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An Interview with Karl Jansen

Michael Pinchera

An early interview with the author of 'Ketamine: Dreams & Realities'

Speaking directly from the K-Hole, Dr. Karl Jansen is readying to tell the world a tale of drug therapy and addiction that promises to breathe new life into the intellectual psychedelic underground. Dr. Jansen has just left the Maudsley Hospital in London, where he was specializing in the treatment of addictions, in order to complete his much anticipated book, Ketamine: Dreams and Realities, slated to be the most definitive single work on the subject ever. You may also add to his credentials that he is a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, he holds a Ph.D. in clinical pharmacology, is a member of the Expert Witness Institute, and is listed in the Law Society Directory of Expert Witnesses. Jansen is a tall slim man, 33 years old, sporting John Lennon-style circular specs, a mischievous smile, and dark blonde bangs twisting fashionably across his forehead. He speaks with a polished and fun-to-hear accent distinctive of his time spent in New Zealand and England.

Jansen first became interested in entheogens at age five. "I was fascinated by the mind-body interface," Jansen reports. "I would watch my finger move and ponder how it could do that without me actually thinking 'finger - move!', and I would look around the room and wonder where in my head it was being reproduced. There was obviously a great mystery there. So I was pondering the nature of reality. Then I heard about drugs which profoundly altered that reality." In fact, Jansen's father was very interested in entheogens such as LSD and mushrooms, "[he] used to take the whole family looking for grass infected with ergot, mushrooms, [and] Datura plants," the good Doctor recalls. Even so, his father has yet to try ketamine, and his family as a whole sees it as an addictive drug, with few positive uses.

So when did Jansen's fascinating research with entheogens actually begin? "I didn't actually take any entheogens, other than alcohol, which certainly qualifies as an entheogen being one of the oldest sacraments, until I was about twelve," says Jansen without irony. Aside from his earlier trials with alcohol, his first experiences with other entheogens came via the amazingly popular plant teachers Cannabis and the mescaline bearing San Pedro cactus.

These early memories and visionary excursions imbedded themselves deeply into Jansen's outlook upon his future. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a neuroscientist, psychiatrist, and a writer — all of which he has achieved. Initially intrigued by ketamine (known on the street as "Special-K", "Vitamin-K", and just simply "K") through an account in Grinspoon and Bakalar's book Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered, Jansen classifies it as the most interesting entheogen he has crossed paths with to date. Ketamine is used commonly throughout the world as an ideal anesthetic, rarely hindering autonomic respiratory functions and considered to be very safe.

Quite often, a ketamine user will experience the exact same visions as reported in near death experiences, or NDEs. In fact, aside from Grinspoon and Bakalar's book, Jansen's interest in the drug was piqued due to a personal NDE he had. "I had a motorcycle accident in India in the 1980's and had an NDE, and they gave me ketamine as an anesthetic, I found that I was back in my NDE! I had the full effect: tunnels of high speed, the light, God, life review, out-of-body, the lot." He has since published several scientific papers reporting on how the ketamine experience mimics the NDE in terms of brain functioning and blockage of neurotransmitters.

With a tolerance to ketamine building slowly, addiction isn't all that uncommon, and Jansen understands this. "I have met people who would have liked to live out their days on a ketamine drip in bed." Jansen admits. "Things can get very compulsive. Ketamine can be like a hallucinogen, a stimulant, an opiate, alcohol and cannabis all at the same time, especially once you learn to surf the 'K-Wave'. That's a very addictive combination." Jansen's observations are based upon the exhaustive research he has conducted with ketamine, research spanning over fifteen years, with the majority of his studies focusing on the actual neurophysiological action of near-death experiences, dreaming, and the similar state which the drug produces.

Jansen has never spoke much to the mystical side of entheogens, and his ketamine research has generally tended towards the scientific and empirical. He is a great admirer of the late Dr. Timothy Leary, in life and death, "a life truly lived like a work of art." Although Leary entered the world of entheogens with a very scientific and matter of fact viewpoint, in time, he shifted his ideas of hallucinogenic use to fit more of an enlightened mindset. It has been promised that Jansen's long-awaited book will reveal his more mystical side possibly presenting ketamine as a spiritual tool, much as Leary would have liked.


MAP: Were you friends with Nicholas Saunders?

JANSEN: Yes, he was one of my best friends here, although he was older than me. We used to meet for dinner.

MAP: What did you think of him both as a person and as a scientist?

JANSEN: I knew Nicholas very well, and met him frequently for both social and business purposes. He was a person of the first rank — very active, superb sense of humor, always listening, always open-minded, always dynamic. He was many excellent things, but he was not a scientist. He was an alternative entrepreneur, traveler, and an editor of books and websites, rather than a writer.

MAP: Who do you admire most in the entheogenic community?

JANSEN: Timothy Leary for his intellect and his writing, although he lacked common sense; Stanislav Grof, once again, for his intellect; Marcia Moore for her rich warmth — may she rest in peace. Well, that's two dead ones! What does that say about the entheogenic community? I admired Nicholas Saunders as well, for his good humor although not his intellect. I traveled with him on occasion — like Leary, he knew how to grasp life with both hands. I do not admire those who are currently trying to create some sort of cult of personality around themselves, although I accept that Tim Leary did this.

MAP: What do you think of the idea that when someone is in the midst of a K voyage, and they see or hear other people, that these are other people who are also on K at the same time, somewhere?

JANSEN: Interesting, but I doubt it. They may be people who are dreaming, or having an NDE. I am not a fan of molecule attached morphic fields. If there is a morphic field, then it seems to me that it would attach to a mental state rather than a molecule. Thus it is the state produced by K which is important, not the K, so perhaps you meet other entities in that state.

MAP: Do you think that people can communicate with other people while dreaming, having an NDE, or under the influence of ketamine?

JANSEN: Yes, except that the transcendence of self which would allow this would be mutual, i.e. it would not be as if those two people were their normal egos during the communication.

MAP: In a classic, or non drug-induced NDE, your research states that it is the neurotransmitter glutamate which floods the NMDA receptor sites and causes paranormal experiences. Does this mean we can shoot up glutamate and get similar reactions?

JANSEN: No — it is not the glutamate which causes the altered state of consciousness, it is blockade of the action of glutamate at NMDA receptors. Glutamate does not cause paranormal experiences, but blockade of its action at certain sites in certain areas can do so.

MAP: What kind of effects does ketamine have on language processing? Any clues as to what would cause a person to start babbling in gibberish while under the influence?

JANSEN: This is due to scattered blockade of cortex to cortex nerve pathways. All of these nerves use glutamate as their neurotransmitter. Once again, the answer is partial blockade of NMDA receptors, this time in the language areas of the brain. Ketamine gibberish is identical to the loosening of associations seen in schizophrenia. James Kent gives some great examples of what a psychiatrist would call neologisms in an article he sent me.

MAP: How worried should we be about ketamine neurotoxicity?

JANSEN: The answers are not all in on ketamine and neurotoxicity, but there are grounds for concern regarding chronic use.

MAP: What possible clinical or therapeutic advantage could there be reproducing an NDE in patients by using ketamine?

JANSEN: NDEs are often followed by positive life changes: more altruism, healthier philosophy, more life satisfaction, less neurosis, reduced death anxiety, less depression, less substance dependence. However, this only works if you do it once or twice. Novelty is essential. You will not have these effects if you take ketamine all the time. You are most likely to have them if you have never taken any drugs in your life, are conservative in outlook, and avoid change. These are the people who profit the most from one or perhaps two psychedelic experiences in appropriate set and setting.

MAP: Would this be purely psychological healing or can such an effect help someone physically?

JANSEN: Any psychological healing will aid physical healing. They are closely linked. Don't the psychedelics teach us the Perennial Philosophy: "All boundaries are an illusion"?

MAP: What other psychoactive substances have you found to be interesting and worthy of further study?

JANSEN: They are all interesting, and everything is always worthy of further study, from a mite of dust to a mighty black hole. Narrowing things down a little, all the psychedelics are of great interest; Ibogaine, Salvinorin-A. LSD will always be enormously interesting.

MAP: Any final tips for the ketamine explorer?

JANSEN: Look out for my book in 1999. It will be the most comprehensive book ever published about ketamine. Those who think that I am anti-spiritual and very biological will find that I have drastically altered my views after several life-changing experiences. The popular culture aspect is fully covered. You won't be bored. Anyone with a story, anecdote, or general thoughts about K should send me an e-mail at:

Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2001-06-05 00:00:00