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Ketamine and Quantum Psychiatry
Vol 11 (No. 3) 1999; 19-21
Karl Jansen, Stanislav Grof, Rick Strassman, Sylvia Thyssen, Lester Grinspoon, James B. Bakalar, Dale Pendell, Jon Atkinson, Louise Theodosiou, Kevin Brunelle, Dave Cunliffe.

The word 'psychedelic' was invented by an English psychiatrist (Humphry Osmond) and means 'mind-revealing'. A psychedelic drug may tell us more about how the mind constructs reality, personality and a sense of meaning and sacredness. It is sometimes said that ketamine is not a psychedelic drug because it has anaesthetic properties not seen with LSD, DMT, psilocybin and mescaline. Nevertheless, it can access all of the realms of consciousness mapped out by psychiatrist Stanislav Grof on the basis of LSD research. Ketamine is mentioned in (for example) Psychedelics Encyclopedia, Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered and The Essential Psychedelic Guide.

Ketamine is relatively safe when used in hospitals. There is a wide margin between the top end of the medical range and a lethal dose. Psychedelic doses are usually only 10-25% of surgical doses, given by the same route for the same person. At these levels, it behaves more like a stimulant than a sedative and does not usually suppress the breathing or heart rate, although exceptions do occur. The higher brain is switched on rather than shut down. This state is different from being unconscious, where the light-bulb is turned off and if the person goes too far they may stop breathing. There are cases of accidental injections with 10 times the amount required for surgery, with no obvious, lasting ill-effects. When ketamine is taken outside a medical setting, the main dangers arise from the physical incapacity it produces.

Dose, how the drug is taken, set and setting have an influence on the experience. 'Set' refers to the personality, past experiences, mood, motivations, intelligence, imagination, attitudes, what is going on in his or her life and the expectations of the person. Expectations are affected by what people hear and read about the drug. 'Setting' refers to the conditions of use, including the physical, social and emotional environment and the other people present. Empathy with the person giving the drug is a very important factor, even with an anaesthetic.

Near-Death and Near-Birth Experiences

A 'near-death experience' (NDE) is a report of leaving the physical body, and sometimes going through a tunnel towards 'the light'. Ketamine can reproduce all aspects of the NDE, including the conviction of being dead, having a telepathic communion with God, seeing visions, out-of-body trips, mystical states, entering other realities, re-experiencing old memories, and a life review which may have therapeutic value Most NDE's occur in people who are not physically near death.

An NDE can be therapeutic. After-effects can include an enhanced joy in living, reduced fear of death, increased concern for others, reduced levels of anxiety and neurosis, reduced addiction, improved health and a resolution of various symptoms. Positive changes can also follow ketamine -induced NDE's (K-trips) which occur within a therapeutic alliance, in an appropriate set and setting. This is called death-rebirth psychotherapy.

Where do these experiences originate? I have written at some length about the physical basis for them in the past. In this article I will consider more speculative suggestions that the brain can act as a transceiver, converting energy fields beyond the brain into features of the mind, as a television converts waves in the air into sound and vision. Advances in quantum physics suggest that certain drugs, and the conditions which produce NDE's, may 'retune' the brain to provide access to certain fields and 'broadcasts' which are usually inaccessible. This retuning is said to open doors to realms which are always there, rather than actually producing those realms, just as the broadcast of one channel continues when we change channels.

The Quantum Mind

Some people believe that ketamine is a mental modem which can potentially connect the mind to 'everything else', allowing a peek behind the curtain at the inner workings of this and other realities. In the old Newtonian universe, the mechanical view declared that all possible forms of energy and fields had already been discovered; that the ordinary, everyday perception of space, time and matter and energy was the only scientifically correct reality; that all people were separate from each other and the rest of the universe; and that consciousness could not exist without a living brain.

Some of these declarations can be reassessed in the light of new discoveries in physics. A subatomic particle can be in many different places at once. When a photon changes in one place and time, it's 'linked photon' changes simultaneously, even if it is on the other side of the universe. It's as if there was no space between them at all. This means that some physical boundaries could be arbitrary. A messy explanation for this is tachyon theory, faster-than-light particles which carry messages between the photons. Bell's theorem is more attractive. This involves a hyperspace where all realities exist at a single point, so no messages are required.

If entry can be gained to the quantum realm, awareness (the 'disembodied eye') might travel through different realities without the body itself going anywhere.

It was like a cosmic assembly line that was constantly churning out the alternate universes that some physicists theorise about in which every conceivable possibility becomes an actual reality. I even had brief flashes in which I experienced some of these alternate realities as they sprouted forth out of this cosmic womb...quick glimpses into what felt like other incarnations, other lives I could have led, darting journeys through seas of pure information. (Trey Turner, 100 mg ketamine i.m.)

A person is not a photon, and it is a real quantum leap to go from the subatomic world to human events. Nevertheless, to improve our understanding of psychedelic experience we may need to reconsider some of the material which has been dismissed as hallucinations, psychosis, suggestibility, stupidity and fraud. Hallucination is only another descriptive term - it doesn't really explain anything. 'Quantum' based explanations for certain mental states have started to appear, and we should be wary of dismissing these new theories out of hand. Some of the most significant advances were opposed by the most renowned scientists of the day. Einstein himself opposed quantum physics, declaring that God did not play at dice. Einstein described this physics as 'absurd, bizarre, mind-boggling, incredible, beyond belief...' and 'the system of delusions of an exceedingly intelligent paranoiac, concocted of incoherent elements of thought'. However, Einstein was wrong. The 'system of delusions' worked very well, and its 'psychotic' advocates won many Nobel prizes. Subatomic particles could indeed behave as if time and space were non-existent.

It was next observed that there are similarities between quantum processes and human thought processes. Leading physicists suggested that consciousness may involve quantum events, with profound implications for understanding certain altered states of being. Professor Stephen Hawking, who sits in Newton's former chair at Cambridge, believes that the universe has no boundaries in space or time, and is made up of super-strings which vibrate in 'extra dimensions', balancing vibrations in the usual dimensions: positive and negative energies cancelling each other to produce the our universe, based on a 'new' kind of symmetry called 'super symmetry'. The latest atom smasher may provide evidence of this super symmetry, producing the world's most expensive Yin-Yang symbol. Has the division between physicists and psychedelic mystics become one of whether instruments or the mind itself is used to make the same observations about 'the ground of being'? The language of LSD trips can resemble the language of the older quantum physics, involving white light and dancing particles, but new reports in physics journals use terms which are much closer to 'the language of ketamine'. Super-string theory is being supplanted by the discovery of whole groups of extended objects called p-branes . These may be viewed as types of membranes, with a string being a one-brane as its only dimension is length. There are other types of 'branes' with far more dimensions. Becoming an across-the-universe membrane is a typical ketamine effect. Before p-brane theory was widely known, ketamine and isolation tank explorer John Lilly MD wrote:

At the highest level of satori from which people return, the point of consciousness becomes a surface or a solid which extends throughout the whole known universe. This used to be called fusion with the Universal Mind or God. In more modern terms you have done a mathematical transformation in which your centre of consciousness has ceased to be a travelling point and has become a surface or solid of consciousness...It was in this state that I experienced 'myself' as melded and intertwined with hundreds of billions of other beings in a thin sheet of consciousness that was distributed around the galaxy. A 'membrain'.

Thus transpersonal events may be possible within the new physics, if subatomic events are involved in consciousness. Ketamine may be a drug which 're-tunes' the brain to allow awareness to enter the quantum sea. If this is indeed the case, then we may have to regard some of the reports of eternity, infinity, multiple universes and linkage with other beings as phenomena demanding a more sophisticated explanation than a brief dismissal as 'hallucinations and mental illness' requiring no further consideration.

Ketamine Psychedelic Therapy (KPT)

Over the past 15 years, ketamine has been given to over 1,000 patients in St. Petersburg as an aid to psychotherapy, mainly to assist in the treatment of alcoholism in well-planned trials with proper clinical control groups. The scientific rigour of these studies is impressive. Long-term follow-up of patients has been very encouraging, and the treatment has been extended to heroin addicts and some forms of neurosis. Not a single patient has had complications such as prolonged psychosis, flashbacks or non-prescribed use of ketamine. This work has been carried out by psychiatrist Dr. Evgeny Krupitsky and his team. Evgeny is Chief of the Laboratory, and was recently awarded an honorary Doctor of Science. He spent a year with the ketamine research team at Yale, sponsored by the conservative National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Sessions are supervised by two physicians, a psychotherapist and an anesthetist. A return to normal usually began after 45 minutes to an hour, with a recovery period of 1- 2 hours.

In addition to very good rates of sobriety at one and two year follow-up compared to the control group, on tests of personality change there are significant improvements in many scales including depression, anxiety and ego strength. People become more confident about their own ability to control their lives and to accept responsibility. Non-verbal emotional attitudes are brought to the surface and made known, resulting in less conflict between verbal /conscious and non-verbal/unconscious attitudes involving alcohol, the personality and other people.

There was also a shift in values towards creativity, self improvement, spiritual contentment, social recognition, achievement of life goals, independence, and improvement of family and social life. Life became more meaningful, and the ability to live according to that meaning increased. KPT can reconnect the ego with denied parts of the self. It can also lead to a perception of reconnection with 'wider fields' such as the family, community, planet and universe in general - a form of spiritual experience. Changes in spirituality were assessed using scales designed to measure spiritual change in the Alcoholics Anonymous approach, and the Life Changes Inventory developed to assess the outcome of NDE's.

We try to assist in the patient's psychological integration of the spiritual transformation which can result from the psychedelic experience. The uniquely profound and powerful experience often helps them to generate new insights that enable them to integrate new, often unexpected meanings, values and attitudes about the self and the world. (Krupitsky and Grinenko, 1997)

'I saw the Light' conversions have long been linked with spontaneous recovery from addiction and criminality. All of the 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, have a spiritual orientation and require acceptance of the guidance of a 'higher power'. This may be seen as part of the psyche or a separate entity, depending on personal belief.

Death-Rebirth Psychotherapy

An NDE can be a pivotal turning point, encouraging significant and positive life changes. People who attempt suicide have a subsequent risk of making further attempts which is at least 50 -100 times greater than the normal population. In contrast, suicide attempts which result in NDE's are followed by a reduced risk of further attempts, despite an increased belief in an after-life. Of those who survived a jump from the Golden Gate bridge and had an NDE, none went on to completed suicide, and all were united in their support for a barrier to prevent further attempts. These findings suggested that the artificial induction of NDE's by relatively safe means, within a therapeutic alliance in an appropriate set and setting, might have positive benefits in some people.

The Back Pages

Throughout human history, altered states of being have played a part in healing. The roles of priest and doctor came together in one person (e.g. shaman, 'witch-doctor' etc.) who entered 'mental realms', perhaps aided by psychoactive plants, to speak with spirits for the good of the people. Sometimes, they took the ill person into these realms with them.

The belief that inducing such states for therapeutic purposes was a mis-guided idea of the 1960's, now abandoned due to lack of efficacy and unacceptable risks, is incorrect. This was not a minor curiosity of the lunatic fringe. From 1950 to 1970, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed publications appeared on the clinical use of LSD, in over 40,000 patients. The aims included strengthening the therapeutic alliance, diagnosis, gaining access to memories, and improving insight and the relief of symptoms. Conditions treated included anti-social behaviour, alcoholism, obsessional neurosis, and the psychological problems of the dying. Many of the professionals involved were not at all radical, or even liberal, in outlook. This large enterprise came to a sudden halt when LSD was placed in class A/schedule 1.

New treatments have frequently been greeted with widespread and inappropriate use, and extravagant claims. They then sink to their proper place in the medical cupboard. In some cases, this can be affected by political, social and ideological factors. The only psychedelic drug which can be used in medicine is ketamine, where it may be used to prevent pain in the body but is not licensed for the treatment of pain in the mind.

In the normal course of events, treatment involving psychedelic drugs would have eventually found its proper place, after the extravagant claims phase had passed, with the usual list of possible adverse effects, indications and contra-indications, cautions and precautions, advocates and opponents -as exist for all forms of treatment. Psychedelic drugs, however, became caught up in an intense ideological battle. The result was that not only did all therapeutic use come to an abrupt halt after 20 years, but almost all research projects were also suppressed. This did not happen because a serious new side-effect emerged, or because there was absolutely no evidence of efficacy. The complete ban on psychedelic drug research appears to have arisen from issues which are largely ideological. Ketamine provides an example of the processes involved. It has been given to millions of patients, and there are numerous reviews affirming its safety (when used in a controlled medical context) and value. In most countries it is not even a controlled drug. Nevertheless, if a research proposal is made involving 10% of the normal anaesthetic dose, to be given to healthy informed volunteers, and the word 'psychedelic' appears anywhere in the proposal, there is immediate and grave concern amongst ethical committees where anaesthetic trials may proceed with relative ease. It is difficult to explain this anomaly using scientific and health concerns. These anomalies have led to suggestions that this era has a taboo against having certain aspects of the mind revealed. Ketamine may provide an example of this taboo: a relatively safe medicine which is suddenly seen as unsafe because it is described as a psychedelic drug rather than a dissociative anesthetic. Nevertheless, research with this substance is proceeding in several countries and may eventually lead to the development of a 'quantum psychiatry', just as Freudian psychiatry , which saw psychic energy as a head of steam in the mind, took its cue from Newton's mechanical outlook 100 years earlier.

(To Contact Dr. Karl Jansen:

Cite this paper as:

Jansen, K.L.R. (1999) Ketamine (K) and Quantum Psychiatry. Asylum 11 (3) 19-21.

Further Reading

Abstracts of some medical references can be obtained through the World Wide Web. Go to, click on 'medline', click on 'National Library of Medicine'. An Internet search using Alta Vista [Erowid Edit 2018: link removed] and [Erowid Edit 2018: link removed] will produce some of the more obscure references. Some exist only as articles on the WWW, and are thus given as a WWW address.

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