ketamine experience(s). After an initial analysis, 40 subjects were invited to fill in the Greyson scale, and four of them did not reach the cut-off score of 7. In those four cases, most of the psychoactive experiences reported involved either vivid dreams or auditory/visual hallucinations, but did not include any experiences suggestive of an NDE. All participants gave informed consent to participate in the study and stated that they had fully recovered and that they did not develop a problematic use of the substance. The SOAS, University of London, Ethics Committee granted the study approval. Interviews were held in the UK, Europe, Tokyo and the USA.

Socio-demographic profile

All the participants had a well-defined socio-demographic profile. A male component slightly prevailed (56 per cent), although the female group was also significant (44 per cent); 94 per cent were single. The youngest person I interviewed was 21 years old and the oldest 45 years old.

Fifteen participants were in full-time occupation (42 per cent), thirteen were students (36 per cent), five (14 per cent) were unemployed and three (8 per cent) were involved in other activities. In this category I have included two individuals who were engaged in military service, and one young mother who was taking care of her newborn infant.

Sixteen participants (44 per cent) were educated to BA level. Three (8 per cent) had a lower degree. Fifteen (42 per cent) had a Masters degree and three (8 per cent) had reached a PhD level.

Regarding nationality, 9 individuals (25 per cent) were from the UK, 23 (64 per cent) from continental Europe, 2 (6 per cent) from the USA and 1 (3 per cent) from Japan. Participants of one nationality often advised me to interview friends of the same nationality.

Use of ketamine

All 36 participants had tried ketamine at least once. Twelve had consumed the substance less than 5 times, five between 5 and 10 times, while the majority of the group were more experienced ketamine users, having taken it on up to 2,000 occasions. These figures did not necessarily indicate the current use of the drug. In 25 per cent of the cases, the last occasion of ketamine use had occurred within the last month, but none of them had taken it within the previous week. In the remaining cases, last occasion of use occurred in the previous 1-60 months. Typically, ketamine was taken intranasally (29 per cent), but 9 per cent of the participants had injected it intramuscularly, 19 per cent intravenously, and 5 per cent had smoked it. No ketamine ingestion was reported. Ketamine typical dosage ranged between 20 and 150 mg, although most participants were guessing the dose and had no objective evidence of the purity.

Interestingly, all those I interviewed claimed that the first consumption of ketamine had resulted in the most intense experiences. As a consequence, some participants stopped taking it because 'it didn't work any longer'. Some others carried on taking it for its 'stimulant' effects. This phenomenon has been observed in previous studies (Jansen 2001: 28). Participants asserted that after a while its effects turned out to be similar to those induced by cocaine, but nevertheless they preferred ketamine because it was cheaper on the street market.

A relatively high number of people (12) claimed to have used ketamine in order to stimulate their 'creative insights'. Most of these were musicians, street artists, singers, writers or art students. As Susan Blackmore has pointed out in an article published in the Daily Telegraph, this phenomenon has been little emphasized in academic studies.12 She explains how a wide range of substances, including ketamine, inspired her work and career. Francis Crick claimed that he was under the influence of small doses of LSD when he first deduced the double-helix structure of DNA nearly 50 years ago,13 and Kary Mullis, who won a Nobel Prize in 1993, said that the idea for the Polymerase Chain Reaction, which revolutionized the role that DNA samples play in crime detection (among much else) came to him while he was affected by LSD. He discussed this in a BBC Horizon documentary called 'Psychedelic Science'.

Use of other substances

All 36 participants had smoked cannabis at least once in their lives or had taken MDMA (also known as 'ecstasy'). Thirty-four (94 per cent) had tried an amphetamine of some sort (especially 'speed' powder), 91 per cent cocaine, 97 per cent LSD, and 86 per cent 'magic mushrooms' (psilocybin). They were less likely to have taken anabolic steroids (6 per cent), solvents (5.5 per cent) or opiates (16 per cent).

Perception of time

To the question 'Did time seem to be speeded up?', 47.7 per cent of the participants (17) answered that everything seemed to be happening at once, or that time stopped, or lost all its meaning. This was followed by 16 participants who perceived a temporal acceleration, especially during the initial part of the experience, while three (8 per cent), perceived a complete absence of time during the experience. In most of the cases, the initial 'rush' ended in timelessness and only at this stage did time lose all its meaning. Miss C., a 21-year-old girl, who was also the youngest person I interviewed, commented: 'Initially, it goes very quickly. You hear a buzzing sound14 and images pass very fast in front of you one after the other. You go down a dark spiral with a light at the end. Once you are there, the real time doesn't exist any more.'

In a few other cases the buzzing sound was generated by the acceleration of 'travelling down' a dark tunnel. It was also described as a strange noise. Participants often tried to reproduce it during the interviews.

Frequency of visions

'Were your thoughts speeded up?' Several participants observed that the word 'thoughts' was unsuitable to describe their experiences, because they were devoid of rational thinking. Mr T., a 23-year-old, observed: 'On ketamine you don't think like you do in the everyday life. Ketamine does everything for you. You cannot control it. It goes very fast!' Participants seem to prefer the term 'vision'. Mr. W, another interviewee, said: 'Having a ketamine trip is like watching a movie. You see one scene after another, but you never know what is coming after.'

Other participants came to similar conclusions. Miss C., a 22-year-old, said: 'Ketamine visions go from 3D to 2D. They run very quickly. Do you know when you take a picture? Ketamine has the same click, click, click . . . effect and everything becomes flat, like in a photograph.'

The majority of the group reported that their 'visions' were very fast (38.8 per cent), 30.5 per cent faster than usual, and 30.6 per cent did not notice any change.

Life review

The third question on the Greyson NDE Scale concerns the vision or sense of reliving life events, which Moody (1975) called the 'life review'. Some (11 per cent) of those interviewed answered that they were able to remember past events, while (17 per cent) said that their past flashed out of control in front of them.

Such visions were described as extremely vivid and always as visual records. Miss B., a 21-year-old student, commented: 'It was like I was watching the movie of my life. I never thought it possible.' She described her life review as happening in reverse order (from the present back to her birth). The case of Miss E., a 32-year-old, was rather different. She visualized only a very specific moment of her life:

I was surprised, and a bit scared, when I saw myself in my family house at the age of 16. My father was staring at me. Suddenly the vision stopped on the face of my father and I have heard a voice saying: 'Have you seen the eyes of your father?' So I looked deeply into his eyes and I saw lots of sorrow and disappointment about my behaviour. It surprised me a lot because I had completely forgotten about the event. I wasn't a good daughter at that time and this has left me with many regrets.

Miss E. told me that after this experience she made many attempts to stay in touch with her father. Sadly, he passed away two years after the experience. She said: 'I always will be thankful to that experience, because it helped me to understand my past mistakes and to regain a good relationship with my father shortly before he passed away.'

Understanding of the universe

The majority of those interviewed (53 per cent) felt a sense of total understanding of the universe. So it was for Mr B., a 32-year-old, a regular ketamine user who said:

My ketamine experiences helped me to understand that all things in the universe, material and spiritual, originate from the same source and are related to each other as if they were one family. Past, present, future are all contained in the same life force from which we originate. Only few times I have reached this dimension on ketamine. I have been doing it for several years now, but nothing happens any more.

Six of them (16.6 per cent) answered that they 'understood everything about themselves or others'. Miss S., who took some ketamine powder at home with her boyfriend, said:

For the first time I was seeing myself so clearly in another [her partner] and then as divided into many other people and the entire cosmos. I felt a strong sense of unity. It will never happen again.

Other participants came out with statements such as: 'I thought I was dead'. 'I didn't exist any more as "me", but I actually was a small part of a cosmic system', or 'I spoke a universal language, which regulates the entire earth and the planets', or 'I enjoyed a state of absolute freedom while melting down with the universe in its totality'. Some said that the experience made them understand the meaning of the Tao, where the yin (feminine, dark and passive) alternates with the yang (masculine, light and active). Eleven (30 per cent) did not report these kinds of experiences.

Sense of peace and joy

Twenty-six participants (72 per cent) reported a strong sense of peace or pleasantness; 17 per cent reported a feeling of relief or calmness. The experience was rather different for the 19 per cent who had frightening or unpleasant experiences.

Most of the accounts that I have collected were given by people who took the substance in what could be perceived as relatively positive circumstances in terms of their emotional state, such as the visit of a friend, or at an open-air party, which may have contributed to their positive outcome. Clearly, ketamine is only sometimes a 'bad trip' anesthetic (Strassman 1997). It has been claimed that these bad experiences cannot have been NDEs, for some have assumed that the NDE is always peaceful (Moody 1975; Ring 1980). However, Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick in The Truth in the Light (1995) have hypothesized that negative experience among NDErs may be underreported because the persons who had them may be less inclined to communicate them. Karl Jansen also addresses the point in detail, stressing that many NDEs reported throughout history, especially in medieval times, were highly negative, hell-based reports (Jansen 2001: 93).

Some 47 per cent of the participants claimed that their ketamine experience was very 'joyful' and 30 per cent felt 'happy'.

Unity with the universe

The majority of those interviewed (59 per cent) felt united with the entire cosmos. 19 per cent felt no longer in conflict with nature or outside of it. Some individuals claimed they took part in the 'fabrication of the universe', or felt a 'cosmic union with earth', as if they were able to understand its constitutive principle by means of the principle within the self. For example, Mr P. was listening to a piece of music when he injected 100 mg of ketamine (IM). He said:

I gradually lost my senses. The music was very distorted. I tested myself by asking basic questions about mathematics, the names of those I love, etc., then suddenly I wasn't interested in this any more. So I tried to concentrate on 'who I am' and I lost the interest again. Visions become blurred. It wasn't meaningful who I was any more, because I existed anyway. Then I tried the experience of death. I was going down a tunnel. I saw the planet Earth. I could feel the relationship between the human soul, Earth and the planets. I thought I was a doll, you know the matryoshka15? I was the matryoshka of the entire system. I understood that earth is inside something else. I felt its gravity. All this is embraced within a system. I was nothing, but I knew that my place was on Earth.

Another participant said:

Two years ago I was with my friends in Valencia. We went to the beach that day and we had some ketamine. We sat on the sand. The effects started very soon. I felt dizzy and I had to lie down. I closed my eyes. The first thing that I remember is that I felt somehow I was going very fast and that I left my body. It was not frightening. Subsequently I saw a tunnel and a tiny little light which grew bigger and bigger. I was approaching this light when I heard a voice telling me to go back. So I asked 'Why? I don't want to go back.' I had no reply. A being of light appeared. He wanted to show me something. A big screen also appeared. I saw earth and the planets. I have heard them breathing. I touched the stars and talked to the Sun (God). I cannot remember what he said but it was amazing. I kept thinking that it was wonderful and amazing. And then, suddenly, I was lying back on the beach!

Meeting with God

Eight per cent of participants saw an unusual bright light, while 72 per cent had no special light experience at all. A relatively small number of participants (19 per cent) felt themselves surrounded by a brilliant light of mystical and otherworldly origin, which was described as at the end of a spiral or a tunnel. Four of them communicated with the Light, which they thought to be God/Goddess. I have been told that this was in the form of non-verbal communication. Three of them were not able to report the contents of the communication, because they 'forgot all about it'. So it was for Mr D., a 33-year-old, who commented:

The light was very bright and emanating warmth. I could easily stand the heat. It was like facing God. We spoke. I cannot remember what he said, but I remember that I couldn't lie. It is hard to describe, I never experienced such an intensity of feeling.

In contrast, one of the interviewees gave a detailed account of his experience. Here is an abstract:

I heard a buzzing sound and I found myself going very fast along a dark tunnel, which ended in a bright Light. It was God. I talked to God and I asked him to take me. And he [God] said 'Yes'. Then I got very scared and I replied that I had to take care of my daughter. So he told me to go back. My auntie came to take me. I asked: 'Where are we going?' She replied: 'Don't worry!' She took me to a very shining and beautiful place with lots of mountains. I saw many dead people there in white clothes. Then I saw a group of children playing. I asked my auntie: 'Who are they?' She replied that they died many years ago in a school bus accident. Then I thought of my daughter and I felt the need to come back. My auntie understood this without the need to speak and she told me to go back.

While describing the travel back into his body, he said: 'It was very violent. Do you know the feeling when someone hits you on your body? And I came back.'

The Light was described as being 'bright', 'brilliant', 'radiant', 'like the sun' and not necessarily big. It was also 'warm' and 'welcoming', 'scented', 'full of energy', 'pure love and compassion', 'vibrating sounds' (like mantras or 'heavenly music'). As noted earlier, it was usually located at the end of a tunnel, and it was never described as a known religious figure, like the Buddha or Jesus. This aspect of the non-ketamine NDE has been clearly highlighted by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick in their book The Truth in the Light (1995). The authors noticed how the Light is rarely seen as Christ, even if the person who reported the experience was a Christian:

Most of us, whether Christians or not, have an 'identikit' image of Christ. . . . No one has any notion of what actually Christ looked like. There is no description of him in the New Testament. We have no idea whether he was fair or dark, short or tall, even whether he had a beard. It is highly unlikely that his hair was auburn, a colour quite atypical of Mediterranean races. In fact the first Christian images bore much more resemblance to the sun god Apollo - blond and beardless - than to the consensus we have finally arrived at after more than a thousand years of artists' impressions. I think we have to make a distinction between the feeling of the presence of Christ in the experience, and the image which the perceiving brain creates to fit it, which is simply drawn from the picture-bank of memory.

In summary, a different image of God emerged from the interviews. Rather than an external entity, God appeared to be part of each individual. This feature has been characterized as 'entheogenic' (from the Greek entheos, or 'divine within'). Explanations of what is happening in these experiences can become very controversial and will be discussed in the final chapter of this book.

About the senses

To the question, 'Were your senses more vivid than usual?', 73 per cent answered that they were very vivid. 17 per cent said that they were more vivid than usual, and 22 per cent noticed no difference.

Among those who experienced a change, some interesting sensorial effects were described. For instance, a 22-year-old girl I interviewed in Berlin referred to what she called 'the paper effect'. She said:

You feel like you are made of paper. There is no consistency. You are pure soul. I named this the 'paper effect' . . . The experience happens very quickly. Visions are like glued on your eyes. You are a part of them. There is no right or left. Everything looks very much the same.

It has also often been observed that the last thing noticed before becoming 'dissociated' was also the first element of the experience. The same girl gave the following example:

I lay down on the carpet of my room ready for the ketamine trip. This was the first thing that I saw when the effects started. I was travelling into it at great speed. The carpet turned up to be a labyrinth with no way out. It was all yellow, red, blue, and green. It was a very long trip. It took me an hour and a half to come out.

One participant had what he considered to be a birth-related experience. She said:

I took some K powder with a few very good friends of mine. It was summer and we were sitting on top of a roof garden. The weather was really amazing, very bright, very sunny. The first effects came up very quickly, a few minutes after the last line. I bent my head on my friend Bua's shoulders, who was sitting close to me, ready to go for the trip. I remember I was looking at his long dreadlocks hair before closing my eyes and this was also the first image of my ketamine trip . . . suddenly I found myself travelling inside his hair at high speed towards the roots. The hair became a tunnel, which was getting darker and darker. Patterns then appeared one after the other, very quickly. Once I came to the end of tunnel I saw an open sepulchre. This was the most interesting and fascinating part of the experience. I looked inside but I couldn't see anything because it was very dark. I heard a child crying. The cry was coming from the inside. I had the absolute conviction of having travelled into the depth of my unconscious. I was that child inside the uterus of my mother.

Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof called these 'near-birth experiences' (NBEs) (Grof 1979; 1985).

Extra-sensory perceptions (ESP)

A small minority of the group, 5.5 per cent of the participants, had what they thought were extra-sensory perceptions and felt that 'the facts had been checked out'. These included reports of telepathy and other psychic abilities, like precognition of facts. Some 19 per cent reported extra-sensory perceptions but 'the facts had not been checked out'. Females were more likely to answer 'yes' to this question.16 A young woman described being able to listen to other people's thoughts while affected by ketamine: 'I knew what people were about to say before they actually spoke. This happened several times. I was also more aware of the large amount of energy inside my body.'

Another felt her legs were growing taller than Centre Point in central London:

I remember one day I was dancing on K in a club in Soho. I felt very light. Suddenly, I felt my legs growing bigger and bigger. I had the impression of having reached the ceiling. So I left the venue and went out to get some fresh air. It was very difficult to walk. I stopped in front of the Centre Point. I felt I was higher than the building. Amazingly, I was able to look down on Trafalgar Square and the Thames. It was a very unique experience.

Another girl, Miss A., told me: 'I was thinking about someone, and that someone turned up at my door.' Another person had a similar experience with e-mails. She was thinking of someone and this someone was at that moment sending her an e-mail (even if they didn't communicate for long).

Mr. Z., a 32-year-old who took ketamine for several years but gave it up 'because it was time to move on with my life', said that he developed an interesting connection with his girlfriend, especially while they were both taking ketamine on a regular basis. Once they had the same dream. They were cruising around the San Francisco Bay on a boat full of golden coins.

Another participant, Miss L., told me that she once went to play bingo on a small dose of ketamine. She predicted the lucky numbers and won some money!

Some 17 per cent of the participants claimed to have had visions of the 'world future', whereas 8 per cent had visions of their 'personal future'. One of these was Mrs C., a 38-year-old, who gave me the following account:

I saw my two children on a boat ten years before I gave birth to both of them. They were smiling and they looked very happy together. My daughter wore the same shirt my mother bought her on the occasion of the Holy Communion.

Mr W., who used ketamine extensively in meditational practices and described himself as someone 'who died various times within the ketamine context', had the following vision about the future of Saddam Hussein during the First Gulf War:

I was in Australia during the lead-up to the first Gulf War. I had decided to use the substance to get a better look at Saddam Hussein. I did a substantial dose for my body weight and set the intention prior to going under. There was the familiar high-pitched frequency followed by a soft plopping sound and I was in one of Saddam's palaces facing a furious, heavily built man with a thick mustache. He was pacing up and down on the marble floor when he must have noticed me. He came at me with a sword and we battled briefly before he backed away. It was then I could see with the eyes of my Spirit that he was one of the Atlantean black magicians who have had to reincarnate. With that, I knew he was going to fall hard.

Mr W.'s experience is also interesting for a quite different reason. It shows how sometimes there is a connection between the last thing in one's mind, or seen in the room (or surrounding environment) before the drug took hold and the first element of the experience. In contrast, according to the literature, an NDE does not usually seem to be overly influenced by the final sights and sounds experienced before the NDE commences. This may be due either to the phenomenon not occurring or to it being underreported. The phenomenon has also been observed in previous ketamine studies (Lilly 1978; Moore and Alltounian 1978; Jansen 2001). For instance, Karl Jansen has observed that people in his study were more inclined to see a 'syringe, rather than Pearly Gates, as syringes are sometimes amongst the last things people see on "the way out"' (Jansen 2001: 77).

Out-of-Body Experience (OBE)

Some 33 per cent of participants were absolutely sure that they had left their bodies and that they existed outside them. For instance, Mr P., a 33-year-old, observed:

On ketamine you are like a disembodied eye, which has a depth and wanders around. You move by the power of your thoughts. You look left, you move left, you look right, you move right. On my way I met people I didn't know before. I saw many villages with streets like normal streets in this world. I was like a camera wandering around. I saw many different landscapes and empty factories. I could hear melodies and I have tried later to reproduce them in my music.

One of the things that is striking about these accounts is that some of the subjects could see their bodies. Mr A., for example, clearly saw his body and his friends around him, while looking down from the ceiling. He said:

I was with my friends at home watching TV. We decided to try some 'Special K'. I had never heard about it before. I had a line. Everything was very fast. After a few seconds I was outside my body, up to the ceiling of the living room watching down. I was very scared. I thought I was dead. I saw my body and my friends close to me lying on the couch. I wanted to talk with them but I couldn't. I was sure I was dead. Then when the effects started fading away, I floated back into my body very slowly, from the belly button upwards to the head. My senses returned, everything was normal again and I understood I wasn't dead. I don't think ketamine is fun!

Another participant had a similar experience while he was dancing at a squat party:

I felt immediately very dizzy on standing up. I came out and I felt I couldn't walk, so I crashed on the floor next to the nearest corner. I started getting higher and higher until I was convinced that I was dead. I got very scared when I saw myself from above. I couldn't remember doing ketamine. I looked very dreadful there on the floor. I floated in and out the room for about 20 minutes. I was fully aware of the music. I visited other rooms and I could see other people dancing and other things like the furniture of the place, but I couldn't speak. I felt like I belonged to another life. After being out of body/dead?, I came back into my body. I felt very shocked and I went home. Taking ketamine was a big mistake! It was too strong and I got sick too!

Encounter with other beings

The sense of transition into another reality was the commonest feature among the 36 accounts that were collected; 44 per cent had the feeling of entering a clearly mystical or unearthly world, 25 per cent a strange or unusual place, while 30 per cent did not report this kind of experience. In this different dimension of reality, 30 per cent of participants met other beings, such as angels or unknown creatures, or heard a voice of a mystical or unearthly nature.

Sometimes, as in the case of Mr F., they did not see these entities, but they were able to sense their presence. Mr F. observed:

I travelled down into a tunnel at great speed. I entered a landscape of breathtaking beauty. I had a sensation of 'knowing' the place, but I also knew that it was in 'another' space. I wasn't worried at all. I moved around and I felt I was accompanied by millions of beings, I didn't hear them or see them. I just knew they were there with me. I felt joy and love of knowing we were all one. I was communicating with them by telepathic thoughts. I find it hard to explain. The only way I can describe it, is that we are all parts of a whole system. While there, I have connected with the information of the entire universe and I knew everything and then some more.

Other participants met religious figures, or 'Beings of Light'. I recorded the story of Miss G., a 32-year-old, who had the following experience after her first use of ketamine:

I was with two good friends of mine in a caravan in Southern Spain. Only my boyfriend took ketamine with me. The first thing I remember after the hit is that I was in India, inside a cave. The burner, which was inside the caravan, turned into a statue. It wasn't the Buddha but a similar image. I spoke with this statue but I cannot remember what we said. Everything was very calm. I wasn't worried about anything. I never felt so safe and well, like when you wake up and your partner is holding you in his arms. It was the most amazing thing that you can experience.

Some 14 per cent heard a voice they could not identify. Miss S. reported:

I saw myself in a small room with no furniture apart from a bed. It looked like the cell of a prison. I was sitting on the bed facing down, while holding my head with my hands. I looked very sad and uncomfortable in that empty environment. Then I heard a voice asking me a very weird question: 'Do you think you are God?' This happened few years ago, but I still think about it.

As reported in NDE literature, the messages conveyed by the voice usually had a strong existential meaning (Fenwick and Fenwick 1995). In the accounts that have been collected, the voice was often thought to be God.

Another interesting feature of the NDE is the encounter with relatives or friends, who apparently come to greet the persons or send them back to the 'world of the living'. Only 17 per cent of those I interviewed had a similar experience on ketamine.

Point or border of no return

Some participants (16.6 per cent) came to a sort of 'barrier' or a 'point of no return', which was described as the limit between earthly life and the next life. It could be a bridge, an edge, a gate, or remain undefined. Participants often felt a certain resistance 'to go back' because the sense of peace and pleasantness they felt in this 'other realm' was very high; 22 per cent came to a conscious decision to return to life. According to Mr W., who was mentioned above, the point of no return is just an illusion. He said: 'the death point, as it is generally understood, is merely the body's fear at being left. Once you know that, you can move freely between the levels.'


Although the after-effects of ketamine have been extensively studied by anesthesiologists in clinical terms, very little attention has been paid to the changes reported by those who had an experience similar to the NDE.

Reduced fear of death

The majority of those I interviewed reported a reduced fear of death (46 per cent). This is an interesting result if we consider that respondents did not find themselves in life-threatening circumstances. One conclusion that might be drawn from this is that it is unnecessary to face death to report a reduced fear of death afterwards. On the contrary, an experience that gives a person an intuition of dying might be enough to stimulate the conviction that death does not exist and that the human soul is immortal.

Some participants manifested a deeper appreciation for the natural world in terms of both animistic and pantheistic beliefs. Most of these insights originated while under the effects of ketamine.

Synchronicity and psychic abilities

Another after-effect of ketamine experiences was the tendency of some participants to become more interested in interpreting their life events in terms of 'meaningful coincidences'. Miss A., for instance, noted that she experienced many 'strange' coincidences while taking ketamine (this does not necessarily indicate that she was under the effects of ketamine when these events happened). She also reported having powerful precognitive experiences. One of these was about the death of her grandmother. She received the actual news only a few days after the experience. Some other participants were sure that the use of ketamine had developed a 'new potential' or a telepathic sensitivity.

Interests and activities

Some participants claimed that their experiences with ketamine had a significant impact on their interests and activities. Some became more interested in practices such as yoga and meditation. A participant commented: 'After my ketamine experiences I became attracted by the idea of karma and reincarnation. I am sure that death doesn't exist, and that the human soul is immortal.'

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