THE AMBULANCE PULL AWAY from the curbside,
I entered the dark club and asked the bouncer
what was happening.
passed out in the bathroom. Overdosed on Special
fuck is 'Special K?' Isn't that a cereal?"
animal tranquilizer. He took too much and went
into a K-hole."
'K-hole' was the most frightening slang I'd ever
heard for a drug experience. Recreational drugs
are supposed to induce euphoria and enlightenment,
not shove you down a black hole and force an ambulance
to haul away your drooling hulk.
It was at
that moment that I knew I would have to try Special
A RAINY DECEMBER NIGHT a year later,
a twinkly-eyed, goatee-wearing young man stopped
me at a party and told me he enjoyed my writing.
As we began talking, I pegged him as a "Dr. Buzz"
type--my label for a white male who compensates
for possible social awkwardness by knowing everything
there is to know about illegal drugs.
revealed that he was on a paid sabbatical from
work and, to pass the time, he'd been shooting
ketamine hydrochloride--the medical name for Special
K--into his ass muscles daily for the past eleven
nights. He said that after doing ketamine, the
"real" world seemed boring. He seemed bright and
well-adjusted enough that I began to trust him.
Touting the drug's glories, he and his bespectacled
chum offered to share some K with my girlfriend
and me. I still suffered from the impression that
ketamine was merely a tranquilizer that would
induce a heavily stoned "body high" rather than
the most terrifying psycho-death trip of my life.
He cautioned that since K impaired motor skills,
it was not a social drug and we'd have to ditch
the party and repair to his quiet lair far in
Southeast Portland. He promised we'd be lucid
after an hour or two and that he'd drive us home.
WE REACHED HIS SAD, FLAT HOME, the lights
were off and a man was already there sitting in
darkness, bathed in droning electronic music.
When Dr. Buzz flicked on the lights, the man's
eyes were so glassy, he appeared retarded. He
had reverted back to Apeman and looked at Dr.
Buzz with faint recognition.
and Mr. Spectacles had already burned down some
liquid ketamine into butter-colored powder for
needlephobes such as me and my girl. He cut out
three huge lines for us--enough to make a sandwich.
like a lot," I protested, sitting on a couch next
to my girlfriend.
insisted, carefully drawing two syringefuls of
liquid K from a vial with which to ass-spike himself
and Mr. Spectacles. "That's a normal dose. You'll
have to do that much to feel the full effect.
You can do two lines, and she can do one."
us to snort it but to avoid trying to swallow
it as if it were cocaine--just crush the crystals
in our noses using our fingers. He said that within
ten seconds, we'd feel a warmth in our feet that
would rise through our bodies.
my two monster rails, I handed the bill and mirror
to my girlfriend, who inhaled her portion. I closed
my eyes for a second and then looked over at her.
She appeared to be already dead.
instantly I felt warmth and a savage disorientation.
began to feel sucked inside a hurricane's slow-motion
roar. The floor dropped out beneath me. Everything
was TOO BRIGHT AND TOO LOUD. Wow...wow...wow...somebody
turn this music off and turn the goddamned lights
off...it's too much...it's too much...too much...too
much...oh shit oh shit oh shit
house suddenly had an upper and a lower level.
It wasn't a house anymore--it was a spaceship
casino. A deafening strobe effect pounded my head
as if I was tied to the bottom of a subway car
as it screamed through the Bronx. Faster than
I could blink, images and sounds flew by like
neon shrapnel. I was being munched alive by a
giant digital machine, a computer-screen wonderworld
where my identity was pulverized and pasted into
a cold, endless tapestry. Pieces of myself were
chopped up and spat back with epileptic speed.
I was being smashed down and torn apart and fused
with "the one" against my will. I was separated
from myself and could observe my identity stolen
and broadcast on the Jumbotron screen of existence.
Even my voice had become digitized and sounded
as if I was speaking into an electric fan.
pile of plastic chips. Utterly synthetic. Bland
mazescapes, the triumph of math over feeling.
Dead flat cybernetic soullessness. Mechanical
insect brain. The only emotion left was the most
I was a
biology-class frog, my brain severed from my spinal
column, pinned down in a steel tray, unable to
move or feel.
all was quiet and eternal. All the colors were
burned to ash. Cold, dark space and emotionless
planets. A dull grey orb surrounded by hissing
blackness. Many things are deader than we'd imagined.
my woozy head, I realized where I was. I just
of other humans. No one was stirring. The music
had stopped and the lights were off. A James Brown
bobble-head doll on the table next to me reflected
the middle-of-the-night moon rays and radiated
cold, sadistic, voodoo death.
my girl and said, "I love you." I heard my voice,
but it came from two feet above my head and over
to the left. She replied with an "I love you."
I hovered over her as she stood in downtown Portland
where I met her...I saw where she fit in my life's
thread, all the events that led up to meeting
her and winding up here, lost in a K-hole. We
kept saying "I love you" over and over again to
save both of us, huddled against a blizzard of
she had to leave. She had to go. Had to get out
of there. She stood up and I reached after her.
Don't go. As bad as it is here, it's worse
out there. She took two steps and collapsed
on the floor.
up. I looked down at my feet, which seemed to
be only three
or four inches below my chin. On the floor beneath
me was the unconscious Mr. Spectacles with a Mongoloid
vomiting. On the couch. On the floor. On the doorknob
while walking outside. On the rock garden. Power-puking
until all I could taste was my own stomach acids
and the rank chemical ketamine taste. My eyes
were watering, my foggy breath shallow.
and I sat out in the carport in thirty-five-degree
December rain for a half-hour, feeling no cold.
Every time I opened my eyes to focus, I saw three
of everything swirling around kaleidoscopically.
managed to call a cab. Vomit rose in my throat
the whole way. At a stop light, I opened the door
and sprayed gut juice onto the asphalt.
Special K," I mumbled to the driver as he pulled
up to my building.
FELT A SPOOKY MALAISE for the next week.
Everything seemed dead or in the process of dying.
Cheap computer-generated TV ads and my rattling
kitchen-stove fan threatened to suck me back down
into the K-hole.
ketamine on the Internet, I discovered that the
recommended powder dose is a small "bump" rather
than the twin peaks I inhaled. One study determined
that users experience memory loss and "mild schizophrenia"
for days after ingesting it. I also learned that
Special K can induce seizures and cause severe
brain damage in epileptics and left-handers.
and mildly epileptic.
WAS INVENTED IN 1962 as a safer alternative
the drug of bloodthirsty psycho legend. Its molecular
structure is almost identical to that of its scarier
was employed as an anesthetic during the Vietnam
War and is still being used on house pets and
children worldwide. Its painkilling properties
are so powerful, it's used in burn trauma and
for post-amputation stump pain.
PCP, DXM, and nitrous oxide, ketamine belongs
to a class of drugs called "dissociatives," so
named because the user experiences a clear split
between ego and body. Physicians refer to such
a hallucinogenic near-death state as an "emergence
find the blotting out of self to be euphoric,
an erasure of all self-consciousness; others,
like me, find it nightmarish and run screaming
back into themselves.
horror stories of its use as a "date-rape drug,"
the Feds finally declared ketamine illegal in
1999. You can still buy it over the counter in
Mexico, which is where Dr. Buzz procured his stash.
most ardent spokesman was the neurophysiologist
John Lilly (pictured below), who invented the
isolation tank in the 1950s. The films Day
of the Dolphin and Altered States are
based on Lilly's writings and experiences. Lilly
is perhaps best known for his extensive studies
trying to decipher dolphin communication patterns.
What's not as well-known is that he was a lifelong
K addict rumored at one point to be injecting
himself with ketamine once an hour twenty times
daily for the better part of a year.
time surfing the K-hole with dolphins (he never
gave K to dolphins but claimed he once dosed one
with acid), Lilly started believing that the gentle
cetaceans were intermediary entities between humans
and the space-alien agents of the "Earth Coincidence
Control Office (ECCO)." In the 1970s, he went
so far as to warn President Gerald Ford that the
dolphins could save us from ECCO. Lilly once told
have personalities and are valuable people....But
what about their spiritual life? Can they get
out of their bodies and travel?...I suspect that
they're all ready to talk and carry on with us
if we are not so blind. So we open up pathways
to them with ketamine, LSD, swimming with them,
falling in love with them, and them falling in
love with us.
John Lilly was insane, and ketamine probably played
a role in his cognitive unspooling. He spent his
life in and out of the funny farm.
a wealthy heiress and astrologer, was another
ketamine cheerleader. She wrote a 1978 book called
Journeys into the Bright World, which included
this eager endorsement of falling down the K-hole:
of industry, leaders of nations could partake
of this love medicine the whole planet might be
converted into the Garden Of Eden...
On a frigid
night early in 1979, Moore climbed into a tree,
injected ketamine, dozed off, and froze to death.
endorsement of ketamine, and the one which came
closest to emulating my experience, is by David
Woodard, described as a "requiem composer and
a Dream Machine fabricator." His essay "The Ketamine
Necromance" includes this psychotic passage:
ketamine is a drug administered and experienced
by living beings, the necromantic communications
facilitated by its use tend to benefit the dead,
offering their spirits a tantalizing portal through
which they may experience the world of the warm-blooded.
Perhaps the dead are desperately clustering around
an elusive window they have been chasing down
for five or six thousand years of gnashing, burning,
excruciating torment. Perhaps one of them would
manage to claw his way into the ketamine user's
fleshy, nubile brain for a 56-minute respite.
Such communication seems a match of spirits--at
times fencing, at others playing mah-jongg or
a game of decapitate the endless row of tractor
drivers or amputate the handicapped. In a ketamine
experience, you are likely to become a subatomic
particle sniffing at the ominous butt of nuclear
war, the pinnacle of NDE-driven necromantic glory
and the greatest hope of all dead spirits that
are not enjoying themselves.
SAW DR. BUZZ AT A CLUB about
a month later, at a point when he'd been shooting
Special K in his ass every night for seven straight
weeks. He asked me if I wanted to do it again.
Ku Klux Ketamine for me.
all the psychonautical jibber-jabber about ketamine's
satori-inducing potential, or its application
as a pharmaceutical biofeedback machine, or even
its use in helping the dolphins save the Earth
from ECCO, all it taught me is this: