Extracts from Chapter 4 of Karl Jansen's
Ketamine: Dreams and Realities

Ketamine, Near-Death, and Near-Birth Experiences

The near-death experience (NDE) is an altered state of being that can be reached in various ways, including through ketamine. In the past, I have published several articles about ketamine and the NDE that concentrated on events in the brain itself. In this book I will also consider far more speculative suggestions that the brain acts as a transceiver, converting energy fields "beyond the brain" into features of the mind, in a manner similar to the way a television converts waves in the air into sound and vision.

To some scientists and others, advances in quantum physics suggest that certain drugs, and the conditions that produce near-death experiences, may "retune" the brain to provide access to fields and "broadcasts" that are usually inaccessible. They propose that this retuning may open doors to realms that are always there, rather than actually producing those realms, just as the broadcast of one TV channel continues when we change channels. Some users believe that this idea is true, while others see it as a dangerous delusion leading the unwary into "the repeated use trap."

This chapter mainly describes events in "the television" itself, while the hypothetical matter of fields "beyond the brain" is the main topic of the next chapter.


All the features of a classical NDE can be reproduced in some people when ketamine is given at the right dose in the right set and setting. Obviously the drug has many other effects, just as persons who have a heart attack may report altered states of being with a wide range of contents.

There are no agreed criteria defining the NDE. Different researchers have their own lists of requirements, so they are sometimes talking about different states of being. Those who believe that near-death experiences are always joy-filled, calm, beautiful journeys simply label terrifying accounts as something else, such as a nightmare. Another source of bias is the reluctance of those who had bad experiences to share them. History is generally written by those who saw the Light rather than the Dark. ...

It has been argued that an important difference between near-death experiences and ketamine-induced experiences is that the latter can be unpleasant and there may be no desire to repeat them. However, some people have found ketamine experiences to be euphoric and blissful, and have wanted to take the drug every day, while some near-death experiences can be dark, frightening, and far from tranquil.


Even if we accept that near-death experiences occur during "soul transition" (as is claimed by some people with a spiritual orientation), we would still expect some darkness to accompany the light, one being required to define the other. Many of the ancient myths and religious ideas tell of both blissful and frightening journeys. Part of the Tibetan Book of the Dead concerns fearful journeys, the signs of Third Bardo existence including panic, torture, and persecution. The form the demons take depends on the person's own cultural origins. Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof's model includes great fear, anxiety, panic, and paranoia, in addition to many beautiful, ecstatic and euphoric states. NDE accounts can describe hell, purgatory, heaven, and various stages in between, as can reports of ketamine experiences. There can be no light without darkness, and it is neither credible nor accurate to describe all near-death experiences as filled with peace and quiet. It is also wrong to view all ketamine experiences as unpleasant — a common counter-bias.


Important features include a sense that what is experienced is real "and that one is actually dead, and that what is happening is inexpressible in words." A sense of timelessness and eternity is common. There are often feelings of peace, joy, and euphoria although some cases have been frightening and deeply unpleasant. As well as heaven, it is also possible to emerge into nightmare spaces where the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train, or a lit match in a coffin.

In both a NDE and a ketamine experience, there may an inability to feel pain, clarity of thought, apparent separation from the body (an out-of-body trip), and/or visions of landscapes, angels, beings of light, people including partners, parents, teachers and friends (who may be alive at the time), and religious or mythical figures. There may seem to be interaction with these figures, who are sometimes (although not always) perceived as helpful. Some people describe meeting more mundane beings such as Elvis (apologies to anyone who thinks that Elvis is God) or characters from Star Trek. Euphoria is common. The person may divide the experience into distinct sequences, including perception of a border between different realms at which they turn back towards life, or suddenly enter a new phase. There is often no choice about the direction of the change, which appears to be dictated by larger forces. In both near-death experiences and ketamine experiences, there may be a marked reluctance to return. In his book Addict, Stephen Smith describes being forced to return as being "double-crossed by God." In Christian cultures the person may be told that it is not yet their time to go while in India they may be told that there was a clerical error. The manner in which ketamine produces fast, distinct phase-shifts tends to distinguish the drug from the classical psychedelic drugs. These usually produce more gradual transitions, than the perception that a switch has suddenly clicked. Ketamine experiences can involve very abrupt click-click-click phase-shifts, like walking down a set of psychic stairs — and the return can also be sudden in some cases.


Kenneth Ring, author of Life at Death: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience, classified the NDE on a 5-stage continuum: feelings of peace; detachment from the body, entering a transitional world of darkness (rapid movement through a long dark tunnel: "the tunnel trip"); emerging into bright light; and "entering the light." In Ring's studies, only 10% attained the last stage. Claims that near-death experiences are always identical, regardless of the set and setting, are contradicted by the variety actually found in published reports. They differ between people and cultures. For example, instead of a tunnel and angels, East Indians may describe the River Ganges and a particular guru. A child having a NDE may "see" his or her still-living friends and teachers, or Nintendo and comic book characters, rather than God. Near-death experiences contain as much variation and as much similarity as are found in ketamine experiences, in the same set and setting. Claims that NDE reports are all very similar have been said to prove that souls are traveling to the same place. Not only are these reports not so similar, but even if souls did travel to the same place (presuming that souls exist at all), individual factors always influence what is seen — even when we are wide awake, watching the same channel. Modern quantum physics suggests an infinite number of other realities, rather than the narrow range provided by some religions.


A copy of the entire Serendipity website is available on CD-ROM.  Details here.

Ketamine Psychedelics Serendipity Home Page