A K-Hole: What Is It and How Can You Achieve It Safely?
If you’ve heard of ketamine, the painkiller and sedative, that’s been recently discovered to radically treat depression, anxiety, and PTSD, you may have also heard that ketamine is a psychedelic drug. That means it can (but won’t always) cause profound hallucinations.
If you’ve never experienced a drug like ketamine, the idea of hallucinating can sound really scary. But psychedelic experiences are rarely like the movies. At a licensed ketamine infusion clinic, hallucinations are also rare because a fairly low dose is generally given. It’s really a far cry from the recreational use of this medicine on the street.
That said, some people do experience some hallucinatory side effects, including the infamous “K-hole.” This guide will walk you through what to expect during a ketamine infusion and how to navigate the psychedelic mindscape in the midst of this exciting treatment.
Ketamine: A Brief History
Ketamine was discovered by Calvin L. Stevens, a chemist at Wayne State University, in 1962. Stevens wanted an alternative to PCP, a drug that was useful for surgery but had intense side effects. (You’ve probably heard of PCP and maybe even ketamine, only in the context of a street drug, but many legitimate, useful medicines have been turned into recreational drugs.)
Ketamine was a breakthrough. It had far fewer side effects and was a much more effective anesthetic. Today, ketamine is the most widely used painkiller around the globe, according to the World Health Organization. But it wasn’t until about a decade ago that doctors started to notice ketamine could do more than just stop physical pain—it could help with mental pain as well.
What Is A K-Hole?
A K-hole is when high doses of the drug cause intense visuals, mind-body dissociation, and possibly even an out-of-body experience. This can feel like you are watching yourself living out your life from far away, or like everything you see is projected on a giant movie screen that you are watching from deep within a dark theater.
You may feel like you’re floating and that time does not exist. You may also experience visual hallucinations, such as fractals or spinning shapes when you close your eyes, and sometimes even when they’re open.
The experience can cause euphoria, pain relief, have antidepressant effects, and a sense of spiritual oneness. You may also feel unable to move or speak. There may also be some nausea, dizziness or confusion. Believe it or not, many people find this experience pleasant or at least fascinating. It is rare that the experience becomes scary and many swear that even the uncomfortable bits are an important part of their healing journey.
Again, this all happens only at high doses. At the levels of drug used in ketamine infusion, these experiences are rare, and again, many people find them to be enjoyable and useful for their treatment.
How To Prepare For A K-Hole
The trick is being mentally and physically prepared before a ketamine infusion session. That means “set and setting” are important – i.e your mental state (ideally, in a relatively calm mood) and where you are (somewhere safe and relaxing without a lot of stimulation). Soothing music is also a great addition to a ketamine infusion session.
Your doctor will be able to explain what to expect before you go through the procedure, and medical staff will be on hand to assist if things ever get overwhelming.
If things do get overwhelming, don’t panic. Just try to remember that you are on a drug and that the effects are not permanent. And don’t be ashamed, either. While rare, feeling uncomfortable on psychedelic dissociatives like ketamine can be a bit much for some people, and that’s perfectly fine.
How Long Does A K-Hole Last?
The hallucinogenic effects of ketamine do not last long. When injected, the effects last around 30 to 60 minutes. Compare that to other psychedelic drugs, like psilocybin or LSD, which can last 6 to 8 hours, ketamine is much shorter acting.
Even if a K-hole can be uncomfortable, it’s easy to manage if given the right mindset, particularly since it ends quickly. Even so, an hour or so of discomfort can erase literally decades of mental pain. Again, it’s worth mentioning that ketamine is usually enjoyable when taken in low doses—which is why the substance is so popular.
Movies and television can make something like K-holes or a psychedelic experience seem like a nightmare. But some with actual experience using these substances deny the idea of a “bad” trip, indeed postulating that even negative experiences, while challenging, still have much to teach us.
Can A K-Hole Cause Brain Damage?
The answer is yes, but with a major caveat: ketamine only causes brain damage if you are repeatedly going into a K-hole, multiple times a week, for a long time. Ketamine infusion therapy, even a few times a year, is completely safe. The dangers of street drugs and their consequences are really not related to ketamine, a drug that has been widely and safely used in medicine since the 1960’s.
The K-Hole May Be The Point
Currently, scientists aren’t entirely sure how ketamine helps fight depression, anxiety, and PTSD. They just know that it does. There are many receptors in the brain that ketamine activates or responds to, so it could be multiple neuronal pathways working together, and research is ongoing.
But having a K-hole, even a mild one, may also be a big part of why ketamine is therapeutic. One of the biggest effects of a K-hole is the objectivity it offers. You can look at your life outside of yourself, usually without feelings of fear or apprehension. This allows you to better examine yourself, ask yourself difficult questions, or relive a traumatic experience without emotional attachment.
Yes, ketamine therapy is kind of weird like that—but that may be why it’s so effective. There haven’t really been any breakthroughs in psychotherapy for twenty years, and psychedelic drugs like ketamine are challenging a lot of our assumptions about medicine, mental health, and healing.
Ketamine for depression has shown dramatic results, but can the psychedelic side effects be scary? Here’s how to handle a so-called k-hole.