What Are the Effects of Dissociative Drugs?

PCP (Phencyclidine)
Effects of Dissociative Drugs Are Unpredictable. © DEA

Question: What Are the Effects of Dissociative Drugs?

Answer: It is believed that PCP, ketamine and DXM and other dissociative drugs act by disrupting the chemical glutamate throughout the brain. According to National Institute on Drug Abuse research, glutamate affects the person's cognition functions, emotions and perception of pain.

Dissociative drugs also alters the actions of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces the feeling of euphoria associated with drug abuse.

While also classified as a dissociative drug, salvia divinorum affects the brain differently. It works by activating the kappa opioid receptor on nerve cells. This is a different set of receptors from the ones that are activated by opiates like morphine and heroin.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Dissociative Drugs?

Users of dissociative drugs report visual and auditory distortions and a sense of floating. They also report feelings of dissociation, or the feeling of being detached from reality.

Users also report feelings of anxiety, impaired motor function, and memory loss. Some report body tremors and numbness. The intensity of these effects can be related to the amount of the drug the user takes. Like the effects of hallucinogens, the effects of dissociative drugs are also unpredictable.

Usually, the effects of dissociative drugs begin within minutes of ingestion and last for several hours.

However, some users have reported feeling the effects for days after ingestion.

Here is a more complete list of the short-term effects of dissociative drugs, provided by the NIDA:

General Common Effects of Dissociative Drugs

Low to Moderate Doses

  • Numbness
  • Loss of coordination, disorientation, and confusion
  • Dizziness, nausea, vomiting
  • Changes in sensory perceptions (sight, sound, shapes, time, body image)
  • Hallucinations
  • Feelings of detachment from self and environment
  • Increase in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature

High Doses

  • Hallucinations
  • Memory loss
  • Physical distress, including dangerous changes in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature
  • Marked psychological distress, including feelings of extreme panic, fear, anxiety, paranoia, invulnerability, exaggerated strength, and aggression
  • Use with high doses of alcohol or other depressants can lead to respiratory distress or arrest, resulting in death

Each individual dissociative drug can have its own distinct effects in addition to the above general effects.

PCP at moderate to high doses can cause seizures or severe muscle contractions. Users can become aggressive or violent and can experience psychotic symptoms similar to schizophrenia.

Ketamine, at moderate to high doses can cause sedation, immobility and amnesia.

Some users report a near-death experience known as a "K-hole," in which they have feelings of almost complete sensory detachment.

Salvia users report emotional mood swings ranging from sadness to uncontrolled laughter. These effects are extremely intense, but last only a short time (up to 30 minutes usually).

Effects of DXM

Although safe and effective when taken as directed as a cough suppressant, DXM (dextromethorphan) when taken in excessive doses (200 to 1,500 milligrams) can produce effects similar to PCP and ketamine.

Because DXM is most often abused in the form of cough syrup, which can also contain antihistamines, effects of its abuse can also include risks of respiratory distress, seizures, and increased heart rate.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Dissociative Drugs?

Some reported long-term effects of dissociative drug use include memory loss, speech difficulties, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and social withdrawal. Some of these reportedly can persist for a year or even more after use of the drugs stop.

Also, users can develop a tolerance for dissociative drugs and when chronic users do stop, they can experience withdrawal symptoms that include craving, headaches and sweating.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the long-term effects of most dissociative drugs have not yet been systematically investigated by researchers. Therefore, the full extent of the long-term effects of this class of drugs is still not fully understood.

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National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs." Research Report Series Updated January 2014

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