What to Expect Series – Your First Medicine Session

Welcome back to our KIT – What to Expect series. In our previous posts, we walked you through Flow Integrative’s simple 3-step onboarding process as well as our recommended preparations for your Ketamine sessions. Today we answer the most asked question, “What can I expect during treatment?”. It’s not a straightforward answer, everyone’s experience is unique, and it can be difficult for patients themselves to put into words. This post will be a deep dive into all the variables you may expect. Let’s begin the journey together!

Upon arrival at our clinic, you will be escorted to your private treatment room. Unlike traditional medical clinics, our rooms are made to feel comfortable and inviting. You will be seated in a large cushy recliner, the lights will be dimmed and you will be given the option for a weighted blanket. Our medical staff will take your vitals and address any last-minute concerns or questions you may have. They will then start your IV catheter which they will use to administer the Ketamine medicine and you will be given an eye mask and headphones. Music is an integral part of the experience so we encourage you to sample our playlist during your first session which we have curated specifically for the Ketamine journey. However, feel free to bring your own playlist to subsequent sessions if there is certain music that speaks to you. Just ensure the playlist is at least 1 hour long and avoid streaming stations with commercials as it will be interruptive to your session.

As the music begins and the medicine starts to flow you will notice your body tingling and body aches and pains begin to dissolve. As you lick your lips, they may feel numb, similar to how it feels when you have Novocaine at the dentist. This is because Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic which makes patients feel detached from their pain and physical environment. The dissociative effect of Ketamine is one of the ways in which the medicine works to treat trauma by disconnecting the self from the ego and past traumatic events.

Once the numbness sets in you could feel the sensation of falling and landing. In the world of psychedelics this is referred to as “dropping in”. Your journey will begin to unfold from here. It’s at this point that everyone’s experience differs and each modality of administration for Ketamine has a unique flow to it. When you ingest lozenges the “high” doesn’t have a large peak. It’s longer, more consistent and sustained. If you were to take Ketamine by way of an intramuscular injection, the “high” onsets rapidly like a rocket ship. With intravenous Ketamine, your thoughts, visuals, and sensations will onset slowly at first, then build to a peak and taper back down at the end.

As the medicine starts to take effect the first thing you might notice is visual phenomena. This can be colors, geometric patterns, brilliant white light or images of your past. It’s important to note that everyone’s visual spectrums are different which is known as the aphantasia spectrum. When you close your eyes, most people when asked can picture an apple inside of their head. Some people can see the apple in 3D, take a bite out of it and maybe even smell it. This is known as hyperphantasia. Some individuals are only able to picture fuzzy or fleeting images. This is known as hypophantasia and some people only see black when they close their eyes. That end of the spectrum is called aphantasia. Your individual ability to naturally “see” pictures in your head will determine the amount of visual phenomena you experience during your Ketamine session. Do not feel discouraged if you don’t see anything during your journey. Visuals can be a handy tool to use for discussion with your integration therapist but they aren’t required to achieve healing and neurogenesis.

If you fall on the aphantasia side of the spectrum you may be more aware of emotional or somatic sensations than visual phenomena. These sensations include falling, melting, twirling, tunneling or even exploding into tiny fragments. You may feel the physical release of trauma as it moves upwards from your gut to your chest and in response you may cry or experience a range of emotions which include sadness, curiosity, joy, rage or peace. If this is the first time you have experienced a psychedelic or journeyed inward, your mind and body could respond with a myriad of thoughts and feelings. Paranoia or panic generally occur when you try to control or escape the experience rather than let it unfold. You don’t need to fear your emotional responses. Instead, you want to lean into them to release them from being trapped in your system. This is because trauma effects the way our brains are wired. When a traumatic memory is unlocked and processed during a Ketamine session, that memory is reintegrated in the mind and the brain can begin to heal.

When memories surface it often feels like you are viewing them as an outsider looking in. Like riding in the passenger seat of a car. You might notice details from these memories that you had never seen before or if you experienced abuse, you may see your abusers from a different lens. Ketamine gives you the ability to zoom in and out of memories to process them from the 360-degree angle of an observer.

Along with images of the past you may see or even speak to friends and relatives that have died long ago. You might not be able to make sense of the meetings or the conversations, but you will experience a feeling of familiarity with these entities. You could even see images of the past that occurred before your lifetime.

Ketamine patients often report seeing images of ancient cultures or religions outside of their own. There is a sense of sacredness or spirituality that accompanies these encounters, and some individuals travel the cosmos meeting what we consider to be aliens or other worldly beings.

As your mind opens and expands beyond the present you feel both internal and external unity. As if we are all connected, and you are all-one with mankind and the universe. This unity is felt with a positive mood and a renewed sense of self-worth. You will see yourself as an important piece to the whole and find meaning where there was meaningless. You will feel connection where there was once isolation, feel freedom instead of oppression and may even face your own mortality.

In fact, dying or being born are common themes during Ketamine sessions and the depiction of events have striking similarities with reports of true near-death experiences. It’s unknown why but some theorize that our brains release psychoactive substances during these life events similar to that of Ketamine. However, these experiences are nothing to fear, and most patients are left with a sense of hope and optimism that something exists beyond this life.

As you flow through your session you will lose all sense of space and time. The actual journey is roughly forty-five minutes but to some patients it feels like five. Slowly the images and sensations will begin to wane, and you will start to become more aware of your physical environment. You will welcome the self back to the physical body with little movements such as a wiggle of your fingers and toes. The music will gently end, and you will remove your eye mask. It will take a moment to adjust your eyes to the light but once they do you will see one of Flow Integrative’s medical staff waiting for you on the other side. Welcome back.

You will feel light on your feet, and be given a moment to ground yourself. You may take this time to collect your thoughts, discuss your experience with a member of our staff or just relish in the feelings of joy and connection. You may find your experience a little overwhelming and too great to be expressed in words. We encourage you to journal when you get home while the experience is fresh in your mind. Make sure to include depictions of visuals, colors, emotions and even sounds or smells. This journal will be a useful tool during your integration sessions which we will cover in the final post of our KIT – What to Expect blog series where we review post-treatment care and recommendations. 

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