K-Hole and the 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

The K-Hole Effect

Ketamine is a dissociative drug. It is used as an anesthetic and more recently in the treatment of certain depressive disorders. In simple terms, dissociative drugs make users feel detached from reality and themselves. These feelings of dissociation get more intense at high doses, causing people to feel disconnected from or unable to control their own bodies, including the ability to speak and move around easily.

One way to think about a k-hole is a state between intoxication and a coma. As the consciousness of the real world diminishes, alterations in your senses may lead to illusions and hallucinations. While temporary, some users may show ongoing dissociative and psychotic symptoms.

The K-Hole Experience

It can be hard to understand why someone would voluntarily take such a terrifying drug. The truth is that when taken in lower doses, it can produce feelings of euphoria, making someone feel "at one with the universe." Most users don't intend to take too much and fall into the frightening and intensely powerless k-hole experience.

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.

Other common effects include marked confusion, unexplainable experiences, floating sensations, and mind/body dissociation.

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.

Short-term side effects of taking too much ketamine include:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Limited awareness of the surrounding environment
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Short-term memory loss

Frequent, long-term side effects of taking ketamine at high doses, include:

  • Bladder problems
  • Cardiac issues
  • Cognitive effects
  • Seizures

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 as a recreational drug, particularly among club-goers. Why would this be?

For some users, the k-hole offers a temporary escape from the stresses of life—reducing their existence to almost nothing. Research shows that at least 50% of people who use ketamine experience some pleasant effects, most commonly, feeling happy, feeling laidback, being relaxed, and having enhanced perceptual abilities.

Most people who use ketamine 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 the drug. This may be 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 has to do with peer pressure. People often want to try drugs because their friends are doing it—especially if the drug is described as risky, exciting, and pleasurable. Young men, and increasingly, young women, may use drugs to show their bravado.

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

Some people, particularly those who use drugs to cope with depression, seek out feelings of disconnection and dissociation by using drugs that have these effects. In some cases, people feel they can at least "control" 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 people who use ketamine more heavily tend to be more depressed than occasional users. It's not clear whether the depression is caused by the ketamine use and its impacts on people's lives, or whether people who are already depressed are more vulnerable to ketamine misuse 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 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.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, 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.

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