This is your brain on ketamine

What’s actually happening in your brain during ketamine therapy? That’s what a team of researchers examined last year in a study published in the British Journal of Anesthesia. The authors studied 15 volunteers, who were given 0.5mg/kg of ketamine over 40 minutes. That’s a standard dose when giving ketamine for depression, but a lower dose than you would use for surgery. The scientists hooked the volunteers up to an EEG monitor and also assessed their subjective perception of ketamine. This is what they found:

1. All types of brainwaves were suppressed during ketamine, but the most reduction came from alpha waves. Alpha waves are associated with alertness and our ordinary, wakeful consciousness.

2. The greatest decrease in brainwave activity occurred in the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), which is thought to mediate the way we see ourselves connected to our body. In this study, the volunteers who had decreased activity in the TPJ also described an out-of-body experience.

3. When volunteers were asked to describe their state of consciousness, participants related an ‘out-of-body’ experience. The experience was ineffable (as in words can’t describe it). They also reported to transcend time and space. Bliss, increased insight, and visual changes were also common.

When related to therapy for depression, these mystical experiences can be incredibly valuable. We want to separate you from your ordinary state of consciousness, which is often ruminative and fixed. It seems that ketamine and other psychedelics work the best for disorders like depression and OCD that are a pattern of fixed thoughts or behaviors. Think of the TPJ as part of your ego, the part of your brain that is hypervigilant. By decreasing the activity of your ego, you get a view of your true Self. Through the integration process, we help you build on the insight that you gain during ketamine for lasting changes.

This study is interesting in that it provides biophysical explanations for the mystical experience that our patients are having.

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