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Non-Attachment and Dissociative Drugs

Exploring the Intersection of Glutamate Inhibition and Buddhist Non-Attachment

he study of consciousness and subjective experience bridges science and spirituality, often revealing profound insights about the nature of reality. In this context, the role of glutamate, a vital neurotransmitter, and its inhibition by the drug ketamine, provides an interesting perspective on the subjective experience of non-attachment, a key concept in Buddhism.

Glutamate Inhibition

Glutamate is the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter in the nervous system, playing a crucial role in synaptic plasticity, memory formation, and learning. However, when excessively released, it can lead to a state of excitotoxicity and neuronal damage.

As an example, Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic, primarily acts as an antagonist at the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, a type of glutamate receptor. By inhibiting the NMDA receptor, ketamine disrupts glutamate signaling, leading to a decrease in neuronal excitation.

Ketamine’s Dissociative Effects and its Relation to Glutamate Inhibition

Ketamine’s hallmark dissociative effects result from this glutamate inhibition. In this state, a person may experience feelings of detachment from the self and the external environment, alterations in thoughts and perception, and an overall sense of disconnection.

It’s believed that these effects occur due to ketamine disrupting the default mode network (DMN), a network of brain regions that is active when the mind is at rest and not focused on the outside world. The DMN is thought to be associated with the construction of the self, and its disruption through the inhibition of glutamate could lead to a breakdown in the subjective sense of “self,” inducing a dissociative state.

Buddhist Concept of Non-Attachment and its Parallels to Ketamine-Induced Dissociation

In Buddhism, the concept of non-attachment refers to a state of freedom from desire, aversion, and ignorance. It involves a profound realization of the impermanence of the “self” and the external world, leading to a letting go of attachments and reduction in suffering.

In essence, non-attachment in Buddhism can be seen as a self-imposed, conscious form of dissociation, where the individual consciously detaches from the illusion of a separate self and the desire for material possessions.

The parallel between the dissociative effects of ketamine and the state of non-attachment can thus be drawn. Both involve a dissolution of the self, albeit through different means. While ketamine-induced dissociation is pharmacological, mediated by glutamate inhibition, the Buddhist practice of non-attachment is achieved through meditation and conscious realization.


This fascinating intersection of neuroscience and spirituality provides us with a unique lens through which we can understand and explore the nature of consciousness and subjective experience. While pharmacological interventions and spiritual practices seem worlds apart, their convergence on similar experiences suggests shared underlying processes, illuminating our journey towards understanding the human mind.

It is crucial to recognize the complexity of these phenomena, and that achieving a state of non-attachment should ideally be pursued through self-exploration, guided meditation, and introspection rather than drug-induced states. Nonetheless, these parallels between the effects of glutamate inhibition and the state of non-attachment open new avenues for scientific investigation and understanding of our conscious experience.