K Hole and the Awful Effects of Ketamine

"Falling into a k hole" is slang for how it feels when you take a high enough dose of ketamine that your awareness of the world around you and your control over your own body become so profoundly impaired that you're temporarily unable to interact with others—or the world around you.

Effects of a ketamine high
Verywell / JR Bee

Effects of Ketamine

Ketamine is a dissociative drug. In simple terms, dissociative drugs make users feel detached from their surroundings as if they are not really there. This feeling of dissociation becomes more intense with higher dosages, which make users feel very disconnected from, and unaware of, their surroundings—even when they may technically be awake. They may also feel disconnected from, or unable to control, their own bodies, including the ability to speak and move around easily.

One way to think about this is that the k hole is a state between intoxication and a coma. While the consciousness of the real world diminishes in a k hole, a fantasy world of delusions and hallucinations can take over. This is usually temporary, although longer-term users may begin to show ongoing dissociative and psychotic symptoms — loss of accurately sensing the world around them — even after the drug wears off.

The K Hole Experience

Although it can be hard to understand why someone would voluntarily take a drug that feels bad, the truth is that although ketamine can produce feelings of euphoria, falling into a k hole can be a frightening and intensely powerless experience. The most common effects are marked confusion, difficulties in speaking, unexplainable experiences, floating sensations, and mind/body dissociation. Rarely, ketamine users describe near-death experiences, astral travel, and alien phenomena.

The sense of powerlessness felt in a k-hole is especially true if your ability to speak is affected. To others around you, you may simply look immobile and intoxicated, although your eyes may move around —an effect known as nystagmus. When in a k hole, it can be frustrating if someone is trying to communicate with you and you can't respond.

Risks of the K Hole

One of the risks of falling into a k hole is that you may have difficulty coming out of the state of dissociation—meaning you may continue to feel disconnected from the world around you and from your life, and you may develop ongoing symptoms of psychosis.

There are also shorter-term, potentially hazardous risks of the k-hole experience: it's possible to take too much, and for your heart to stop. Ketamine can also cause seizures, leading to brain damage. Taking ketamine can also make you accident-prone: you may become so out-of-touch with the world around you that you wander into traffic, have a serious fall, or drown. Many young people are unaware of these risks.

Risks of Ketamine

  • Hypotension and heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Slowed or depressed breathing
  • Seizures
  • Irreversible brain damage
  • Abnormal movements
  • Date rape

Why Do People Take Ketamine?

So why would anyone do it? To those who have never used the drug, it can seem strange that anyone would want to take something that has these effects. Yet ketamine has grown in popularity, particularly among club-goers. Why would this be?

Research shows that at least 50 percent of ketamine users experience some pleasant effects, most commonly, feeling happy, feeling laidback, being relaxed, and having enhanced perceptual abilities. For some users, the k hole offers a temporary escape from the stresses of life—reducing their existence to almost nothing. Most ketamine users are hoping for the euphoria the drug produces and may enjoy the feeling of detachment and disconnection from those around them that they experience on lower doses of ketamine. This is particularly attractive to people who have difficulty coping with life and social situations, or people who are troubled by a distressing past.

Another motivation for taking ketamine is to do with peer pressure. When young people use drugs, their friends often want to keep up with the trend, and therefore try things their friends are trying—particularly when it's described as risky, exciting and pleasurable. Young men, and increasingly, young women, may use drugs as a demonstration of their bravado, courage, and mental toughness. Others may be desperate for attention or struggling with thoughts and feelings of suicide.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. 

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

Peer pressure probably accounts for a lot of the occasional use of ketamine that's been noted, but not for more excessive use: when falling into a k hole is actually the goal of taking ketamine. Some users do not willingly take ketamine but have it slipped into a drink as a date rape drug.

Some drug users, particularly those who use drugs to self-medicate feelings of depression and alienation, seek out feelings of disconnection and dissociation by using drugs that have these effects. In some respects, users feel they can at least "control" the experience of changing their uncomfortable feelings. For these people, a k hole is a kind of oblivion that gives them a temporary escape from the world.

Depression and Ketamine

Research has shown that heavier ketamine users tend to be more depressed than occasional users. It's not clear whether the depression is caused by ketamine use and its impacts on these people's lives, or whether people who are already depressed are more vulnerable to ketamine addiction when using the drug as a form of self-medication.

If you have been trying to escape negative feelings through taking drugs, consider talking to your doctor, or even someone on your local crisis line, about medical and non-medical ways of treating depression.

It is important to know that there are many effective and much safer ways of treating depression. If you have been through significant trauma, such as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or if you are struggling with feelings of guilt or emptiness, there are also therapies that can help you.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Khandrani, J., Rajput, A., Dahake, S., & Verma, N. Ketamine induced seizures. Internet Journal of Anesthesiology 1092406X, 19. 2009.

  • Morgan, C., Monaghan, L., & Curran, H. Beyond the K-hole: a 3-year longitudinal investigation of the cognitive and subjective effects of ketamine in recreational users who have substantially reduced their use of the drug. Addiction 99:1450-1461. 2004.

  • Morgan, C., Muetzelfeldt, L., & Curran, H. Ketamine use, cognition and psychological wellbeing: a comparison of frequent, infrequent and ex-users with polydrug and non-using controls. Addiction 104:77–87. 2004.

  • Morgan, C., Muetzelfeldt, L., Curran, H. Consequences of chronic ketamine self-administration upon neurocognitive function and psychological wellbeing: a 1-year longitudinal study. Addiction 105:121-33. 2010.

  • Stirling J, McCoy L. Quantifying the psychological effects of ketamine: from euphoria to the k-Hole. Substance Use & Misuse 45(14):2428-2443. 2010.