Ketamine: A Personal Medical Experience

Ketamine

“I started to think, have I gone into some futuristic place? Then I wondered if I was dead because nothing made sense to me – my wife wasn’t there. There were no doctors – everything just looked white. I started thinking, maybe I’m dead and this is what being dead is – lying still for eternity in this white space. I mean, to think you can’t move and you have to lie on your back for eternity, alone, is a frightening thought.”

What is Ketamine used for?

Ketamine is in use as a new and fast way to treat depression, so naturally, we wanted to get more information on its effects and success. I write most of the articles on the blog from my perspective and experience; however, I have never used ketamine. I wanted to interview two people who have experience with ketamine to get a more accurate account. Next week we will feature an article from an interview with a ketamine user and addict. This week we wanted to focus on a person who does not struggle with addiction and his experience with ketamine administered medicinally in a hospital setting, to gain both perspectives.

Ketamine is a medication that is used to induce loss of consciousness or anesthesia. It can produce relaxation and relieve pain in humans and animals. It is a class III scheduled drug and is approved for use in hospitals and other medical settings.

“I was in the hospital because I have recurrent viral meningitis. The way that (the doctors) confirmed the diagnosis was by doing a spinal tap. They had me sit on the edge of the bed, or the stretcher…whatever you call it – whatever they have in the emergency room, and lean forward. They wanted me to lean forward because that opened up the discs in my back because that was where they were going to put the needle. They had the iv hooked up, and they said, “we’re going to sedate you with this medication (ketamine) quickly.”

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is similar in structure to phencyclidine (PCP), and it can cause a trance-like state and a sense of disconnection from the environment. Ketamine is a novel drug because it shows hypnotic (sleep-producing), analgesic (pain-relieving) and amnesia (short-term memory loss) effects; no other drug used in clinical practice produce these three significant effects at the same time.

“The next thing I remember was lying flat on my back. I was all alone; there was nobody in the room. The walls and the ceiling, everything I could see was stark white. Like as white as you can be – everything – was white. The only thing that wasn’t white was in the distance. As I raised my head and looked forward, there were some signs on the wall that were painted red – but everything else was completely white. There was nobody around. I could hear people talking in the distance. I laid there and couldn’t move. I had no idea what was going on.”

Ketamine has a minimal effect on the central respiratory drive if given slowly, although rapid IV injection can cause transient apnea. When used in sub-anesthetic doses, ketamine provokes imaginative, dissociative states and psychotic symptoms resembling schizophrenia due to its NMDA-antagonistic action, as well as severely impairing semantic and episodic memory. Used as an anesthetic, it can cause various experiences some of which are described as a floating sensation, vivid pleasant dreams, nightmares, hallucinations, and delirium. These phenomena are more common during shorter operative procedures, and those receiving large doses, particularly when administered quickly.

Adverse Effects of Ketamine

  • Drowsiness
  • Change in perceptions of color or sound
  • Hallucinations, confusion, and delirium
  • Dissociation from body or identity
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty thinking or learning
  • Nausea
  • Dilated pupils and changes in eyesight
  • Inability to control eye movements
  • Involuntary muscle movements and muscle stiffness
  • Slurred speech
  • Numbness
  • Amnesia
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Behavioral changes
  • Increased pressure in the eyes and brain

Unwanted Effects of Ketamine

  • Addiction
  • Psychosis
  • Amnesia
  • Impaired motor function
  • High blood pressure
  • Respiratory problems
  • Seizures

“I was trying to figure out what was going on. I remembered going to the hospital, but I didn’t think I was in the hospital. It felt like I was in a …have you ever seen the star trek movies? Or better yet, have you ever seen those Progressive commercials? I didn’t think I was in a Progressive Insurance commercial, but everything was white like that.”

What is a “K-Hole?”

Ketamine produces an abrupt high that lasts for about an hour. Higher doses can produce more intense effects known as being in the “K-hole,” where one can become unable to move or communicate and feel very far away from their body. Some people seek out this type of transcendental experience, others find it terrifying and consider it an adverse effect.

“I was able to lift one of my arms. I lifted my arm, and I scratched my other arm to see if I could feel anything, to see if I had any sensation and I could very faintly feel something. In retrospect, what I think happened was I woke up from the drug and I had this gradual come to consciousness. I started to talk but my voice wasn’t normal, I was having a hard time talking. I started saying things like, “boy, this is weird, I wonder if I’m dead.”

Dangers of Ketamine

As the person can become oblivious to the environment ketamine can put people at risk of accidental injury to themselves and vulnerable to assault by others. Problems with coordination, judgment and the physical senses can continue for up to 24 hours. Someone under the effects of ketamine should have someone safe with them.

“I don’t know how long it had been, my sense of time was completely distorted. It could have lasted 5 seconds or half an hour. I have no idea. A nurse came in, and I recognized her because she was the nurse that had been with me when I did the procedure. I talked to her and said, “where’s my wife?”

“I needed someone there that I knew. This nurse was there, but she could have been someone from a Star Trek Movie. But I knew if my wife was there or my son or daughter then it would help me to have a better sense of what was going on. The nurse went and got my wife. Then my wife came in, and the doctor came in and then I was okay. I told the doctor what was going on and he was kind of nonchalant about it. I said, “Have you ever taken this drug?” He said, “No.” I said, “Well, don’t. You don’t ever want to prescribe it to anyone ever again. Plus, you shouldn’t give it to someone and then leave them alone – at least if someone was there – to wake up completely alone thinking you’re in a white spaceship, wondering if you’re dead is a very frightening experience. It was not fun. I would never take that drug again in my life – no way! I can’t believe people choose to abuse that drug.”

It is clear that ketamine has strong effects and individual experiences vary. In this case, ketamine was administered by a physician to a patient safely and in a controlled environment and regardless the results were unsettling and disturbing. Though ketamine has proved to be an extremely effective treatment for major depression, bipolar disorder, and suicidal behavior, it is imperative that physicians performing surgery involving ketamine must ensure the patient feels safe, is prepared and willing to experience the effects of this potent drug.

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