The dissociative and psychedelic experience brought on by ketamine can be hard to put into words. Everyone has their own unique experience while working with ketamine. A common question that comes up surrounds the classical psychedelic motif of experiencing visions or visuals.
Some clients ask this question because they would like to have this experience. Others ask this question because they would like to avoid it if possible, as it’s something they may not be comfortable with at the time or have heard things from others about their experiences that lowered their interest in this type of experience.
The simple answer to this is, yes, it is possible that you may experience some visions and/or visual imagery while working with ketamine, and with other psychedelic medicines.
Each experience is unique
As always, there is far more nuance to this answer than simply accepting it as a guaranteed fact. Every individual has their own unique experience with psychedelic compounds, and each session for each individual is unique. Some may be visually pronounced, while others may be highly somatic or felt in the body, while others still may be dominated by emotions.
Just because you have or have not experienced visions before does not guarantee that they will come again. There’s also no guarantee that they will be the same as previous times, or that they will share similarities with any stories you have heard from friends or read online.
All individuals have unique personalities and life circumstances, and this too will impact the prominence of visuals in the experience, as well as the role they are playing in the healing process.
To begin, there are three distinctions to draw in this discussion. Though these are commonly grouped together under the umbrella term “visions,” there are a few nuances that can be drawn to gain deeper insight into what happens within the psychedelic state.
The first experience that may occur are visual distortions. These are slight alterations to your normal sight and vision. Things like tracers —a blur pattern after moving objects— or “movement” in solid objects can start to occur. These are simply alterations to normal sight as the effects of the medicine begin to come on, and throughout the peak of the experience.
However, in most psychedelic therapy protocols, clients are given a blindfold to use to aid the process of turning inward for self-reflection and contemplation. As a result, visual distortions are not as relevant in this discussion as they would be in recreational or intentional containers. They may arise on the spontaneous trip to the washroom, which is why having a peer monitor or trip sitter with you is always a smart decision.
Visuals, or closed-eye visuals, are novel or unique patterns/perceptions that arise in the normally dark space behind closed eyes.
For most individuals, the space behind closed eyes often just looks black, or like old TV static. However, while within the psychedelic experience, an individual may experience a variety of visuals such as complex, undulating geometric patterns, or soft, transforming color gradient patterns. There can be the perception of “moving forward” or moving inside an area, rather than the static “lying down” position common to psychedelic therapy.
Other examples of visuals might include seeing words, seeing soundtracks, or synesthetic experiences such as visualizing sound, or seeing the taste of something.
Individual characters, letters, or objects may also appear in the closed-eye visual field, and all of these fit under the moniker of psychedelic visuals.
Visions are often the most pronounced, or apparent, form of psychedelic-induced visual change that arises. Visions can range from photographic imprints of places, people, things, or old memories, to full on moving, animated scenes unfolding in your mind's eye.
Visions can range from intensely beautiful to downright scary. They can make complete sense, such as the face of a family member waving back to you, or the exact meaning can be harder to decipher, like something out of a dream.
Visions may be very clear, full of color and animation, and the events unfold in a logical progression. They may also be very faint, lacking definition, leaving you guessing as to what that was and what it meant.
Over and above everything else, all of these visual experiences on psychedelics are okay. None is better or worse than the other. All of them are possible, even in the range of a single experience, and it's equally possible that you may not experience any of them. What’s important is how these relate to your healing and your journey to wholeness, this is what is covered next.
The Purpose or Role of Visions and Visuals
As mentioned earlier, what’s important is the overall role that the visions and experiences you have contribute and assist your healing process.
There is a tendency sometimes in the psychedelic space to attach too heavily on the specifics of the visuals, with individuals comparing stories of what they saw. Always bring the experiences back to your healing. How did these help? What made the visions important or significant for you?
As for why visions and visuals happen at all, there are a number of potential reasons why the psychedelic experience may include a series of visions or visuals.
When you dream, your brain and subconscious are processing and managing your memories and information. It may be similar here, where your subconscious is working to heal. The process of this is reorganizing memories or visual information which brings it up to your conscious awareness.
Humans are highly visual creatures. We dedicate major processing power from our brains to our visual systems, we often dream in imagery, and it’s incredibly powerful on our waking consciousness. When your inner healing intelligence is working and trying to communicate with you, one of the ways it may choose to deliver the healing you need is through visual messages/imagery. So it is using a powerful delivery mechanism to complete this process.
Psychedelic medicine compounds can activate the visual cortex, or areas of the brain associated with sight. So even though you are lying down with a blindfold, certain medicines can activate the visual cortex, spurring the instances of visual distortions, closed-eye visuals, or full-on visions.
Overall, this is still an area deserving of more rigorous study, as the exact mechanisms of psychedelic visuals and the role they play in the healing process is still unclear — though for those who have had the experience of visions/visuals on psychedelics will know that the experience can be a powerful one, and be a significant catalyst for healing.
Vision Motifs, Themes, and Archetypes
This section must be prefaced that everyone’s experience is unique. Each session is unique in itself, and although a certain vision with a certain meaning may have arisen for someone else, that does not mean it will happen for you and it does not imply the same meaning either.
This is another reason why choosing to work with experienced and licensed professionals can significantly aid this process. They can help you tease out the meaning and importance of the experience, such as visuals and visions, and use them as aids in your healing process.
With that said, there are a few common motifs that can arise throughout psychedelic experiences, and that can possibly arise in your own sessions.
Complex or sacred geometry
Highly complex geometric patterns are a common visual motif that arises in the psychedelic experience. Building off the mystical experience hallmark of the noetic quality, or higher-order truth, these complex geometric patterns —sometimes called sacred geometry, seem to imply a higher-order operating system for reality.
They are considered to be the pattern that life is generated from, and found throughout the inner and outer worlds.
Archetypes or entities
Archetypes, which are classic personality forms, or specific entities may also appear as allies, enemies, obstacles, or opportunities in psychedelic visuals.
Visions of the King, the Jester, the Innocent Child, the Divine Mother, the Dragon of Chaos, or aliens, can appear and deliver messages to the individual.
The specific form or archetype can often represent an aspirational state —something the individual would like to embody further. They can also represent the way that they see themselves, such as a comedian, a lazy person, or courageous. Another take is that these appearances relate to events in their life, such as a dragon in front of their parents home.
In sitting with these experiences, insights or lessons can often be drawn out.
Tunnels or pathways
With psychedelic visions/visuals, there is often a progressive sense to them, that you are moving through space and time, walking or moving forward, often in a tunnel, or on a pathway.
Visions of these may include walkways through the forest, seeing familiar places like homes, schools, or parks.
Episodic or future memory
A final type of visual experience that may arise is episodic memories or “memories of the future.” Individuals may, from a third-person perspective, see events from their lives. These may be significant moments, include an important individual, or simply provide a new vantage point for the individual to see themselves.
These can be powerful catalysts for healing and self-reflection.
There can also be visions which appear as memories of potential future scenarios, such as what may happen if an individual stays addicted to a substance, or continues being angry toward their family. These can be highly cathartic and influential experiences, showing individuals where they may end up unless they make behavioral changes.
This is not an exhaustive list of visions, these are simply broad categories or themes of visual experiences that may occur during a psychedelic experience. Some of these are very clear and powerful, some of them are fleeting and hard to navigate through.
What’s important is to stay present to what is arising, know that it is coming up for healing, and do the work to integrate them if that is called for after the experience.
Understanding and Integrating Visions or Visuals
Psychedelic visions or visuals can feel like little movies playing in your mind. They can be romantic storylines, thriller storylines, maybe comedic, heroic, or mind-expanding.
However, if all you’re doing in the experience is watching movies, you’re probably better off saving your time and energy to go to the movie theatre. Psychedelic therapy is a catalyst for healing, and always trying to ground your visual experiences back into your healing process is an important part of the process.
Why integration of psychedelic visions or visuals is important
Journaling and reflecting on your experiences afterwards is helpful and important. Taking note of what your original intention for the session was can also be helpful. You’re simply looking for ways to tie the visuals back into your life.
Sometimes the connection is obvious, like having a vision of a recently-departed family member and having some time to speak with them. Other times, the meaning and utility of a vision is not obvious at all, but there may be a way it relates.
For example, if you had an intention to practice your mental calmness, or to remain grounded, it’s possible you might be presented with some challenging imagery. This isn’t because the visuals are telling you something, but because they’re giving you a chance to practice staying grounded.
Taking the time to reflect, and work with your care team on navigating these visuals and visions, can help your psyche to process important memories. It can also help unlock important realizations about behavioral patterns, and help make each session an asset on your healing journey.
Visions can be a powerful part of the healing process, but they’re not everything. A powerful emotional release can be just as significant as any vision. Trust in the fact that what is coming up —or not coming up— for you is for your own healing and wholeness, and is playing the role it needs to play on your journey.
Visions and visual experiences are always possible with any psychedelic medicine, but they are not guaranteed, nor are they necessary. Always return to your own inner intelligence, find the meaning that these experiences hold for you. When it feels like additional support would be helpful, reach out to your care team and work with them to explore your visions.
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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Important FDA Safety Information
Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.
Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).
Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:
- Allergic to ketamine
- Symptoms of psychosis or mania
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- CHF or other serious heart problem
- Severe breathing problem
- History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
- History of hyperthyroidism
- Other serious medical illness
- Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant
Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.
While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.
- In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
- Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
- Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom clinician before proceeding with treatment.
- The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.
To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:
- Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
- Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
- Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
- Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
- Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
- Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety