Near-Death Experiences Cause Rare Out-Of-Body Phenomenon, New Study Finds

A never-before-done study found that 20 percent of people who survive CPR following a cardiac arrest while in a hospital report a lucid heightened experience once they recovered.

Researchers at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine studied 567 people who received CPR following a cardiac arrest during hospitalization between May 2017 and March 2020 in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the less than 10 percent of survivors, one in five reported the lucid heightened experience.

The study, which was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2022 in Chicago on Sunday night, showed a spike in gamma wave brain activity. Gamma waves are active when a conscious person retrieves memories and mentally processes information.

Lead investigator Dr. Sam Parnia told Newsweek that people have reported a lucid heightened experience while near death in the past, but evidence hadn't been discovered to connect the consciousness with death. The study changes that and shows the experiences are different from hallucinations.

The Real Brain exhibit in Bristol, England
Above, a real human brain is displayed as part of an exhibition at The Real Brain attraction in Bristol, England. A new study finds that people have gamma wave activity in their brains when undergoing a near-death experience. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

"There have been a lot of interesting reports of people having lucid heightened consciousness as they approach death, but there's not enough research understanding of death from the medical perspective," said Parnia, an intensive care physician and associate professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health. "The question was 'Can we find evidence of this lucid heightened consciousness with death and what are human experiences like?'"

Researchers across 25 institutions were equipped with electroencephalograms (EEGs) and other equipment. When emergency personnel was notified of a person in cardiac arrest, the researchers also were notified and were able to record the patient's brain activity while the medical team provided life-saving care.

According to the study, humans recalling a lucid heightened experience reported similar happenings and themes during the experience.

Many patients recalled that while the resuscitation was happening, there was a "perception of separating," in which the patient had a visual awareness of the medical team administering CPR. Parnia said these people also recognized that they had died during this experience. People also experienced a perception of traveling to a destination that felt like home, or somewhere they belonged that drew them in, according to Parnia.

Parnia said many times when people are resuscitated through CPR, they remain in a coma and don't wake until days or weeks later. The timeframe could cause multiple memories. The research attempted to distinguish between the type of memories formed.

But a different experience specifically caught Parnia's attention.

"The most interesting aspect of this is [the patient] starts to have full memories of everything they have done and all their thoughts and intentions toward other people throughout their entire life," he said, relating the memory recognition as equivalent to an instant computer data download.

It is a different understanding of a near-death experience, contradicting how media depicts a person's life flashing before their eyes when near death.

"It's a purposeful, meaningful reevaluation of every aspect with a focus on morality and ethics and how they conducted themselves. It's really quite bizarre," he said.

One of the most fascinating discoveries, according to Parnia, is that a person's consciousness doesn't die when the body dies.

"What seems to be happening as a person is dying, their brain is shutting down and in this process disinhibition, braking systems [in the brain] are being removed because they are no longer relevant," said Parnia, referencing how people can only access a small part of their brain's consciousness at one time.

"This disinhibition seems to give access to parts of the brain become activated and seeing spikes in EEG activity and gives access to dimensions of reality they otherwise did not have access to, including full consciousness."

The study, which was internally and independently peer-reviewed, found those who survived resuscitation and recalled a lucid heightened experience returned to regular consciousness and came equipped with a higher purpose.

"They recognize the importance of their jobs or having families or whatever it is we do at different stages of our life, but they're not losing perspective of our humanity," Parnia said. "[They] forget the perspective of that until they had this experience, and then the perspective becomes real for them."