I Tried It: Ketamine Meditation

Three people laying on yoga mats, listening to meditations through headphones

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

I Tried It is a series that features accounts of real experiences with innovative new treatments, techniques, or practices that are making waves in the mental health world. Each installment in the series is unique to the writer's experience and may not be representative of the experiences or views of others.

Tucking my ketamine lozenge into my purse with one hand as I ordered a Lyft with the other hand, all I could think of is how weird this was. 

I had been invited to a “ketitation,” a clever portmanteau of ketamine and meditation—and something I aggressively rolled my eyes at when the invite landed in my inbox. It felt a little too cutesy to me for the serious depression I’d been receiving treatment for over the past three years. 

I live in Los Angeles, where things like “medicated” (cannabis-lubricated) meditations are a thing. In fact, I went to one of those meditations a few years ago…and I freaked out about freaking out and didn’t really get to enjoy the benefits of the cannabis

The Experience

As I walked into the yoga studio where the event was being held, I hunched over in anxiety, not wanting to be noticed. I deliberately arrived on the later side so that I could sneak into the back row and not have to make much conversation. I don’t have a ton of social anxiety, but a group ketamine-induced meditation with a bunch of strangers? 

Once again, I was freaking out about freaking out, and, I’m not going to lie, I felt a little like the new kid at school. Would anyone talk to me? Connecting with others is a strong suit of mine—so to feel a disconnect triggers old sensations of feeling excluded.

J, who works for the company, asked if he could sit next to me. He’d checked me in earlier, and my shoulders immediately drop a bit, feeling a little safer just having someone who’s not a 100% stranger next to me. 

I don’t have a ton of social anxiety, but a group ketamine-induced meditation with a bunch of strangers?

When I walked in the door, I made a conscious decision to put my cynicism aside, both internally and externally. I wouldn’t crack any jokes about the absurdity of the event (but a slick venture-backed mental health startup prescribing a roomful of young adults a party drug-cum-antidepressant with a sound bath in a yoga studio? You couldn’t make this up if you tried).

I’ve lived in LA for three years now, but the sarcastic New York writer in me remains in my DNA, always keeping me just a beat away from really connecting by cracking a joke instead. I laid aside my desire to find something I can laugh at, and I sat with my discomfort of entering into what I hope will be a powerful experience—all on my own. 

The event started with J explaining a bit of the neuroscience behind ketamine—how it increases neuroplasticity after taking it for a short term. Ah, science. The mental health writer and therapist in me feel comfortable. But as he speaks, I’m wondering what brought everyone else here. Does truly everyone in this room have depression?

Is This Safe?

But in all seriousness—I wonder about the screening and the safety. Does everyone who fills out the little survey get prescribed ketamine? Can someone just say they’re depressed and be given this powerful prescription to take at home? 

After “failing” more than 10 psychiatric medications, I began IV ketamine three years ago. Just before beginning this ketamine meditation. I’d had to provide a lengthy history of my depression and treatment to my insurance company to be approved for coverage for Spravato (nasal spray esketamine), which I ultimately ended up not pursuing.

The physician assistant explains that the company's safety process includes lower dosing, not taking on a patient who is high-risk (such as someone currently struggling with PTSD who has never seen a therapist), and making sure all patients have an "ally" present in person.

As someone who also has experience with IV ketamine, I can say that the two experiences are pretty different. In an infusion, I may feel entirely dissociated—so much so that I have asked the nurse "do I even exist?"

This can be called ego death or ego dissolution. I feel like I cease to exist within my body and that I am just free-floating in the universe. It's a little terrifying to experience, but it feels beautiful writing these words.

With the lozenges, I feel much more mild dissociation. I have a vague sense that my body is resting on the floor in a yoga studio while my brain is off on its own adventure. I feel as if I am floating gently through the universe from experience to experience, rather than being shot out of a cannonball into the ether, like I sometimes felt in an IV session.

Medication and Meditation

A psychedelic guide begins a meditation session, meant to prepare us for our “journeys.”

She talks us through setting an intention, and she leads us through breathing exercises that the PA says are meant to increase the activity of the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that allows us to relax, and in people with depression, it may be dysregulated. As one of the side effects of ketamine may be temporarily elevated blood pressure, she says that the breathing exercises may also help with this.

We are to hold the lozenges in our mouths for 10 minutes, as they’re absorbed through the lining of the cheeks, also known as buccal administration. I struggle to breathe deeply amid my anxiety while also not accidentally swallowing the lozenge or my saliva. 

In an infusion, I may feel entirely dissociated—so much so that I have asked the nurse 'do I even exist?'

Finally, the time comes to swallow and lay down, and I am hoping for a good experience. We are listening to a live sound bath over the kind of headphones you wear at a silent disco, and I find comfort in this idea of having a self-contained experience, but in the company and energy of others. 

The music was custom-designed by musicologists and purported to put you into the theta state that enables deeper meditation. It’s also engineered to take you on a “journey.” The inner experience of a ketamine session feels very much to me like the music is the soundtrack to the movie in my head, and some research suggests that music can enhance the emotional experience of ketamine.

Ketamine and Connection

At one point, I thought I felt J’s fingers brush mine as we lay next to each other on our mats. Instinctively, I pulled away. It must have been a mistake, right?  But no sooner had I yanked my hand back as if I’d just touched a hot stove, did I realize that I was physically pulling back from what I’m always looking for—connection. 

As a therapist, it’s really one of my core beliefs that a big part of depression and anxiety happens when we’re disconnected—from ourselves, from others.

I remember at one point wanting to stop trying to describe it, to narrate it, in my head, and to just be in it and have faith I’d remember it later and whatever lessons it had for me. I reminded myself that the actual chemical of ketamine was doing its job to repair those neural connections in my brain so that I could continue to take insight and, more importantly, action, on anything that came up.

When the ketitation wrapped, we were gently called “back” into the room from wherever our brains had just been. They suggested journaling, and I furiously scribbled, my head moving so much faster than my hands could. 

I wondered if I’d feel left out again or not when people started discussing their experiences, but J turned to me and we started gabbing. When I tell my friends about my usual ketamine sessions, I know they can’t fully understand it. I mean—I once thought I was my dog! (Best day of my life.) 

But no sooner had I yanked my hand back as if I’d just touched a hot stove, did I realize that I was physically pulling back from what I’m always looking for—connection.

Telling him that I’d “been” in a forest in my journey was totally normal, and it was reassuring to be speaking the same language with someone else. Ketamine has changed my life, and I wonder sometimes if I’m a bit too much of a ketamine evangelist—I know it’s not a panacea—but I felt at home with someone who was just as passionate as I am.

Why the Meditation with the Medication?

It should be said that I am able to go to this event in person because the ketamine company hosting it is also located in Los Angeles, but they (and other ketamine providers) also offer meditations on their websites or apps to accompany the ketamine experience.

It's interesting to note that research shows that both ketamine and meditation affect our default mode networks in our brains. The default mode network is the part of our brain that we, well, default to when we are not actively focusing on an external task.

Depression can "hijack" and dysregulate this system in the brain. Both meditation and ketamine appear to decrease activity in the default mode network, affecting the way we process our thoughts while our minds wander.

In our modern society, so many of us are disconnected from each other and others. Think of the last time you were in an elevator—you were probably all staring at your phones awkwardly, utterly disconnected from the humans so near you.

Even among those with many friends, there’s still something called subjective loneliness—that feeling you get when you’re around people but feel so deeply alone. During the most intense parts of my depression, I still surrounded myself with people. I was too scared to be alone with my thoughts, and I was afraid that I’d be out of sight, out of mind, and lose friends if I isolated.

So many of my friends told me they loved me, but I just didn’t believe them. I was so afraid of losing them that it was “easier” for me to believe they didn’t love me at all so I’d be “prepared” when I eventually lost them. At my self-loathing high, I also couldn’t fathom why someone else would care about me. Unsurprisingly, then, this created a giant chasm between us as I pushed them away, fueled by my cognitive distortions, only leading me to feel more lonely.

Depression can make you feel meaningless; ketamine and other psychedelic substances can help you feel one with the world/universe. In my previous IV ketamine sessions, I’d used the phrase “feeling part of the fabric of the universe” when I journaled afterward—and that was in a session where I was alone and in a medical setting.

Even among those with many friends, there’s still something called subjective loneliness—that feeling you get when you’re around people but feel so deeply alone.

I had gone into this ketitation with the intent of wanting to believe I was deserving of romantic love, particularly from the guy I was dating at the time. But they say that psychedelics show you what you need to see, and I experienced an expansive, peaceful feeling of being surrounded by a giant circle of everyone who loved me, in a very sweet Kumbaya kind of way.

At home, by myself, I might have come back to my regular consciousness and felt alone—single, missing my mom, 3,000 miles away from family—but meditating in community helped me hold on to that feeling that I wasn't alone.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

4 Sources
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By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT
Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer using her experiences to help others. She holds a master's degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University and is a board member of Still I Run, a non-profit for runners raising mental health awareness. Theodora has been published on sites including Women's Health, Bustle, Healthline, and more and quoted in sites including the New York Times, Shape, and Marie Claire.