Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy: Technology for Accessing Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness

Eric Sienknecht, Psy.D.

When provided in the container of a supportive and therapeutic setting,  ketamine-assisted psychotherapy can be a safe, effective, and reliable technology for inducing Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness, exploring other dimensions of human consciousness, and facilitating profoundly transformative experiences. 

The potential for ketamine to replicate near-death experiences has been supported by research. A recent study published in Science Direct looking at over 15,000 self-reports found that the use of ketamine, over all other psychedelic compounds, most frequently led users to have NDE’s (followed by salvia in second and DMT in third): “After assessing the semantic similarity between 15,000 reports linked to the use of 165 psychoactive substances and 625 NDE narratives, we determined that the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist ketamine consistently resulted in reports most similar to those associated with NDEs.” The authors go on to suggest that “ketamine could be used as a safe and reversible experimental model for NDE phenomenology.”[1]

Before exploring the implications of these findings, let’s step back and look at the phenomenology of higher dose ketamine psychotherapy sessions. In combination with a safe, supportive and therapeutic set and setting,  ketamine seems to allow access to experiences of Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness (NOSC), particularly of the non-local kind, e.g. Out-Of-Body Experiences (OBE’s), Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s), and Ego-Dissolving Transcendental and Mystical Experiences.

These experiences often involve experiences of moving through vast space, moving toward a light, and feelings of bliss, euphoria, and deep peace. 

High-dose experiences may include the following characteristics:

Ecstasy and leaving one’s body

Sense of transcending normal time and space

Awareness of becoming a non-physical being

Emotionally intense visions (e.g. of decreased relatives, “angels,” “spirits”)

Encounters with Archetypal Beings (e.g. Christ, Buddha, Krishna)

Encounters with non-terrestrial beings 

Visits to mythological realms of consciousness

Re-experiencing the birth process

Vivid dreams and memories of past or future incarnations

Experience of psychological death and rebirth of self (i.e. near-death experience)

Feelings of ego dissolution and loss of identity

Experience of reliving one’s life

Deep feelings of peace and joy

Sense of sacredness Feeling interconnected with all people and nature

Feelings of cosmic unity with the Universe and God

Profound sense of ineffability of the experience

Noetic quality of experience: Intuitive belief that the experience is a source of objective truth about the nature of “absolute reality”[2]


So why would someone want to have these experiences? Kolp et al. (2016) suggest that NDE’s can have powerful transformative effects in people: “Ketamine-induced NDEs appear to be equivalent to natural NDE’s and may facilitate stable recovery by accelerating patients’ psycho-spiritual growth and broadening their worldviews. In addition to bringing an insight into one’s existential problems, the NDE can also generate a spontaneous resolution of the patient’s addictive illnesses, psychological problems, and personality disorders. These experiences can also generate a spontaneous spiritual conversion and a dramatic improvement in moral character.”

These experiences can also generate a spontaneous spiritual conversion and a dramatic improvement in moral character.

Furthermore, in the context of psychotherapy, experiences if non-ordinary states of consciousness can be understood and integrated into a fuller, more expansive, more liberated sense of self. This application may be particularly useful and therapeutic in the context of suffering from a terminal illness and anxiety about dying.  In her recent article in Tonic reviewing the previously cited study (Martial, C. et al, 2019), Shayla Love discusses the implications of reliably being able to induce an NDE for those who are dying, and even for those who are healthy: “Being able to reliably reconstruct an NDE could help people cope with terminal illnesses—a single dose of psilocybin was found to help people with advanced cancer grapple with their death-related anxiety. Perhaps ketamine, if it more closely simulates an NDE, could prove to be an effective choice as well. And if an NDE can positively affect mental health, could we harness that experience for those who aren’t dying?”[3]

Can induction of NDE’s in patients in their final stages of life provide relief from end-of-life anxiety?  A protocol has already been developed by Phil Wolfson and his associates to treat end-of-life anxiety in hospice patients with ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. If you are interested in contributing to this research project check out the Research Protocol for Life Threatening Illness/End of Life Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy from Dr. Phil Wolfson’s Ketamine Research Foundation Project. You can also donate to this project.


[1] Martial, C. et al. (2019) Neurochemical models of near-death experiences: A large-scale study based on the semantic similarity of written reports. Cognition and Consciousness, 69, 52-69

[2] Kolp, E. et al. (2016). Ketamine Psychedelic Psychotherapy: Focus on its Pharmacology, Phenomenology, and Clinical Applications. In P. Wolfson & Hartelius, G. (Eds.), The Ketamine Papers: Science, Therapy and Transformation (pp. 111 – 118). (Santa Cruz, California: MAPS).

[3] Love, S. (2019, February 12) Taking Ketamine Can Feel a Lot Like a Near-Death Experience. Retrieved from https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/8xy8kv/taking-ketamine-can-feel-a-lot-like-a-near-death-experience?fbclid=IwAR3lf854pQrx-FG6Rq87ItS99cFDunKpWy0BLTsLJyH-OG_y0DdubGzuXKs