This is probably one of the most common questions that patients ask when inquiring about Ketamine treatment, and it is a difficult question to answer.
How ketamine feels to one individual can be quite different than how it will feel to another, and each session can be very different. Not all ketamine clinics dose ketamine the same and this contributes to the variability in reports.
We sometimes have clients that read experience reports on websites like reddit or elsewhere on the internet and become concerned about what the experience might be like for them, especially if they have read a report of someone who had a bizarre experience. We do not advise that if you are considering this treatment you read these reports and expect your experience to be anything like anyone else's. Your experience will be unique to you and generally reports on the internet about ketamine experiences are a distillation of some of the strangest or most atypical experiences that people have ever had. They are not very representative of what is typical for people, at least compared to what we typically see at our clinic.
Although there are some common features that are present in most experiences, trying to explain what a Ketamine infusion feels like is a bit like trying to explain what seeing is like to someone who has been blind since birth.
Once the infusion starts, during approximately the first 5 minutes most will feel a calming sensation come over them. If the client was feeling somewhat anxious prior to the infusion starting, this feeling will often lift during this stage. Usually the first sensations felt from ketamine are very gentle and calming.
At approximately 8 to 10 minutes, as the level of ketamine builds in your system, you will feel less and less of the sensations of your body. The sounds you are hearing (almost all clients prefer to listen to calming music during KAP sessions) will become slightly louder and more encompassing. Music often gains more “dimension” than is apparent under normal consciousness while under the effects of ketamine. Vision will become blurry and slightly distorted (our clinicians encourage the use of eyeshades to block light and help to internalize the experience).
At Transcend, we actively maintain the level of the infusion minute by minute within a dose range specific to you, that keeps our clients lucid and able to communicate in order to conduct therapy with our KAP trained therapists.
As the experience plateaus, most clients will find that with the eyes closed there are internal “visual” patterns that occur within the mind as thoughts occur. Clients have described this as “a synesthetic interplay between the music, the visuals occurring in my mind and my thoughts”.
Most people report the ketamine experience to be exactly that, “an experience”, meaning it often changes and has phases. It is not uncommon for clients to report actually feeling as though they went somewhere else, were flying, or experienced the sensation of moving through different scenes, somewhat mimicking a dream-like experience.
The term "dissociative" is often misunderstood and used incorrectly. When speaking about ketamines effects the term dissociative refers to the medications ability to produce a state in which one is not "associated" with ones normal cognitive processes and the feeling of being within ones physical body. How strong these effects are depend on the dose received and how that dose is given. So there is a dose dependent continuum of dissociative effects that ketamine can produce. The term dissociative sometimes is confused with the psychological phenomenon of dissociative symptoms, but these are different neurobiological processes.
At Transcend, we do not dose to fully dissociative ranges. This is because we always want our clients to be able to talk to their therapist at any time during the experience. The level of dissociation that is typically experienced in the dose ranges Transcend most often utilizes is in the middle of the dissociative continuum and is classified as the peri-dissociative range. In this range, it is normal to not necessarily notice the sensations of the body, or feel completely associated with being in a body but if one were to want to feel the body, as a means to ground, that would still be possible (although it might feel a bit different than normal).
For most people, engaging in dialogue with a Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy trained therapist while you are in this peri-dissociative state of consciousness can yield a deeper therapeutic experience than what is normal in traditional talk therapy. Often, different perspectives and insights are more accessible in these states of consciousness than under normal consciousness. There is also often a sense of profundity to the types of thoughts that arise while in a ketamine experience.
Sometimes, clients report having more access to emotions that might be difficult to access normally, and a greater ability to experience those emotions without becoming overwhelmed in the process.
For some, Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy sessions can even yield what some people would describe as spiritual experiences. The act of dissolving away the physical sensations of the body paired with a transient period of dis-identification with the normal psychological constructs and processes can be a very profound experience.
After your first session, it will be much easier to understand how this state of consciousness can be used in a therapeutic fashion. For some, the first KAP session will take a therapeutic path, for others it may take several sessions before they become more deeply therapeutically meaningful. This is why a series of sessions is normally necessary to break through, and provide significant shifts in symptoms.
At Transcend, we believe that the dissociative, psycholytic, and psychedelic effects of ketamine are not just an unwanted side effect. Some clinics do believe this and actually administer medications that blunt these effects or dose ketamine in such a way that they will not be as present. This is not the practice at Transcend. We see the ketamine experience itself as a deeply important aspect of how ketamine works to treat mood disorders. The experiential aspects of ketamine often drive the therapeutic process or allow for content to intrinsically arise that might not have in traditional talk therapy.
When ketamine experiences are appropriately integrated with a therapist trained in this modality they have the potential to bring about meaningful, long-term change and provide reductions in distress from mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.
We just don’t have words in the English language to describe what this experience is like but hopefully this article can help to provide general understanding around how it might feel. To add an extra sense of comfort, our team is trained to alter the level of experience during administration if it ever becomes too overwhelming at any point.