What Are Dissociative Drugs

What Are Dissociative Drugs

PCP, or phencyclidine (“angel,” “angel dust,” “upergrass,” “zombie”), and ketamine (“K,” “Special K,” “cat Valium”) are dissociative drugs that were initially developed as general anesthetics for use during surgery. These drugs distort a person’s visual and auditory perceptions and produce feelings of detachment – from the self and the environment. Although PCP and ketamine have mild-altering effects, these are not hallucinations. The proper term for PCP and ketamine, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is “dissociative anesthetics.”

Another prescription drug, dextromethorphan (called “DXM,” or “robo” on the street), available as a cough suppressant, can produce similar dissociative effects as both PCP and ketamine when taken in high doses.

What happens to cause the effects?

Distribution of the neurotransmitter glutamate throughout the brain is altered by dissociative drugs. Why is glutamate important? Glutamate is involved in memory, in response to the environment, and in pain perception.

PCP is most commonly referred to as a dissociative drug, although the effects and actions of PCP also apply to ketamine and dextromethorphan.

Why do people abuse dissociative drugs?

Dissociative drugs, PCP in particular, produce an almost instant trance-like feeling and users experience a rush of euphoria, a sense of pleasure and detachment from reality. PCP alters dopamine in the brain, resulting in the predictable euphoria and rush that users and abusers of dissociative drugs crave. The effects of PCP can last for hours, and some users report the feelings last for days.

Effects of PCP

PCP looks like a fine white powder, although it is sometimes dyed different colors. Users smoke it, often mixed with other chemicals and sprinkled on tobacco and marijuana, although herbs such as parsley and oregano are also used. PCP can also be dissolved into liquid.

At low doses of 5 milligrams (mg) or less, according to the NIDA, PCP causes physical effects such as rapid and shallow breathing, elevated body temperature, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. At higher doses of 10 mg or more, users experience progressively more severe effects, including dangerous blood pressure increase, and changes in heart rate and respiration, many times accompanied by nausea, decreased sense of pain, dizziness and blurred vision. Muscle contractions, often violent, can result in bone fractures and damage to kidneys as the breakdown of muscle cells occurs. When doses reach extremely high levels, PCP users can experience convulsions, coma, hyperthermia and death.

Another danger of PCP is its unpredictability. In some users, the effects, which can be almost immediate, can linger for days. Distortions of time, space and body image are common in some users. Other PCP users experience panic, fear and loss of control. Some report feelings of invulnerability, have an exaggerated sense of strength, while others may fall into a state of extreme depression, have thoughts of or try to commit suicide, become violent or disoriented.

PCP can result in addiction when used repeatedly. Recent research, according to the NIDA, shows that prolonged or repeated PCP use can result in withdrawal syndrome upon abrupt cessation of the drug. Symptoms such as depression and memory loss can last for a year after PCP is no longer taken.

Effects of ketamine

Ketamine is used in veterinary medicine and in anesthesia on humans. On the street, the injectable liquid is usually evaporated, forming a powder that is either compressed into pills or snorted. Some users inject the liquid form of the drug directly into their muscle tissue.

Much less potent than PCP, ketamine’s chemical structure, how it acts, and effects on the human body are similar. Commonly reported ketamine user sensations include a floating feeling, as well as being detached from their bodies. Feelings of detachment can be extreme, however, with some users reporting they had a “near-death experience.” This is sometimes referred to as the “K-hole,” and is similar to a bad LSD trip.

Because of its colorless and odorless properties, ketamine can be easily dropped into an unsuspecting individual’s drink. Cases of sexual assault (“drug rape”) have occurred as a result. Ketamine is one of the troubling drug rape drugs popular on the rave and dance club scene, along with GHB and Rohypnol.

Effects of dextromethorphan

Dextromethorphan is an ingredient in cough and cold medicines that are sold over-the-counter. The most commonly abused form of this medicine is the extra-strength cough syrup that contains about 3 mg of dextromethorphan per milliliter (ml) of syrup. When used at the proper dosage levels (1/6 to 1/3 of an ounce) in the treatment of coughs and colds, dextromethorphan is considered safe and effective, according to the NIDA. When doses reach 4 ounces and greater, the drug begins to produce dissociative effects that are similar to those of PCP and ketamine.

Powdered varieties, made by extracting the dextromethorphan from cough syrup, are available on the street. Users snort or take the powdered version orally.

How dextromethorphan affects each individual depends on dosage, as well as habituation, tolerance, body weight and other factors – much like how any medication affects different people in different ways. With dextromethorphan, users report several plateaus of experience, and the effects last for 6 hours. As it is dose-dependant, at levels of about 2 ounces of the drug, users say that they experience distorted visual perceptions and mild stimulant effect. Levels of 10 ounces, however, produce user-reported effects of a complete dissociation from the body.

The NIDA cautions that dextromethorphan also often contains antihistamine and decongestant ingredients. These drug mixtures, when taken in high doses, increase the risk of abuse.

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