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ARCHIVE:  November 29, 2001

Psychedelics and Anaesthetics

Dear Dr. Shulgin:

I am doing a psychological presentation at my college, and I desperately need some information that might compare the psychedelic drugs with the anaesthetic drugs. Any relevant information on this topic would be greatly appreciated.

-- Laura


Dear Laura:

There is a close relationship between the class of drugs known as the psychedelics and those know as the afferent anaesthetics. Both groups can lead to intense visual phenomena and to mental separation from the real world around you. And with both, you remain continuously conscious. But it is your belief as to where your physical body is during the experience that defines the difference between them.  

With the psychedelics, as a rule, you are in your body, you are able to interact with people or things in your immediate surroundings, you can communicate with others to some extent, and you can manage to urinate successfully if you have a full bladder.

With the afferent anaesthetics, such as ketamine or phencyclidine, you may be physically conscious but there is no body awareness being shared with the brain, as the afferent nerves are effectively disconnected. So, in essence, you are mentally out of your body, you are traveling in some cosmic place, and you are communicating with someone but you can't quite recall who. And a full bladder is of no concern at all, since it belongs to that body down there, but not to you.

The clinical virtues of this form of anaesthesia are based on the fact that the patient remains conscious through surgery, allowing safe and painless medical interaction in emergency cases where one has not the luxury of presurgical preparation. But the reports that have been made during post-operative recovery can be quite vivid.

-- Dr. Shulgin

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