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Dissociative drugs are a class of hallucinogens. These psychedelic drugs alter the user’s perceptions of reality. Dissociatives may also cause visual and auditory hallucinations, a sense of timelessness, and feelings of detachment/disconnection.
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One of the most common effects is a feeling of separation, or disassociation, from the user’s environment and self.
Many dissociative drugs have general depressant effects on the body. These may include:
Some dissociative drugs are illegal, while others still have medical uses. Throughout history, doctors have used them as anesthetics and in therapy for depression and other mental illnesses. Additionally, they are still used in many over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
Here is a list of the five most common types of dissociative drugs, along with their street names:
Doctors developed PCP in the 1950s as an anesthetic. However, they discontinued using it due to its adverse effects on patients. Now it is a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule II substances have a high potential for abuse, and use may lead to psychological or physical dependence. Street names include:
Doctors and veterinarians use ketamine as an anesthetic (pain reliever). In addition, people use it illicitly. It is also a schedule III controlled substance, meaning it has a potential for abuse and may cause addiction. Street names include:
Dextromethorphan is a medication most often used in over-the-counter cough medications. This means that anyone can purchase it without a prescription in the United States. Street names include:
Nitrous oxide has numerous medical uses as an anesthetic, especially in surgery and dentistry. Under federal law, possession of nitrous oxide is legal. Regardless, many states have various laws regarding the possession, sale, and distribution of nitrous oxide. Street names include:
Salvia divinorum is a leaf native to Central and South America. It has various legal statuses around the U.S. Currently, 29 states have made it illegal. Street names include:
Dissociative drugs produce a variety of physical and mental effects. The intensity of the effects is affected by the type of drug, dosage, and body size.[
Typical short term effects of PCP are felt after 30 to 60 minutes if ingested orally, or 5 to 10 minutes if smoked. The immediate effects typically wear off after 4 to 6 hours, but it may take up to twenty-four hours to return to a completely normal state. These effects include analgesia (pain-relief), euphoria, hallucinations, body distortion, depersonalization, and a numb, trance-like state.
Potential adverse effects of PCP include nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, raised blood pressure, intense sweating, slurred speech, anxiety, sudden mood changes, as well as unpredictable and often violent behavior. At high doses, PCP can cause seizures, suicidal thoughts, coma, and even death.
Ketamine is manufactured as an injectable liquid. However, it is usually evaporated and turned into a powder that is snorted or pressed into pills for illicit use. Typical short term effects of ketamine include audio and visual distortions, euphoria, slurred speech, hallucinations, numbness, and a heightened sense of touch.
Potential adverse effects of ketamine include panic, rage, and paranoia. High doses of ketamine can cause the user to feel paranoid. Many people have also described a sense of nearly complete detachment. This is called a “K-hole,” and many users describe this as a near-death experience.
DXM is typically ingested orally in the form of cough syrup. Typical short term effects of DXM include euphoria, auditory distortions, change in the perception of gravity, vivid imagination, hallucinations, out of body experiences, distortions in senses, and the speeding up or slowing down of time.
Potential adverse effects of DXM may include confusion, blurred vision, slurred speech, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, increase in blood pressure, headache, and numbness. High doses of DXM may induce slowed breathing, seizures, temporary paralysis, and central nervous system suppression, which can lead to death. Cough medicines with DXM also contain several other active ingredients that can interact with other drugs and be very dangerous.
Nitrous oxide is a gas that people inhale. The effects of this gas occur almost immediately after use, but only last a short time. Further, typical short term effects of nitrous oxide include relaxation, euphoria, fits of laughter, sound distortions, and hallucinations.
Potential adverse effects of nitrous oxide may include severe headaches, dizziness, inability to think or reason, paranoia, sleepiness, and excessive sweating or shivering.
Salvia divinorum is a leaf that can be chewed, turned into tea, or smoked. Effects typically set in almost immediately after consumption and last for less than thirty minutes. Typical short term effects of salvia divinorum include intense hallucinations, visual distortions, and intense laughter.
Potential adverse effects of salvia divinorum may include intense panic, fear, anxiety, dysphoria, nausea, dizziness, loss of coordination, and chills.
Dissociatives have a much higher risk of adverse long-term side effects compared to other hallucinogens.
Prolonged use of PCP can cause addiction. Users may also experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using or are unable to continue taking the drug. Other long-term effects include memory loss, difficulty speaking, inability to think straight, depression, weight loss, HPPD or flashbacks, and mood disorders. PCP can negatively affect the hormones necessary for healthy growth and development. Therefore, it may stunt learning abilities in young people.
Ketamine is an addictive drug and can cause severe withdrawal symptoms in people who develop a dependency on the drug. Other long-term effects include depression, delirium, amnesia, impaired motor functions, and respiratory problems (which can be fatal).
Dextromethorphan abuse can lead to addiction. Prolonged use can also result in withdrawal symptoms if the user is unable to continue using the drug. Other long term effects of DXM include permanent brain damage, cerebral hemorrhages, and stroke.
Nitrous oxide is not considered a physically addictive drug. However, due to its short duration, it is often abused repetitively, so people can develop a desire to use it frequently. Prolonged exposure to nitrous oxide may result in memory loss, brain and nerve damage, incontinence, body spasms, potential birth defects (if used during pregnancy), weakened immune system, depression, and psychosis.
Salvia is not considered physically addictive. In addition, the long term effects remain unknown. However, users have reported feelings of tiredness, loss of memory, and spatial and temporal distortion after the immediate effects wear off.
PCP, ketamine, and dextromethorphan are considered addictive dissociative drugs. Repeated use may cause users to develop a psychological and physical dependence on the drug. Addiction symptoms of dissociative drugs may include:
It is common for people with pre-existing mental health issues to use dissociative drugs. Further, people may develop certain mental health issues that may continue after the period of active drug use.
If you or someone you know is showing signs of dissociative drug abuse, it’s vital for them to receive treatment. There are a number of treatment options available, including:
Treatment programs should be tailored to the individual and their needs. Follow-ups are crucial to the success of drug abuse treatments to prevent relapses.
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“HALLUCINOGENS AND DISSOCIATIVE DRUGS.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, Jan. 2014, https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/hallucinogensrrs.pdf
“The Legacy of Dissociative Drugs.” AACC, American Association for Clinical Chemistry, 17 Jan. 2019, https://www.aacc.org/publications/cln/cln-stat/2019/january/17/the-legacy-of-dissociative-drugs
“Dissociatives.” Dissociatives - Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 28 Jan. 2020, https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/dissociatives/
Morgan, Celia J. A., and H. Valerie Curran. “Ketamine Use: a Review.” Addiction, vol. 107, no. 1, 2011, pp. 27–38
PCP Fast Facts. U.S. Department of Justice, https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs4/4440/