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Near Death Experience and Carbon Dioxide


A near death experience (NDE) is one of the more controversial, debatable, and unexplained phenomena that challenge scientists, theologians, and lay people alike. They are reported in up to 23 percent of cardiac arrest patients. Now a new study suggests that carbon dioxide in the blood may play a role.

At the University of Maribor, Slovenia, researchers examined 52 patients (42 men) who had had a cardiac arrest. Of the 52 patients, 11 reported having a near death experience. The near death experience did not correlate with the patients’ sex, age, religious beliefs, fear of death, amount of education, time to recovery, or the drugs administered during resuscitation.

Zalika Klemenc-Ketis and her team noted that the patients who reported a near death experience had blood carbon dioxide levels that were significantly higher than in the cardiac patients who did not report an NDE. Patients in this study who had an NDE were more likely to have had one previously.

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Prior research has shown that inhaling carbon dioxide can cause hallucinatory experiences that are similar to those reported in near death experiences. It was not clear whether the higher levels of carbon dioxide seen in the people in this study were associated with the cardiac arrest or were pre-existing.

Several organizations are dedicated to gathering both experiential and scientific information on near death experiences, including the Near Death Experience Research Foundation and Near Death Experiences and the Afterlife, and many people in the health arena have written about the topic.

One is Dr. Susan Blackmore, a visiting professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, who speculated that near death experiences are hallucinations caused by brain activity. Another is Dr. Ken Ring, a psychology professor at the University of Connecticut, who investigated and documented near death experiences in the blind, including people blind since birth who reported being able to see during their NDE.

There are many theories and ideas about what causes near death experiences and what they mean. This newest study “adds new and important information to the field of NDE phenomena,” says Klemenc-Ketis. “The association with carbon dioxide has never been reported before, and deserves further study.”

Critical Care online journal, April 8, 2010
Near Death Experience and the Afterlife
Near Death Experience Research Foundation