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Dangers of Dissociative Drugs

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 13, 2024

Table of Contents

Article at a Glance

  • Dissociative drugs, including ketamine, PCP, and DXM, alter perceptions, emotions, and awareness, leading to hallucinations and a sense of detachment from reality
  • These substances can cause both short-term effects like memory loss, anxiety, and altered senses, and long-term issues such as depression and cognitive impairments
  • Treatment for abuse of dissociative drugs often involves a combination of detoxification, behavioral therapy, and support groups to address the psychological impact and promote recovery

Dissociative drugs include a range of substances, both synthetic and naturally derived. These drugs are sometimes abused for their ability to alter moods and perceptions. This brief guide outlines the nature and danger of dissociative drug effects and what you can do to seek addiction treatment for these substances.

What are Dissociative Drugs?

Dissociatives are a group of psychoactive substances known for causing a warped perception of reality and inducing feelings of dissociation. This is a state in which a person feels detached from their surroundings and from their own body.

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Although some dissociative drugs are used for legitimate medical purposes like anesthesia, this class of drugs is also sometimes abused for their hallucinogenic effects, which may include altered sensory perception, hallucinations, and disorientation.

Dissociative Drugs Examples

The most used dissociative drugs include:

  • Ketamine: Ketamine is an anesthetic used in human and veterinary medicine. The Schedule III non-narcotic is also commonly abused in the form of powder or pills.
  • PCP: PCP (phencyclidine) was developed in the 1950s as a surgical anesthetic. In recent decades, there has been an increase in the recreational use of PCP in liquid or powdered form. PCP may also be added to marijuana or tobacco.
  • DXM: DXM (dextromethorphan) is a component found in some OTC cough and cold medications which can trigger dissociative effects and other adverse outcomes in high doses.
  • MXE: MXE (methoxetamine) is a more recent addition to the dissociative drug category which is readily available online. MXE use is associated with potentially fatal overdoses.
  • Salvia: Salvia divinorum is derived from a plant native to Central and South America and it’s used for its intense but short-lived effects. People may chew fresh salvia leaves, smoke or inhale the dried leaves, or consume extracted juices.

What Do Dissociative Drugs Do?

Dissociative drugs disrupt the normal functioning of the brain, affecting a person’s perception, reality, and sense of self. These substances act on the neural circuits in the brain which use the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate helps govern cognition, emotion, and pain perception. 

Dissociatives cause a range of hallucinatory and sensory-deprivation effects, effectively making people feel disconnected from their environment and themselves. This detachment from reality can manifest in various disturbing experiences, changing how a person interacts with the world around them.

Effects of Dissociative Drugs

Dissociative drugs, when taken in low to moderate amounts, can provoke any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Sense of detachment from body
  • Hallucinations (auditory and visual)
  • Altered perceptions of sound and vision
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Raised heart rate
  • Rapid breathing

As the dose of dissociatives increases, these effects intensify and can become dangerous or potentially life-threatening. Effects may include:

  • Damaging changes to breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • Panic attacks
  • Intense fear
  • Memory blackouts
  • Delusions of invulnerability
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Seizures

Mixing dissociative drugs with alcohol or other depressants might provoke life-threatening respiratory depression.

Each dissociative drug also presents unique severe risks at high doses:

  • Ketamine: High doses of ketamine may lead people to enter a K-hole, a state in which they feel completely disconnected from reality and close to death.
    PCP: The use of PCP in high doses is linked to violent acts, aggressive behaviors, convulsions, and psychosis.
    DXM: DXM overdoses might cause heart and breathing problems, and potentially seizures.
  • MXE: MXE in high doses can lead to fatal overdose.
    Salvia: Salvia use in higher doses may lead to dramatic changes in mood.

Treatment for Dissociative Drug Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

If you or someone that you care about has been abusing any type of dissociative drug, we can help at Renaissance Recovery.

We can refer you to medical detoxification centers if you are dependent on dissociatives and require assistance with the withdrawal process. You can then transition to ongoing outpatient treatment at our facility in Southern California or our Florida rehab location. This allows you to meet your everyday obligations while tackling drug addiction during weekday therapy sessions.

All Renaissance treatment programs recognize the unique aspect of all dissociative drug addictions by offering clients personalized treatment plans that may include things like medication-assisted treatment, dual diagnosis treatment, group therapy, and more.

For immediate assistance avoiding the dangers of dissociative drugs, call 866.330.9449.

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