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Ecstatic anaesthesia: Ketamine and GHB between medical use and self-experimentation

Robert Teltzrow1 & Oliver G. Bosch2
1Pompidou Group Council of EuropeFrance; 2University Hospital of Psychiatry, Zurich, Switzerland[Applied Cardiopulmonary Pathophysiology 16: 309-321, 2012]


Today, the medical usefulness of mind-altering drugs such as ketamine and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is often contested by their bad reputation as ‘club drugs’. However, both drugs exert a unique spectrum of subjective and neurobiological effects which are valued for medical and recreational use alike. The meaning of the mind-altering effects of ketamine and GHB in clinical experiments versus recreational settings has not yet been subject of qualitative research. This review of biomedical studies with ketamine and GHB and a qualitative content analysis of self-reports about illicit drug use published on the online-platform Erowid aim at shedding light on the intentions and meanings of clinical and recreational use, with a focus on self-experimentation and self-medication. The analysis revealed divergent effects of ketamine and GHB in medical experiments on the one hand and self-experimental use on the other. The characteristic subjective effects of both drugs differ according to set and setting variables. Clinicians and recreational users have comparable motivations concerning the relief of individual suffering such as depression, anxiety and addiction. The results support further sociological and medical research on the curative effects of ketamine and GHB in settings different to nightlife environments.

Key words: ketamine, gamma-hydroxybutyrate, GHB, subjective experience, recreational use, drug, date rape, anaesthetic, antidepressant, Erowid, medical value

Address for correspondence:
Robert Teltzrow
Pompidou Group
Council of Europe
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