Lost in a K Hole – An Interview with Belinda Barnett

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series The Ketamine Konnection

Explain a little about your background?
I am a graduate of music from the University of Leeds. I have always had an interest in documentary and in the future I would like to make documentaries about the universality of music and its evolutionary benefits versus inexplicable effects on the brain and body. I have however, been told to do what you know, and fortunately or unfortunately I have been exposed to the ketamine scene in Leeds for some time. In making this short documentary, I have uncovered a whole world of ketamine, which is largely unknown to anyone not inside this subculture. I would like to therefore make a longer feature length documentary film which covers this more thoroughly and analytically.


Why did you decide to make a documentary about k?
Ketamine is a very interesting drug. Unlike the highs that users feel when taking ecstasy and cocaine, ketamine is an introspective rather than social drug. From what I have seen in Leeds, the ketamine scene is huge and has totally superseded other drug cultures, due to numerous reasons – some financial, others I think are a reflection of the zeitgeist of the time. Individualisation or “‘reflexive biography’” whereby people seek to share their identity has become a feature of contemporary society – in reality TV, Ipod culture (a soundtrack to someone’s life). Ketamine is the “it” drug because it allows people to experience themselves and find their identity through that. The fact that it’s use has increased so rapidly “The popularity of the sedative has almost DOUBLED over the last decade” 1  and yet hardly any media coverage has documented this is also very interesting. This is what I’m trying to address. Its demographic pull is also interesting. Heroin and crack cocaine is usually abused by a certain demographic, same as ecstasy and cocaine. However ketamine is used by all ages, all social networks. The attitude towards ketamine has also changed recently – originally seen as a hard drug, it is now seen as harmless and is itself a gateway drug. I believe this transition of attitude should be challenged through education, as ketamine is a strong drug which should be taken with caution.


What, if anything, did you hope to achieve by this production?
I hope that information gaps will be closed and that education and information about the drug should be more readily available than it is now. People will always take drugs, but as ketamine itself is what young drug takers seem to be experimenting with before anything else, educational literature should be available. I also hope to provide a social commentary on the course of “it” drugs of the time and explain the reasons why people are turning to this drug now.


Did you come across any users with medical issues arising from use?
Yes many. I have spoken to many people and heard many stories. The most common physical damage is that of the bladder and kidneys. Many abusers have had to have a catheter fitted due to bladder collapse. In terms of the brain, I have spoken to people who endured temporary (4 weeks) psychosis from one instance of misuse. Long term and permanent psychosis has also been documented as a result of ketamine misuse. I have also met with Gijsbert Stoet, a leading researcher into ketamine who, along with other cognitive neuroscientists has discovered links between ketamine and schizophrenia. 2


Do you feel that users were on the whole well informed of the risks of the drug?
No – there is nothing in colleges, universities, drug abuse centres, which are specifically for ketamine. The government targets cocaine, ecstasy and skunk in their Frank adverts, but ketamine is the most rapidly increasing drug and is being used excessively abuse centres, which are specifically for ketamine. The government targets cocaine, ecstasy, skunk in their Frank adverts, but ketamine is the most rapidly increasing drug and is being used excessively.


What is your take on K (and on drugs in general); is it “just” a drug or are users sometimes accessing “unknown” spaces (e.g. OBEs / NDEs)?
Many drugs allow humans to access “unknown” spaces, that is probably why we have always and will take drugs, to seek the unknown – we are naturally curious. However, traditionally this type of search for the unknown is not taken lightly and not done frequently and is done indoors and carried out through ceremony. Ketamine is a powerful drug in allowing its users to traverse time, space, reality etc. however, it is not always respected. There will always be people who abuse drugs, and taking ketamine to “get fucked” and not necessarily to access unknown spaces, can leave people very vulnerable.


Why do you think that humans have altered their states of consciousness throughout history?
Humans are wonderers. Through voyage and discovery, we have mapped the world, created trade etc etc. We are also spiritual in our quest to know the meaning of life. Music, drugs and quest for knowledge are things that are found in every culture and are inextricably linked. Humans in society also feel many external pressures. Psychology dictates that we all seek to escape from time to time – drugs help people to do this.


What did you find out about the positive use of k (i.e. treating alcoholicism, depression, pain management, etc)?
Ketamine was developed in the 60s to use in hospitals and vetinary science. When administered in small doses, it is a fantastic tool in treating alcohol withdrawal and to lull animals into anaesthesia. Ketamine in recreational use is administered in much higher doses (up to 500 times the recommended dose or more). The desired use is that of hallucination or accessing unknown spaces, not medical. The 2 uses of the drug are therefore incomparable. It’s like making an analogy between using alcohol to clean wounds and getting smashed on a Saturday night with a bottle of vodka.


What do you feel are negative aspects of the drug?
Introspective, insular, psychologically addictive, unsociable, easily mistaken for cocaine- leading to dire consequences, leaves people very vulnerable.


Did you research famous users (John Lilly, D M Turner, Marcia Moore, Timothy Leary)? What is your view on these k hole psychonauts?
Yes. Each person can choose how they spend their lives. Ketamine can aid the philosophical leanings of some people, allowing them to reach super-consciousness. However, the squalid tale of each of these famous psychonauts demise and death or near death brings back the question of freedom. Although ketamine gives them freedom in exploration, ultimately they were enslaved by their very own “Goddess ketamine”.

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