The Ketamine Model of the Near Death Experience: A Central Role for the NMDA Receptor

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Abstract

Near-death experiences (NDE's) can be reproduced by ketamine via blockade of receptors in the brain (the N-methyl-D-aspartate, NMDA receptors) for the neurotransmitter glutamate. Conditions which precipitate NDE's (hypoxia, ischaemia, hypoglycaemia, temporal lobe epilepsy etc.) have been shown to release a flood of glutamate, overactivating NMDA receptors resulting in neuro ('excito') toxicity. Ketamine prevents this neurotoxicity. There are substances in the brain which bind to the same receptor site as ketamine. Conditions which trigger a glutamate flood may also trigger a flood of neuroprotective agents which bind to NMDA receptors to protect cells, leading to an altered state of consciousness like that produced by ketamine. This article extends and updates the theory proposed in 1990 (Jansen, 1990b).