How Do Dissociative Drugs Work?

by | Oct 8, 2022 | Addiction | 0 comments

Dissociative drugs are a form of psychedelics that include Phencyclidine (PCP), ketamine, and Dextromethorphan (DXM). Effects of these kinds of drugs include a feeling of detachment or dissociation from an individual’s body or environment. Even though dissociative drugs distort how people experience sight and sounds, they are not technically considered hallucinogenic.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reported that in 2015, about 120,000 people aged 12 or older used PCP in the past year. More than 6 million, or 2.4%, Americans share that they have used PCP in their lifetime.

How Dissociative Drugs Work

These drugs affect the brain by disrupting the actions of glutamate. Vital to cognition, glutamate is a brain chemical that affects learning, memory, emotion, and how people perceive pain. The effect occurs at N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors found on nerve cells throughout the brain.

Any amount of this type of drug can be harmful, but large doses of any dissociative drug are especially dangerous. Mild reactions from a dissociative drug include blurred vision and dizziness, with more serious side effects ranging from increased heart rate to severe breathing problems.

Types of Dissociative Drugs

The three main kinds of dissociative drugs are PCP, ketamine, and DMX. PCP and ketamine started as general anesthetics for surgical procedures. DMX is found in many common cough medicines.

PCP may also be called angel dust. Other names for this drug include rocket fuel, Supergrass, and embalming fluid. No longer used as anesthesia for surgery, only small amounts of PCP are manufactured legally. The most common ways to consume PCP are as a pill or capsule, snorted, or smoked. The powder version of PCP may be sprinkled onto other smokable substances like marijuana, or joints may be dipped in a liquid form of the drug.

Ketamine is also known as Special K or just K. Developed as an alternative to PCP, ketamine remains in use as human anesthesia and a sedative for animals in certain medical situations. The FDA has also approved it as a treatment for depression in people with suicidal ideations. When used illegally, ketamine is typically snorted or added to tobacco or marijuana and smoked.

Also known as Robo, dextromethorphan or DMX is found in extra-strength cough suppressants. DMX is popular with teenagers because it is found in over-the-counter cough syrup and is easy to obtain. It is safe and helps manage coughs when taken in the correct dosage.

Effects of Dissociative Drugs

How dissociative drugs affect a person depends on the individual and the quantity they have consumed. In a low dose, the most common effects are:

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

Higher doses will cause a person to experience some, or all, of the following:

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

A person’s reaction to PCP can be very unpredictable. Schizophrenia-like symptoms may occur, along with various cognitive impairments. Ketamine’s effects are similar to PCP but are not as intense or long-lasting. Because DMX is typically consumed as cough syrup, there are potential side effects associated with higher doses of the other ingredients in the medication. These include blurred vision, dizziness, an increased heart rate, a lack of coordination, low blood pressure, and sleepiness.

Addiction to Dissociative Drugs

It is possible to develop a dependence on dissociative drugs. To date, insufficient research has been conducted on this type of drug to determine a definitive list of long-term effects. However, it is known that people who regularly use PCP can experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using the drug. These symptoms can include cravings, sweating, and headaches.

Someone who uses PCP for a more extended period may also experience other problems, including:

  • Persistent speech difficulties
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal that can last for a year or more even after chronic use stops

According to the NCBI, no medications are approved by the FDA to treat addiction to PCP or other dissociative drugs. There is also insufficient research to know if any behavioral therapies help treat addiction to this type of drug. Because withdrawal can be difficult, it is best to consult a treatment facility for monitoring regardless.

Ongoing recovery from dissociative drugs involves attending regular treatment sessions to help the individual understand why they use drugs and to help them find new activities and goals to keep them from using. Additionally, treatment can help the person learn how to avoid triggers. It may also assist them in reconnecting with family and friends they lost due to their drug abuse.

Bridges of Hope’s treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. Utilizing therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices, Bridges of Hope provides superior patient care in Indiana through its all-inclusive treatment services.