The following is a guest post by my friend Dr. Scott Allen, M.D., a board-certified anesthesiologist, who has a clinical practice in St. George, Utah, Satori Health and Wellness. Here he shares his insights in using ketamine as an entheogen to induce mystical experiences, and several of the therapeutic benefits that these experiences have for psychospiritual health.
As regular readers of this site intuitively know, the benefits of adopting a contemplative lifestyle extend into all facets of our lives. For the last 150 years, though, western medicine has neglected serious study of mystical phenomena, largely because of the inability to quantify the phenomenology.
We don’t have the words to describe what happens when we peel back the layers of ordinary consciousness to expose the essence of reality. By its very nature, a mystical experience is ineffable and doesn’t lend easily to a randomized controlled study. That said, some of the phenomena of mystical experiences tend to be similar and share common themes. Shared experiences help us inch closer to Ultimate Truth. When enough people share an experience, we can more confidently claim something as “Real” (putting aside the non-dual unity as the only One Reality, since we live apparently dualistic lives). As we get closer to Truth, we can start to apply what we’re learning in a clinical setting.
Because we can reliably create a mystical experience with entheogens and other psychedelic medicines, we’re in the early stages of quantifying the mystical state. The most commonly used tool is the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ 30), in which participants rank their psychedelic experience according to the degree of mysticism, positive mood, transcendence of time and space, and ineffability.
Commonly used in studies of psilocybin on depression, the MEQ30 positively correlates with the degree of depression relief. In my own clinical practice with ketamine, we have confirmed the findings that the quality of the mystical experience correlates with the degree of therapeutic benefit.
Each of the psychedelic medicines produce similar effects, but certain qualia are unique to each medicine. Because I spend the most time with ketamine, I’d like to share a few observations I’ve made about the ketamine phenomenon. For the sake of space, I’ll omit experience of unity, encounters with Deity, encounters with the shadow, and overwhelming love and acceptance of oneself and others.
Out of Body
Fairly unique to ketamine is the feeling of being physically out of your body. Patients report observing the treatment, hovering around the room, or flying across the country. Applied clinically in the context of depression, this can result in rapid remission of depressive symptoms. When we are anxious or depressed, our minds are on a loop of ruminations. Small problems take on outsized importance. An experience of physical separation from the body not only gives us the feeling of being spiritual beings having a mortal life, but it shows us that we are not confined to a typical egoic existence that is confined to the brain. Through regular contemplative practice, the feeling of separate-but-connected can allow us to take a step back when the ruminations threaten to hijack our brains.
Fractals are not unique to ketamine; they’re found throughout most psychedelic medicine. There is some evidence that fractal patterns are the result of the crystalline architecture of the brain’s neural pathways. Somewhat distinctive, though, to ketamine is the experience of the universe folding in on itself, a la Inception. Ordinarily, this experience would produce a fair amount anxiety; hopefully most of us don’t spend the day folding into oblivion. But under ketamine, having the physical structure of the world disrupted is taken as a natural matter of course. Patients get a sense that, even if the world collapses around them, the conscious observer is unharmed. Which gets me to my last observation for today:
The Imperturbable Center of Being
Underneath the egoic experience of the world, lies a space I call the Imperturbable Center of Being. Many of you will have undoubtedly experienced this space and I’m confident that it provides you a deep well of meaning, as well as tranquility. In this space, we see that our consciousness cannot be harmed or otherwise influenced. Any emotion—negative or positive—is a result of our dualistic ego. Of course, we can’t live in this disembodied void (that’s what eternity is for?), but the knowledge that it is ever-present can sustain us through difficult times.
I could go on and on about the phenomenology of psychedelic medicine and how the benefits can be applied to our lives. I hope Bryce will let me flesh out some other topics regarding mysticism and medicine, because there are few forums where this worldview can be discussed intelligently. I maintain my own blog at stgeorgeketamine.com/education, where I post helpful articles for patients and clinicians. Also, if you have an interest in psychedelic medicine and would like to get involved, please visit my website or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for taking the time to live the contemplative life.