Citation: Fork. "Near Death? A Carbogen Experience Gone Awry: An Experience with Carbogen (exp86293)". Erowid.org. Aug 5, 2010. erowid.org/exp/86293
The mood before I inhaled the carbogen was lighthearted. A friend was dispensing the gas, another joined me to watch, and the person who had brought the tank was an acquaintance whom I had met several times. The atmosphere was jovial, with humorous quips going around the room about how a couple of psychonauts before me were each supposed to be the 13th person to take the gas, but that they had died during their sessions, and hence experience reports could not be filled out, so now I would be considered 'number 13'. (Of course, no one had really died.) Before the gas was turned on, I was asked to take a breath with the mask held to my face, so that I could sense what it felt like when the hose was correctly sealed/suctioned on, without any leaks. As the hose had very little air in it, it was difficult to breathe in, which resulted in a brief panicky feeling of not being able to get any air--but this did allow me to understand how the mask was supposed to properly fit.
The regulator to the carbogen tank was then turned on, and I counted along for the first eight breaths. Unlike what others had reported, I didn't get a sense from those first breaths that it was hard to breathe. I had closed my eyes at the start of the experience, and after the initial 8 breaths I noticed superimposed onto the dark field behind my eyelids a collection of pink dots, each about the size of a quarter. They first appeared in the center of my vision, slowly multiplied, brightened, and began to spiral clockwise.
A warm relaxation similar to what I get from nitrous oxide began to wash over me. I stopped counting my breaths, but I did not get a sense that I lost consciousness at any point during the experience. I remembered who I was, that I was having a carbogen trip, and that I should pay attention to the phenomenology of the experience in order to bring back a description of it. Visually, the only thing that was happening with eyes closed were these streaking pinkish lines of light, swirling and pulsing in a clockwise direction.
At some point, I found it increasingly hard to breathe. I felt as though I was not getting enough air, and my breathing became more rapid. My heart rate increased, and the labored breathing became quite painful. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I would run as fast as I could for as long as I could until I finally fell to the ground, legs burning, heart pounding, lungs gasping. However, as a kid when the running stopped, eventually I started to feel better, with my heartbeat and breathing perceptibly slowing down in stages. In this situation, there was no relief.
Then, I noticed that the mask was being removed. With eyes open, material reality appeared as a smeared pinwheel of color. It was as if the external world was a pie cut into six pieces, spinning clockwise, and five of the slices were comprised of swirling blobs of colorful shapes, but the sixth piece was a window into what solid reality looked like.
There was a strong tension between the blurred, disembodied realm of indistinct color and the formed material world of discrete objects. It took a massive, even a painful amount of focused energy to keep the material world filled with unique, distinct, individual forms. Within the reality slice, I could tell that the others in the room had become concerned about my well-being. I saw their faces peering down at me, and it felt as if they were trying to get my attention--trying to pull me back into their realm. It was clear they were very upset, and it seemed like they were fighting with me to pull me out of the non-material place where I was stuck.
The transition back into their realm was extremely unpleasant. Imagine what it might feel like if you were a two-dimensional being forced into a three-dimensional form: whisper-thin flattened taffy being stretched and plumped back into a clay golem. Suddenly, a new face appeared, looking down at me. I recognized it as belonging to a physician whom I had met earlier that night. For a couple spins of the pie-cycle, he was present; then he was gone. His face lacked the sense of concern that I saw on the other faces.
The struggle between existing as a disembodied consciousness and an embodied form seemed almost beyond endurance. In some ways I felt as I imagine a drowning man might feel, after being pulled from a lake and brought back to life. My heart was pounding. I was gasping for air. I felt like crap, awash with the panicky feeling that no matter how hard I breathed, I wasn't pulling in enough oxygen.
Gradually, the slices of pie featuring solid, non-smeared reality began to increase. Two out of six, three out of six, then more rapidly four and five out of six. Several minutes passed before I began to feel as though I was getting enough oxygen and my heartbeat was slowing down. A few more minutes passed before I could really register the looks of extreme worry around me. Based on the faces of those in the room, I could tell that what I went through had not been a typical reaction. Eventually, I got closer and closer to a baseline state of consciousness. What had happened to get my friends so worked up?
At no point during the experience did I notice losing consciousness. Also, at no point did I believe that I had stopped breathing. Indeed, in my mind, I had been gasping for air. However, according to those in the room, I did stop breathing around my 27th or 28th breath of carbogen. Concerned about my condition, the friend administering the gas removed the mask around what would have been breath 30. I had been thrashing about in a manner described to me as being somewhat 'seizure-like', banging my arm into the wall next to the couch. When the mask came off, my lips were pressed together and turning blue from lack of oxygen. One of the sitters forced my mouth open and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Another left to get the physician from the adjacent room; but in the short time before he arrived, I had begun to breathe again.
After I was breathing normally, I felt super-bad about having worried my friends so much, and I also felt grateful that they had gotten me breathing again. Similarly, they felt somewhat bad about having made jokes related to other people dying before I began the carbogen session. Along with the fact that my trip could literally be described, in some manner, as a 'near-death experience', the feeling of struggle between a disembodied two-dimensional realm and the material world also felt quite a bit like I might imagine re-entry from a near-death experience would feel.
Back at the party, I also regretted that my trip had put a damper on the enthusiasm of some who had not yet had their turn with the tank. One of the sitters had to take a break to process his part in my experience, and at least a couple of people decided against breathing carbogen--choosing to head home instead.
My wife was livid with me for participating in an activity that appeared to have had the unexpected risk of death. (She had no interest in taking carbogen herself, and just came along to visit with friends and spend time with me.) 'How would I explain to our child that you died in some stupid drug experiment?' she demanded.
My lungs still ached from the experience and there was a horrible stabbing pain in them when I coughed. (This diminished over a couple of days.) About 30-60 minutes after the experience, I also became aware that my tongue hurt. A few hours later, when I looked in the mirror, I noticed what looked like a large bloody cold sore. I may have bitten my tongue when I was banging around, or perhaps carbogen's alteration of the acid/alkaline levels of my blood contributed to my getting a cold sore. (I don't normally get them, and one other participant later reported having gotten a cold sore.)
A few months after my carbogen experience, I attended another event at which the physician who had checked in on me was also present. In conversation, I discovered that the work he does is with people who have been brought into an emergency room in critical condition: his patients will often not be leaving the hospital alive.
He wanted to hear about my carbogen experience, and asked whether I remembered him coming in to check on me. I described the experience to him as I have told it above. He let me know that, despite his apparent lack of concern, he actually had been very worried about me. He left me with the impression that it might be valid to consider my trip as a 'near-death experience'. He said that his 'unconcerned' mannerism was an approach that he purposefully took in order to calm down the people sitting with me, who were stressed out about what was happening.
Although I am mildly tempted to revisit carbogen at a much lower dose-range (say 8 breaths), that intellectual curiosity has been overridden by my sense of leaving things well enough alone. Even though the trip was not pleasant, it was educational. It provided a memorable first-hand experience of how things can unexpectedly go wrong. It reinforced the importance of having one or more sitters present, particularly when taking a new drug, and I felt lucky that one of the party guests was an MD. Finally, it inspired me to enroll in a CPR class, which I recently completed.
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