The Action of Ketamine on Brains and Society
Unlike any other Class C drug ketamine is responsible for more poorly constructed equine jokes than seems necessary. However, a recent report in the UK suggests there has been decrease in low grade heroin usage in favour of ketamine. (A certain irony here is found in a slang term for heroin being ‘horse’.) This has been catalysed by the explosion of information-exchange made possible by the internet. Now people who had never previously even heard of ketamine can locate feedback from users across the world about the pros and cons of such a venture. But what is made apparent by the abuse of such a chemical, in preference to heroin, is that some latent advantageous effects should be present and therefore the drug must be kept available for scientific scrutiny.
As recent research by Professor Ronald Duman at Yale University has discovered, small doses of ketamine may be useful in the construction of new thought patterns and information storage within the brain. Thus gratefully revealing there may be more to fully committed ketamine application than ruined bladders, one-eyed computer usage and the curse of expectorating one’s backwash via the dissociative spittoon. Maybe in Peter Shaffer’s Equus (1973) we have the apotheosis of all the rather turgid horse references made in jest against ketamine. Alan Strang in Equus, transforms of all of his deepest desires and perversions into a projection onto a single, non-intentional, agent that could be loved and revered. Such an idea is also at the root of many heroin addictions. If one listens to Lou Reed’s 1974 track ‘Heroin’ we hear confirmation of this ethos within the line ‘‘it’s my wife and it’s my life’’. Now in the UK, with the chief protagonist for oblivion seekers switching from skag to ‘gret’, the metamorphosis of my allegory is complete. The horse is a horse is a horse, no matter what you are running from.
Technically speaking, what Professor Duman’s research shows is that, in low doses, ketamine succeeds in triggering the release of glutamic acid. The subsequently derived neurotransmitter, known as glutamate, can be found stored away within 50% of all vertebrate nervous tissue. Glutamate is the precursor amino acid for the production of ɣ (gamma)—Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA regulates the development, differentiation and function of new nerve cells. This directly allows the construction of new neural networks and thus offers up the possibility of being able to store new thoughts and information; ones concerning (and the memories of) the ways of dealing with, existing, or newly arising, complex situations. GABA could be alluded to as being ‘the filter that allows a kaleidoscope to occur’.
GABA is a depressant or inhibitor that allows mind expansion, or equally a tool for unarming the consequences of a hyperactive medial prefrontal cortex. Such hyperactivity within the brain is the reductive cause of a large number of depressive conditions. The source of such conditions is generally found within the limbic system of the brain, especially the dentate gyrus which is also the region responsible for the formation of new memories. Hence an increase in the neurogenesis within such an area, as triggered by heightened levels of GABA, which are in turn, caused by the presence of ketamine within the body, can only be of medicinal benefactor to patients suffering from depressive illnesses. Also this effect bears a striking similarity to the depressant effects of psilocybin in tackling the exact same problems. Mind expansion is the key to thinking anew and neuroscience is finally proving how psychoactive substances achieve such a partnership, within the human brain.
Shaffer might as well have been describing ketamine, in light of these new scientific discoveries by Dulman, when he makes Martin Dysart lament ‘the Normal’ in Equus: ‘’It is also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills – like a God. It is the ordinary made beautiful: it is also the ordinary made lethal. The Normal is the indispensible, murderous God of Health, and I am his priest.” These words highlight very effectively the difference between the two worlds of use and abuse, street and medicinal usage of the same chemical. As is the case when considering this ‘nouveau-heroin’ of our times and its diffusion through the UK drugs culture.