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The rise and fall and rise of ketamine

A favourite of psychonauts, psychologists and sesh gremlins alike, ketamine has enjoyed a colourful history

  • Words: Mike Power | Illustration: Sam Taylor
  • 2 May 2017
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The world’s most infamous ketamine user, John Lilly, didn’t do things by half-measures. Lilly, who died in 2001 aged 86, started out as a biophysicist, inventor, neuroscientist and physician. He ended up as a countercultural legend and one of the world’s most out-there psychedelic explorers.

Lilly suffered from daily intense migraines, until he was offered ketamine by an associate.

150mg of ketamine cured him for life. He then invented the flotation, or sensory deprivation tank, which he used to make his ketamine experiences more intense and focused. He even built himself a creepy mask with a built-in snorkel so he could stay submerged for hours.

Lilly once injected himself with 50mg of ketamine intravenously every hour for over a week. He, perhaps unsurprisingly, invented a highly elaborate cosmology around the drug, believing that it put him into contact with the extra terrestrials who he believed operate the universe, named ECCO – the Earth Coincidence Control Office.

Other research projects included dolphin communication and his obsession with whales remains unparalleled. But bizarre though Lilly’s claims and actions seem to be, he was a pioneer in the way that he saw and experienced ketamine’s medical potential outside anaesthesia.

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