Ketamine and the Out-of-Body Experience

In today's major piece of not-news, Wired tells us that the anaesthetic drug Ketamine creates out-of-body experiences. Well actually, they say it "creates out-of-body illusions". Then in the next round of Chinese whispers, it becomes "Ketamine reveals the truth about the OBE". The source of these headlines is a (rather more circumspect) paper titled "Ketamine as a primary predictor of out-of-body experiences associated with multiple substance use":

Investigation of “out-of-body experiences” (OBEs) has implications for understanding both normal bodily-self integration and its vulnerabilities.  Dreams and RealityBeyond reported associations between OBEs and specific brain regions, however, there have been few investigations of neurochemical systems relevant to OBEs. Ketamine, a drug used recreationally to achieve dissociative experiences, provides a real-world paradigm for investigating neurochemical effects. We investigate the strength of the association of OBEs and ketamine use relative to other common drugs of abuse. Self-report data (N = 192) from an online survey indicate that both lifetime frequency of ketamine use and OBEs during ketamine intoxication were more strongly related to the frequency of OBEs and related phenomena than other drugs. Moreover, the apparent effects of other drugs could largely be explained by associated ketamine use. The present results, consistent with the role of NMDA receptors in OBEs, should encourage future studies of the role of neurochemical systems in OBEs.

I say "not-news" because anybody familiar with the effects of Ketamine already knows that users often have OBEs. Additionally, there has already been much discussion of the similarity some Ketamine trips have to the near-death experience (NDE). So it's not really news (though the paper itself is of course interesting), and people are piling on a fair dose of hype about it being somehow 'explanatory'.

But here's the bonus for all you readers out there: you can dive into this topic in more depth by downloading Karl Jansen's book Ketamine: Dreams and Realities (2000) in its entirety (and completely legally) from the MAPS resource centre (or if you want a 'real book' version, head to In there you'll find two whole chapters devoted to the Ketamine-OBE-NDE crossovers - fascinating reading, not to mention the rest of the book.


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kamarling's picture
Member since:
26 June 2005
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1 day 4 hours

Yet another "coincidence" - they seem to crop up with increasing regularity these days (or is that just a coincidence?).

Just this morning, I was listening (on my iPod) to a lecture given to a meeting of the Scientific and Medical Network ( ) by Dr. Ornella Corazza. The subject was NDE research and she devoted quite a large part of her lecture to the comparison between Katamine induced OBE's and NDE's. There is a review of her book on the same subject here:


93rd Libra's picture
Member since:
8 March 2010
Last activity:
4 years 40 weeks

Ahh, i had a frightening NDE w/ Ketamine a few years back. I could write a whole book on that journey alone.

Step Through.

Georgehants's picture
Member since:
28 November 2010
Last activity:
1 year 42 weeks

Stanislav Grof has been reporting these effects from LSD for 50 years.
His conclusions from experiments etc. in the journals are easily accessed.
Main line Psychiatry still buries its head even though many treatments for schizophrenia etc. are staring them in the face.


emlong's picture
Member since:
18 September 2007
Last activity:
39 min 27 sec

I was always a little surpised that John Lily was so into ketamine that he was doing it daily and had a "habit." There was something very obviously compelling about the disassociative state unique to ketamine. He was allegedly stoned on ketamine when he had his awful bicycle crash that nearly killed him and sent hin into a prolonged coma/NDE state from which he crawled and scraped his way back to us by using mathematical jiu jitsu. I think he may have blamed ketamine use on his calamity while also lauding it for the disassociated state training it had given him which came in handy for hanging onto his self long enough to let his body heal and give him another chance to stay here among the living.