Ketamine has a history of saving people's lives. Long before your cousin was snorting K off a key at a bush doof, medics were using it as an anaesthetic in the jungles of Vietnam. In 1985, the World Health Organisation inducted the party drug into its List of Essential Medicines. And, in more recent years, medical professionals have been extolling the benefits of the horse tranquilliser for its effects on treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
So what about K-holes, then? That dark frontier of the human psyche where the ego dissolves and the individual starts wondering if they're dead. K-holes are the best or the worst thing about ketamine, depending on who you ask. So where does something like that fit into this psychotherapeutic picture?
"When a person's in a K-hole they're in a sub-anaesthetic state… and they're experiencing a dissociation from themselves," says Dr Stephen Bright, clinical psychologist and vice president of Psychedelic Research In Science and Medicine (PRISM). "This can lead to experiences of a sense of oneness with the universe, a series of interconnectedness… sometimes even a spiritual sort of experience."
Dr Bright says it's "not surprising at all" that people have reported K-holes as life-changing experiences. Indeed, he suspects this 'spiritual' region of the K-hole could have profound potential from a psychotherapeutic standpoint - much in the same way that psilocybin is proving to be an effective treatment for alcohol abuse, depression and end-of-life anxiety.
"Research [with psychedelics] shows that it can be a spiritual experience the person is having and it can have long-term beneficial effects," he told VICE. "Certainly the theory behind providing people with a heavy psychedelic experience is that it provides them with a spiritual and mystical state."
And in curtained bedrooms all around the world, there are people putting that theory in to practice: individuals who are plumbing the depths of the K-hole and putting themselves at the coalface of drug-induced psychotherapy. I asked some of them about their trips into the abyss, what they found down there and, importantly, what happened after they re-emerged.
VICE: Hey Nick, tell us about your experience.
Nick: I came home one night, I had the majority of a gram of ketamine left, and I decided I was just going to keep taking bumps and see where I'd get. I took a line probably about every 10 minutes. I can't really tell you the total dosage but I'd guess I went through upwards of 200 milligrams in that time. Then I felt this warmth all over me, but at the same time I stopped being able to feel anything at all. I fell back on my bed and I don't know if I closed my eyes or they remained open but I stopped really feeling any sense of self.
All of a sudden I was watching myself buy meth from a stranger. I was standing on the concrete about [three metres] behind myself. I could feel how cold it was, I could smell pine from the trees around me. I was completely immersed in the memory. I watched myself walk back to my car and drive away. Then I was in my old room. I could see the spray paint on the walls. I watched myself take my first line of crystal, and I felt ashamed.
Then, all of a sudden, I was outside my sober living, by the pool. I watched myself swimming in the water with my girlfriend [at the time]. Again, I was entirely in the memory—I could smell, see, taste, everything. This went on for some time. I watched myself at the pier, at the beach, and so on. I was reliving events with such total recall that I had no idea I had. I was accessing the memories entirely and living through them with the same feelings I felt at the time of the memory. It was beautiful, and it was heartbreaking at the same time.
How long did this last?
I can't tell how long it lasted for but it was realistically probably only about 50 minutes, tops. Although it felt like it lasted hours.
What effect did the experience have on you overall?
The K-hole changed my life, honestly. I saw that my happiest moments were with that girl. Shortly after I entered a relationship with her again because I saw that I was truly happy in the moments I was with her. Since then my life has revolved around her. Crazy that it took a K-hole for me to see how important love was in my life.
So the K-hole got you guys back together?
Yeah, it was insane. I mean, I've had a drug problem for years, never felt happy without… or at least that's how I'd formerly felt. But looking back on the memories in which I was sober, I was so much happier. I realised what was truly important to me. This isn't to say it cured my drug problem. I still struggle on a daily basis. But it changed my outlook on what I find to be worth fighting for. The girl I mentioned, sobriety, a life with clarity. And in the long run it helped me to appreciate life a little more day to day. I don't know why. I don't know what exactly changed, but I feel like I see the beauty in life a little more.
Dr Bright: Some people report the K-hole as being like a near-death experience… [and] if you speak to someone that's had a near-death experience, they often reprioritise what's important in life or not… I think the important thing with all psychedelic research, ketamine included, is there needs to be some sense of "integration." It's all very good having this spiritual experience or this understanding of these patterns of behaviour that you're engaging in, but unless you translate this into your real life then it's just a fleeting state of enlightenment and it's not having any ongoing effects.
Hey Tom, can you describe your most intense K-hole experience?
Tom: My most intense experience with K was like a month ago, while kitty flipping the first time. I dropped 220 milligrams of MDMA, smoked some weed, and about two hours later snorted about 170 milligrams of K.
I was talking over the phone at the time and, according to my buddy, I said nearly in slow motion that, "the K is hitting faster than I expected and I've got to go." I was falling through my mattress into another dimension… I lost track of reality and time. I couldn't remember if I had actually taken my K. I tried to move but my body seemed to just vibrate as the K kept disconnecting me from my body. At this point I had the thought that I might've fucked my brain up and I would remain in this state forever, leaving my body as a lifeless shell. I thought about it, and was okay with it.
How long did this go on for?
After about 20 minutes I got my consciousness back, checked if I actually took the K (yep, I did) and then fell back onto my pillow into the next K-hole. I know even less from this one, but I had my eyes open for a reasonable amount of time and couldn't figure out what I was actually seeing.
After that a third, more thoughtful K-hole got me. So three different K-holes in total. During that time, when the effects of the K began decreasing, I had some deep but emotionally disconnected thoughts about my life. My girlfriend and I broke up a month ago and, even though I love her, I forced myself to keep the relationship separated. The K gave me some insights that my decision might hurt like hell, but will turn out for the better in the end. Overall, the experience was very frightening.
Had you ever experienced anything like that before?
I've had some pretty deep realisations on K. Like four months ago, when I realised how abusive and manipulative my relationship with my significant other really was… I think K just helped me watching myself in my current position in life and showed me what's actually intensifying my social anxiety and depression. Since then I've actually managed to talk to a female human being without being a completely nervous, paranoid wreck.
Would you say that your K-hole experiences were life changing in any way?
Yes I think they were. I wouldn't call it some magic drug to solve all problems, but in my case I think both the K-hole itself and the "afterglow" over the next two days helped me with my social anxiety a lot. The K-hole most of the time gave me some insight about what part of my anxiety isn't even existent, or at least just in my head.
Ketamine is a dissociative and it gave me some emotionally disconnected perspective on myself and my behaviour in public. Usually, I am constantly questioning every step I take, every word I say, what could others think of me. After the K-hole I'm not thinking as much about those things.
Ketamine provides you with trippy thoughts about yourself and the ability to actually think about your problems without being emotionally attached. At least for me, a part of the K-hole is to have a few dark thoughts, only to realise that it can be better if I keep trying to break out of my anxieties.
Dr Bright: We're actually really not sure what's going on in terms of the psychopharmacology at [the K-hole] level. It may be similar to what we're seeing with psilocybin, where the default mode network of the brain has been turned off… allowing people to see themselves and the world from a completely different position. There's been a number of studies published showing that as a result of psilocybin use in psychotherapy people's anxiety reduces, their depression lifts, their quality of life improves, and their functioning with significant others improves as well… There's potential for ketamine to be used that way, we just haven't conducted the research yet.
So you're a fairly regular ketamine user. How do you usually ingest it?
Hook: I sniff it nine or 10 times. But I have put it in nasal spray, smoked on foil, done hot rails, injected intramuscularly (IM'd), and even sprinkled some on top of an apple I was eating once.
What's been your most intense K-hole experience?
My most intense K-hole experience with no other additives was probably when I IM'ed 0.3 [grams] into my quad. I was at my apartment in my giant beanbag with my headphones in and bandana around my eyes, with the room the right temp. I do this sensory deprivation for maximum trip.
I'd never used needles before, and the rush and trip was so much different. Your nose isn't all clogged, you get this menthol cool in the back of your tongue, and I was greeted by pixelated gods. It's the time I did it in a distressed phase of my life where I was looking for answers on what to do with myself. And, true enough, it shed light onto my path.
Why do you use ketamine?
I am a shaman of sorts, and use ket as my entry way to another world.
Can you explain how that works?
Have you ever meditated? I come from a shamanic descent so I am spiritually aware of much. When I do K, I meditate with sensory deprivation and I get out of body experiences… I can see all of reality in one moment and make correct moves in the future because I can pre-emptively see what's coming.
This is why I go through binges when I have crazy life situations I don't know what to do with… and I always make the right choice. Even if I don't feel like I should, it always turns out to be the correct path. I always listen to my spiritual guardians.
What is it about ketamine or K-holes that you call "spiritual"?
Ketamine is a dissociative and that's that. Reading the Wiki for it is exactly how it is. The only thing they don't mention is your spirit leaving your body and traveling through another world. Your "K-hole" is everything you imagine in another realm.
Would you say that it can be life-changing?
I have seen lives change from K by my own hand. I have people with real problems come and I work on them as they do extreme doses. I have seen it turn lives around and I am proud to say I have helped.
How do you go about treating someone with ketamine?
I gradually build up little bumps as we speak through issues they have, and when I have full understanding of the situation we both do major doses and talk until the other person is incapacitated because he took too much. But this is the stage in which I can work my energy. And I go over their spirit and remove bad energy and open chakras and try to find why the person is having these problems and try to correct accordingly. The session usually ends with them crying their eyes out thanking me for my help, and we continue to be life long friends after I guide them.
Dr Bright: [I've provided] psychological support to people who are having a bad time on [psychedelics], typically LSD. We encourage people not to avoid the challenging experience but actually head in to it and try to work their way through it and come out the other end. And my experience has been that once they do come out the other end they're extremely grateful.
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