From the latest issue of Man's World
This article was first published in Man’s World Issue 8 on page 282.
K has completely replaced coke in my circle of aging LA chumps. There’s been a heat wave. 96 or above every day for weeks. You snort it on a sweltry Friday afternoon with your Israeli contractor in the bathroom of a pinball bar in Eagle Rock. You snort it in the backyard of a Peruvian starlet’s surprisingly-down-to-earth Frogtown craftsman, drooling on yourself as her surprisingly-of-the-people friends recount the Battle of Chavez Ravine. You snort it with the Armenians from your gym at a downtown rave, only to come out and see your Alfa Romeo smashed, your Dodgers hat the only thing missing. You snort it in the passenger seat of your best friend’s Tesla, parked in a Venice lot, smoking, Netflix on the touchscreen, just a few more precious moments before retreating to wives and babies.
For me—someone who is “difficult to be around”—ketamine is a performance enhancing drug. All drugs are. The sassafras root births ecstasy. The coca leaf makes cocaine. Root beer is called that because it was originally derived from sassafras. Coca Cola from cocaine. Root beer and Coke, two icons of American beveragehood, are molly and blow.
We take drugs not to expand our minds but to perform. In the 80s coke made you better at making money, which defined the Wall Street era. In the 2000s, ecstasy made you better at large-group hypersocializing, which defined the festival era. Why ketamine now? What era-defining thing does it make us better at?
Ketamine is light anesthesia, part of a class of drugs called dissociatives. Dissociatives in general are having a moment. Late Zappos founder Tony Hseih became addicted to nitrous oxide (whippets). He brought a canister everywhere—he was even seen with one on the table at lunch with the mayor of Las Vegas. Not long after, he locked himself in a shed and set it on fire.
As NMDA receptor antagonists, dissociatives block neural pathways so you don’t feel the pain, fear, anxiety, or terror that you’re supposed to feel given your circumstances. They dissociate your awareness from your surroundings. Interestingly, the pathway that ketamine blocks is the same one that’s activated by glycine. While K is a channel-blocker, not a direct inhibitor of glycine, another category of dissociatives are glycine antagonists. Xenon gas, for example, binds to glycine rendering it useless.
I’ve only ever been in one K-hole.
K looks like coke, same little baggie, same white color although a bit more translucent. Like coke, when it’s good it comes in round clumps that you smash with your knuckle or beer bottle to break up. That’s where the similarities with stop. You don’t rail fat lines—that’d be too much too fast, probably instant K-hole, which no one wants. You start with tiny little bumps–just a few crumbs at the end of a key. No horseradish drip, more of a soapy mouthfeel.
The first feeling is altered state anxiety because you can’t quite control your vision or movements. I’ve often said that LSD is the chemical version of mushrooms, and I think ketamine is a bit like the chemical version of marijuana. A heaviness. Your feet become clown shoes—walking in a video game. Unlike coke or molly, there’s no ramp up or joy cliff; at first you’re moving through a boggy marsh. Pleasure begins at least 10 minutes in, and more often after your second bump.
Then an odd sort of focus. Your eyes dwell on things slightly too long, or you notice how your eye dwells. It’s strange, nonsensical, why that thing, why that neon, why that sign there? But your inner monologue isn’t broken. Palms sweat. Butt sweat. Amazing, such a tiny amount of substance. World swirls around you—it’s a social drug, craves input. Not meditative, but frustrations simply disappear. No worry about the automated gate or machine voice on the phone. Just pausedness. You text the wrong words, can’t quite think of the right ones. You glide along, encapsulated, cozy, lubricated, without any need to occupy space or attention. You mix up door codes and pin numbers. You can’t offend. They say autism comes from an overactive vagal nerve—I have no science to prove this, but I’m pretty sure ketamine relaxes that nerve. The whole world could flip upside down and you’d sit on the ground like a fat larva and take pleasure in the gravitational shift.
After twenty or thirty minutes, the high fades, and you need another small bump. You don’t absolutely crave it, it’s more like pushing a friend around a roller rink. The hammock needs a little jostle to keep it swinging.
Ketamine is a relatively risk-free drug. No hangover. No blackouts. Very low risk of overdose. Very low risk of addiction. K-holes are the only downside. Anyone who says they enjoy them hasn’t been in one. That’s not to say they’re that bad—not even close to as horrible as a bad acid trip, but that’s because they don’t last long.
K-holes are deadly because they occur randomly. A K-hole can strike even after a single bump, although they’re more likely the more you take.
My K-hole was the one-bump variety. I arrived alone at the aforementioned downtown rave. The Armenians gave me a bag. I took what I thought was a minimal dancefloor snort and went outside to smoke and find other friends. Suddenly I didn’t know where I was. I mean I knew intellectually, but not spatially! Bodies became flashing Basquiat paintings, clumping together and falling apart. Overwhelming confusion. Deep heaviness. Normal Ketamine clown shoes morphed into insect legs that bent the other way at the knees. “Dissociate” the perfect word—signifiers flashed and disappeared without cognition. All I could feel was rising panic; the glycine winning.
Fortunately, this particular rave had a room specifically for drug freakouts—a bedouin-tent with soft music, cold water bottles, persian rugs, and embroidered cushions. I lay flat on my back, head propped up on a cushion right next to a large black security guard. For the next twenty minutes, catatonia. My view a patchy hologram lined with orange and blue light dispersions like a pool stripe. Kettlebells for arms and legs. Aware of the warmth of other humans around me, but unable to quite conceptualize them. Why that girl there? Why that group there? What are they doing here? Not paranoia, but disorder.
For every minute, I received about five seconds of proper cognition where I could move, check my phone, adjust my head on the pillow, then back into dysphoria. The next minute, I got six seconds of awareness, then seven, then eight—the half-life of consciousness slowly widening. I wanted badly to shut my eyes, but worried about the security guard, who by this point was surely aware that something was wrong with me. So I grit my teeth and waited for my short stretches of coherence. In about twenty minutes, I was out. When you leave a K-hole, you feel good, a bit sweaty, accomplished, and glad to be alive.
In 2018, ketamine catalyzed the Tham Luang cave rescue of a boy’s soccer team in Thailand. Monsoons flooded the passageways of the cave, stranding the 13 boys on a ledge deep inside the cave system. Just reaching them required the top cave divers in the world to swim through submerged caverns for three hours. To bring them out, each boy was dosed heavily with ketamine before being dragged, catatonic, through the tight underwater passageways like swallowed marbles through a descending colon. They had to be constantly re-injected along the way. Without K, the boys would’ve panicked—panic the number one killer of all divers—and surely died along the way.
Culturally, we’re traveling down the descending colon of a flooded society. K quells our panic. Anesthetized to our cities, our spaces, our own bodies being hollowed out and re-stuffed with ugliness by the tentacles of private equity. K is a self-driving Tesla moving past a parade of gyrating transexuals, menacing derelicts, platters of clicking insects, and fitness ads with obese amputees in tight leggings.
K obliterates the sex drive and opens the eyes and ears. You can absorb anything, no matter how terrifying, and enjoy it because your panic neurons are unplugged from the rest of your brain. Past drugs-of-the-moment enhanced neural connections, we saw more, scraped more meaning from the world, understood music and art more deeply. K does the opposite. There are no great insights. No mind blowing moments of one-ness with nature. It dulls inputs to the point where you can handle anything. There’s no better drug for sitting your white ass down and listening.
Today, we’re meant to only view the world. To sit in our Work.Play.Live lofts absorbing lights and sounds, and pressing buttons to receive more lights and sounds. To look but never touch. The touching, the occupying of space, is only for our masters and their orc army.
The good news? Our Iron Prisons are floating downwards, descending through the colon, the anus opening visible ahead. We’re almost out. In the meantime, nothing wrong with a little K to soften the bumps.
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