Ketamine & The Default Mode Network

The Effects of Ketamine on The Default Mode Network

The Default Mode Network (DMN) of the brain serves to remind you of who you truly are. It refers to various interconnected sections of the brain that are usually activated during passive activities like mind-wandering, daydreaming, and self-reflection. The DMN is essential for consciousness, and MRI scans show that it is most active when a person is in a resting state and their attention is unfocused. Some theorize these brain regions are where internal beliefs are stored, especially negative dialogues like, “I’m not deserving” or “I’m a bad person.” In other words, the DMN may house the ego.

Though DMN brain regions are essential, they can become overactive and lead to mental health struggles. Particularly in mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and OCD, the DMN is a place where thoughts can get stuck in rigid, hypercritical patterns, cycling into negative thought loops that become distressing. You may find yourself over-analyzing social interactions or internally shaming yourself for something awkward you said, even if you don’t notice yourself doing it.

It’s at this point that the brain can benefit from a “reset” through the use of an alternative therapy. Ketamine therapy may help to stop the overactivity in the DMN so a patient can break free of negative cycles and improve overall mental health and wellbeing.

Rebooting the Brain

Suffering, as we understand it, doesn’t come from actual life experiences, but rather from the perception of those experiences. It exists in the space between our current reality, what is, and what we want. When there’s too much suffering in the brain from mental chatter, it's hard to live a life of purpose.

Studies show that ketamine may reduce the functional activity of the DMN, significantly decreasing those negative thought loops while increasing connectivity in other areas of the brain. This creates a quieter mind and offers a patient a break from too much mental chatter. Once the volume in your mind is “turned down,” you can begin the journey of creating alternative stories about your experiences, empowering your thoughts and re-writing internal beliefs to be more productive.

Simon Ruffell, a psychiatric doctor and ayahuasca researcher, describes the effects of psychedelics on the DMN like “defragmenting a computer.” He states: “Brain imaging studies suggest that when psychedelics are absorbed they decrease activity in the default mode network. As a result, the sense of self appears to temporarily shut down, and thus ruminations may decrease. Following this, it appears that the default mode network becomes more cohesive. We think this could be one of the reasons levels of anxiety and depression appear to reduce.”

Ketamine therapy can create a powerful “rebooting” of the brain, offering long-lasting effects and meaningful experiences in a patient’s life. 

Flexibility of Mind

Generally, psychedelics are shown to increase psychological flexibility by disrupting the activity of the DMN, creating a more fluid and less rigid flow of information between brain regions. This state is similar to how the brain operates in early childhood. After ketamine therapy, many patients experience a sense of wonder and awe about life. Everything is fresh and exciting. In this state, a patient can set intentions and essentially “reprogram” the DMN areas of the brain.

For anyone who is suffering with mental health and an overactive DMN, ketamine therapy offers relief. It’s a chance to break free from negative thought loops, reboot the brain, and enter a state of psychological flexibility. This experience is often described as profound and deeply meaningful, and even a few sessions can create long-lasting, therapeutic effects that can positively change a patient’s outlook.

Dr. Sam Zand

Dr. Zand has merged his passions for lifestyle medicine, performance coaching, and entrepreneurship to establish platforms which build leaders and self-healers in the community. Dr. Zand specializes in psychiatric care for peak performance with executives, professional athletes and has helped countless high-performers optimize their mental health. Sam is a psychiatrist with years of experience working with ketamine and other psychedelic medicines in both research and clinical settings.