Ketamine Dictionary: Dissociative Anesthetics

Ketamine Dictionary: Dissociative Anesthetics

Welcome to Ketamine Dictionary, presented by KetamineNews. Ketamine Dictionary is a free resource designed to make it easier than ever to understand medical procedures and definitions related to mental health treatment without ever stepping foot in medical school or opening a textbook.

Ketamine infusions are one of the fastest-growing treatments in the industry, but one term thrown around a lot is “dissociative anesthetics.” If you find yourself wondering what exactly this means – like I did – then you’ve found the perfect resource to learn more.

What are dissociative anesthetics?

First, let’s break it down a little bit and look at each word by itself.

Dissociation, per Merriam-Webster – the separation of whole segments of the personality (as in multiple personality disorder) or of discrete mental processes (as in the schizophrenias) from the mainstream of consciousness or of behavior.

In simpler terms, it really just means parts of your thoughts or consciousness separating from others. In some people, this manifests in conditions like multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia, but dissociation is also an effect of some treatments like ketamine.

Anesthetics, again according to Merriam-Webster, are a good bit easier to understand. An anesthetic is “a substance that brings relief”. Ketamine itself is an anesthetic.

Dissociative Anesthetics then, should mean: you guessed it, a form of anesthesia that not only brings relief, but also causes parts of focus and consciousness to separate and change.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll take the Encyclopedia of Psychopharmacology’s word for it: “dissociative anesthesia is a form of anesthesia characterized by catalepsy, catatonia, analgesia, and amnesia. It does not necessarily involve loss of consciousness and thus does not always imply a state of general anesthesia.”

Is ketamine a dissociative anesthetic?

Great question. It definitely is. In fact, it’s kind of the first. As outlined by Edward F. Domino in Dr. Stephen J. Hyde’s Ketamine for Depression:

“In discussing the unusual actions of ketamine with my wife, Toni, I
mentioned that the subjects were disconnected from their environment.
Tony came up with the term ‘dissociative anesthetic’. That is what
ketamine is still called today.”

If you’re familiar with ketamine’s illicit use as a street drug – which KetamineNews actively discourages the use of, by the way – then you’ve probably heard of a K-Hole.

An unflattering term, a K-Hole is what you fall into when you take too much ketamine. Usually this is only when participating in illegal usage of the compound, but some of the effects can be felt at lower dosages like those administered during ketamine infusions.

According to Heathline, “people describe a K-Hole as an out-of-body experience. It’s an intense sensation of being separate from your body. Some say it feels as if they’re rising above their body. Others describe it as being teleported to other places, or having sensations of “melting” into their surroundings.

For some, the K-Hole experience is enjoyable. Others find it frightening and compare it to a near-death experience.”

These dissociative effects of ketamine may scare off some, but others believe they are the very reason it is effective. For more information on why dissociation, out-of-body experiences, or ego death can be therapeutic, check out our series on Ego Death and Shadow Work.


Hyde, Stephen J. Ketamine for Depression. Self-published. 2015.

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