PSA to Ketamine: Get Off the Dancefloor
“If ecstasy brings a club together under a collective consciousness, ketamine divides it up again into a collection of individual non-responsive egos. If ecstasy makes you one with the music, ketamine shuts it out and ignores it. If ecstasy is energy, ketamine is lethargy.”
This quote is from an article written by Tom Armstrong of Sabotage Times, a publication in the UK about how recreational usage of Ketamine on the dancefloor is counter-productive to the health of the music scene. This reporter tends to agree with Mr. Armstrong.
Let’s break down the facts: Ketamine is classified as a “DISSOCIATIVE ANESTHETIC” and loosely as a psychedelic. Dissociative drugs are a class of hallucinogens, which distort the perception of sight and sound and produce feelings of detachment - dissociation - from the environment and self. This is done through reducing or blocking signals to the conscious mind from other parts of the brain. Ketamine is an anesthetic that was first developed for human medical use in the 1960s, but is still commonly used today by medical practitioners.  With children undergoing minor procedures it is used as an anesthetic, but due to the fact that the drug induces psychedelic episodes, it is not used as the primary anesthetic. It is now more primarily used in veterinary practices.
“In the body, ketamine increases the effects of sympathetic nervous activity, giving a slight increase of heart rate, blood pressure & cardiac output, bronchodilation (widening of airways) and pupil dilation (disco eyes!). In the brain, ketamine blocks the action of the neurotransmitter L-glutamate. When this happens, the NMDA receptor in the brain does not receive expected signals. It is the NMDA receptors that coordinate and integrate the conscious mind into all bodily functions and other parts of the brain. Ketamine also increases the excretion of adrenaline into the bloodstream and releases endorphins, which work to block the sensation of physical pain.”
So, now that we've hashed out the facts, let’s summarize our findings so we can all better understand. Ketamine is a powerful anesthetic that causes temporary paralysis and slows down motor functions while removing your body’s ability to feel pain… Can someone explain to me why this is a popular drug within dance music culture?
A friend of mine, who is a veteran of the dance music scene, described to me how back in the 1990s people would show up to a rave in their pajamas with pillows and blankets and just slither down against the walls as they got further into their K-holes. For those of you unsure of what a K-hole is, let me enlighten you on this fascinating experience (…sarcasm!). “At higher doses they may babble, not remember who or where they are, stumble if they try to walk, feel their hearts race and find it difficult to breathe. Too high a dose of ketamine causes loss of consciousness.”
A description of someone experiencing a K-Hole from someone who is observing them is this: Imagine a baby fawn that is just learning how to stand on all fours. It's shaking and wobbling as it tries to make its way from point A to point B. Their eyes fade beyond recognition and they will furrow their brows as they spew out nonsense and then become further incoherent as they start to realize that they can neither form proper sentences nor proper thoughts. Clearly dizzy and starting to feel the onset of paralysis, they will manage to glue themselves to the walls and start sliding along until their legs give in and they drop when they become unconscious.
Some negative side effects of a Ketamine trip: 
- Dry mouth
- Respiratory problems
- Nervousness/racing heart
- Egocentrism: There are many reports of regular users starting to see patterns and coincidences (synchronicities) in the world around them which seem to indicate that they are somehow more important or integral to others.
- Many people also experience nausea and/or vomiting. Supervision of higher dose ketamine experiences by a sober sitter can help ensure that an unconscious participant doesn't have problems with vomiting and/or breathing.
- Irritation to the bladder and urinary tract from heavy use of ketamine may occur. There is increasing evidence that frequent ketamine use (even under medical supervision using pharmaceutical ketamine) can cause short or long term pain, difficulty urinating, and other related problems
Clarification for claims regarding the positive affects of Ketamine:
- "It gives you energy." Wrong, it’s an anesthetic, which does the opposite of increasing energy.
- "It's a responsible drug." In reality, two extra bumps and you are either in complete paralysis or unconscious.
- "It balances out the other uppers/stimulants." Um, if you really feel the need to bring down the energy, go smoke a joint.
- "It helps you get 'lost' in the music." Yeah, you're more lost standing on the dancefloor than you are in the music. I'm pretty sure you can’t even hear at a certain point.
Recently, I have interviewed a handful of DJs and reputable producers and they all seem to share one thing, they want to bring an experience of movement and energy to the dancefloor. That seems kind of hard when your fans are tripped out on a drug that makes them pretty much physically unable to dance. I think by the end of the night no one remembers who was playing or even if there was sound. Talk about the fan of the year!
There are currently studies being done by medical professionals discussing the ability to treat depression or PTSD with Ketamine. This may create the fallacy that there aren’t any negative or long-term effects. Being administer a micro dose by a clinical professional is a different story than snorting 3 lines and losing touch with reality. The truth is, ketamine is an addictive substance; it is up there with heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, PCP and etc. You build a tolerance to it and have to constantly increase the dosage over time, not to mention once you're tripping, you're most likely going to do WAY more than you can handle, hence the K-Hole. Want more proof? It’s an anesthetic, how many addicts sit in rehab over similar substances such as morphine and codeine.
I have done my fair share of experimentation and yes, I am a fan of psychedelic experiences. Ketamine has been known to have psychedelic properties, but those properties are minuscule in comparison to the characteristics of its anesthetic components. Drug experimentation in the music scene is not an uncommon factor and, for the most part, drug usage has been done for the pursuit of elevating the sound and encouraging unity amongst the patrons. Ketamine on the other hand, encourages your own private world while simultaneously bringing down the vibe of everyone else’s. Your mind and body are separated in a state that leaves you uncoordinated and unable interact with your surroundings. That doesn't seem to promote unity at all.
I can see this being an experience for home or at a house party, where you have somewhere comfortable to lay down and you're surrounded by people who are aware of your existence. At a club or a rave, you're not only surrounded by strangers who don’t know you, but also by people immersed in the dance. If something was to happen to you while your buddies were bouncing around and you were slumped against the wall, who would know? How long would it take for someone to realize something was wrong?
Armstrong ends his article with the following, “I’ll end on a poignant quote I read recently from a seasoned disco queen on the subject which highlights how far the ketamine epidemic has spread: ‘If you like your world in slow-motion and want to become one with the wall then save it for the after party, don’t stand there bog-eyed and get in my way while I’m Vogueing.’”
Musical events are places for fun and connection. Smiles and laughter would fill the room that's also filled with great music, elevating your sense of everything around you. Now, the only thing to look forward to is the ever-increasing space over time as everyone slumps off to the side. Those who witnesses this just either stands in shock or worry, unsure if the appropriate thing to do is to call a paramedic.
In no way does Ketamine encourage a healthy musical environment and neither does it help in advocating the music culture to outsiders. If you want my advice and if you didn't get it by now, take your K and get off the dancefloor, it has no business being there.