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Ketamine clinics and dispensaries are opening up all over America, and there is good reason for it. You may have heard of Ketamine, but most likely know little or nothing regarding what this drug is all about and what it can do for those who use it.

Basically, Ketamine is what is called a dissociative that promotes neuroplasticity (i.e., the creation of new connections between brain cells). It can also produce psychedelic experiences in people, though it does so in a different manner than other psychedelic drugs, such as Psilocybin, Ayahuasca, and LSD. It was originally introduced in the 1960s for use as a surgical anesthetic, and it is still used for that purpose in some procedures today for both humans and animals. But it is also being used off-label (i.e., not for its originally licensed purpose) to treat mood disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse that is resistant to treatment with more traditional medications. It can be obtained and administered in a number of ways. It can be purchased online and taken orally or nasally without supervision. It can also be administered by intravenous infusion or intramuscular injection at a facility. Ketamine is legal and, for the most part, very safe – so safe that it is used to anesthetize babies undergoing surgery. It can drive up blood pressure and heart rate, but there is no significant risk if the drug is administered in a setting supervised by qualified medical personnel.

Many people are familiar with Ketamine through it’s recreational use, often in dance club settings. Called “K” or “Special K,” as well as other names, and taken at a lower dose than when used for therapeutic purposes, it can make the user feel detached from their body and environment. It can lessen inhibition and has the advantage of being shorter acting than other psychedelics.

I turned to Ketamine after several people recommended it and my own research led me to conclude that it was worth trying. There were several benefits that I was hoping to get out of it. I have long been interested in consciousness and reality, and so one goal was to experience altered states of consciousness and other realities. My hope was to encounter what is sometimes referred to as the ultimate reality, which some may think of as God. (Indeed, I was told that some users have mystical experiences and have reported encountering Jesus or the Buddha while under Ketamine’s influence. Such experiences under psychedelics have had positive results with helping cancer patients overcome fears of mortality.) The second goal was therapeutic – to treat anxiety and mood difficulties brought about by certain personal challenges I had been enduring. Among other effects, the neuroplasticity Ketamine induces can help one look at their problems differently, in a way that reduces anxiety and depression.

Having completed my research, I went about finding a reputable and professional center where I could pursue my rendezvous with Ketamine. I was referred to a clinic in Midtown Manhattan called Nushama, where the staff includes doctors, nurses, and therapists and that impressed me with their professionalism. (Nushama refers to Ketamine sessions as “journeys,” which is an apt term as I would later discover.) The facility is very new and provides a calm and attractive environment for a journey, complete with individual rooms and zero-gravity chairs that make for a very comfortable position in which to undergo the journey.

The first step was to go through intake, where a trained staff member interviewed me to ascertain if I was a good candidate for Ketamine. The interview was very thorough, and the interviewer patiently answered all of my questions about the effects of Ketamine. The interviewer noted that everyone responds to the drug differently and that the experiences induced by the Ketamine can sometimes be a bit scary, but that you are not in any danger and the staff is always there to support you through any difficult moments.

The center determined that I was a proper candidate for Ketamine and set me up with a series of six journeys (two per week for three weeks), which is the standard protocol. (Boosters are available at later points if the benefits of the Ketamine ever wear off.) The cost for the series of journeys was $4,500, which is not generally covered by insurance, but I believe most people who have success with Ketamine would consider it worth the expense.

When I would arrive for each journey, I would be shown to my treatment room, and a nurse would take my vitals and set up the IV for the transfusion. Next, an “Integrator,” who is a trained therapist, would enter to discuss how I was doing and work with me on setting goals for the journey. After that, I would put on an eye mask and headphones that play music specially curated for the journey (you are not allowed to choose your own music). Then the Ketamine drip would start and the journey would begin.

My first two journeys mainly produced a sensation of floating in some sort of void. It was relaxing, and even though it was a strange sensation, I do not recall feeling anxious or scared. In those first journeys, my sense of time shifted noticeably. The passage of only 15 minutes felt more like two or three hours. The music they played had an ethereal and spiritual quality about it; some of it had lyrics that were intended to make you feel that you were in the loving hands of God. One interesting experience I recall was that even though my eyes were covered so that no light could enter, I could still “see” in a manner of speaking. I was not seeing what was in the room in what my field of vision would have been without the eye mask, but something different. I was informed that this is what is called synesthesia, stimulation of the visual cortex of the brain in response to the music, so that you are actually “seeing” the music. After these journeys, particularly after the first one, my mood was definitely better, and I remember moments of greater hopefulness, though this did not last very long.

The journeys that followed were more intense for me, as the dosage was gradually increased each time. While there was still a lot of floating, these journeys took me to altered states of consciousness and other realities. Unfortunately, it is impossible to describe them, and I can only say that they were very strange places – I was certainly no longer in the metaphysical Kansas from which I had come. I can recall that one of these realities had a lot of cubes in it — no melting walls, Buddhas, or monsters – just cubes. The sense of floating, with no sense of there being an up or a down, was often still there. When the experience would get even especially intense, I would periodically peak out from the eye mask or try to move my body so that I could be sure that my normal reality was still there. When I did peak out, everything in my field of vision was in motion. Again, my sense of time had been warped incredibly. The Ketamine numbs your body and you feel a kind of paralysis; once that occurs, you feel that your body no longer exists and that you are all mind. While some of them were interesting, there were moments I felt a bit scared and worried that the Ketamine had “broken” my brain and that I would never be normal again. During two of these moments, a member of the Nushama staff came in to remind me that I was safe and, in one of these cases, they held my hand until I was calmer. Of course, my brain did not break and I returned to normal reality after each journey. As mentioned above, everyone reacts differently to Ketamine, and so there should be no reason to expect that you would have similar experiences; but it should be noted that even the scary moments may be productive experiences and may actually be part of how the Ketamine works. As an aspiring “psychonaut,” I am actually glad that, notwithstanding the fear, I was able to have these experiences.

After each journey, a nurse would once again check my vitals. If the Ketamine has raised your blood pressure, you are given medication for it. Some people do feel nauseous or uneasy from the drug, in which case you are offered Zofran and/or a vitamin drip. While the Ketamine did raise my blood pressure, I had no other ill effects from it, and my blood pressure responded well to the medication they gave me for it. At that point, the Integrator steps into the room again and discusses your experience with you, helping you try to make sense of it, especially as it relates to your goals for the Ketamine therapy. Once you regain your balance, you can then leave. Since the effects of the Ketamine, including dizziness, can linger, they do ask that you arrange to have someone take you home and that you do not make any significant decisions for the rest of the day. The whole process from beginning to end takes between three and four hours for each session.

As for the verdict on my Ketamine experience, I think that, on the whole, it was very worthwhile. Admittedly, there were things I was hoping to get out of it, but did not. I did not get to encounter the ultimate reality, and the issues behind my difficulties are still there, and the Ketamine did not give me a new perspective on them. However, I am not even a whole month out from my last journey at the time of this writing, and I was told that some of the rewiring of your brain that is supposed to take place may take some time (again, everyone reacts to Ketamine differently). And I would add that my issues are especially complex.

At the same time, while the experience was scary at times, I did get to explore altered states of consciousness, even if they were not the ultimate reality. The scary moments were only a small part of the experience, and some of the realities I visited were quite interesting and may have changed how I view my normal reality, just as a trip to a foreign country can change how you look at your home country when you return. Most significantly, however, was the effect that the Ketamine has had on my anxiety and mood. I have definitely felt somewhat calmer and less anxious since completing my journeys, and while my mood can still take a fairly significant dive, it does not plunge as deep as it did before the Ketamine. (Not surprisingly, with its salubrious effect on my anxiety, it has also reduced my alcohol consumption to some extent.) I describe this effect of the Ketamine as emotional Novocain – it has numbed me a bit, but not so much that I don’t have feelings anymore.

I would definitely recommend Ketamine to those who wish to have the sort of experience that the drug can offer. I believe that Ketamine has much to offer people suffering from medication-resistant depression and/or anxiety, as well as attendant substance use. While Ketamine has not resolved my problems, it has made them somewhat easier to bear, and who knows what lies ahead as its neuroplasticity effects continue to kick in. I would recommend that any person seeking to use Ketamine do so at a reputable, medically supervised facility like the one I went to, rather than playing with it at home. As for me, I very much hope that the benefits I have gained stay with me for the rest of my life and that the benefits I have not seen yet may still emerge.

[Note:  After publication of this post, the media began reporting on the autopsy results in the accidental death of Friends star Matthew Perry. The autopsy report, which attributed the actor’s death to a Ketamine infusion was unfortunately quite misleading.  Perry was undergoing Ketamine therapy to deal with depression and substance abuse, but his most recent Ketamine session was a week and a half before his death, when all of the drug would have long been out of his system (Ketamine has a half-life of just four hours).  Perry must have procured the Ketamine in his system separately from his clinical usage (Ketamine, in oral or nasal form, can be purchased online for use at home).  In addition, the amount of Ketamine found in his system was well in excess of the amount that is taken for therapeutic or recreational purposes.  In fact, it was more in line with the dosage used when Ketamine is employed as a surgical anesthetic — an amount which does not allow a person to have any control over their body.  Perry was also found dead in his hot tub, which is not the setting in which therapeutic Ketamine is administered.  Moreover, another drug, which may have contributed to Perry’s death, was found in his system; reputable Ketamine clinics take a history of the client, which includes a review of other drugs being taken by the client, before clearing them for Ketamine treatment. It would be unfortunate if the autopsy report scared people who could benefit from Ketamine therapy away from pursuing that therapy, which, as noted above, is very safe.]