Dissociative Drugs Overview

What Are Dissociative Drugs?

Dissociative drugs fall under the category of psychedelics, and their effect is characterized by feelings of detachment from oneself and one’s surroundings. Some dissociatives have legitimate medical uses; for instance, ketamine is used as a surgical anesthetic when a person is allergic to other forms of anesthesia. However, dissociative drugs are often used illicitly due to their hallucinogenic effects that distort sensory perception.

These drugs can be administered in a variety of ways like by snorting, inhaling, injecting, or taken orally. Dissociative effects may include out-of-body experiences, sensory hallucinations, and feelings of disconnection from reality. Along with these characteristic effects, the use of dissociative drugs may cause unwanted and unpleasant side effects like memory loss and impaired motor function.

Common Dissociative Drugs


Ketamine is used by doctors as an anesthetic for human and animal surgery. It is also used illegally for its psychedelic effects which cause people to experience sensory hallucinations for up to 90 minutes. It may be called Special K, ket, or Kitkat.


Dextromethorphan (DXM) is commonly used as a cough suppressant. As a medication, it is available as a pill, syrup, lozenge, or spray. In high doses, it can have similar effects to more powerful dissociative drugs like ketamine or PCP. Its potential for abuse is high because it is so easily available as an ingredient in over-the-counter medications.


Phencyclidine or PCP is a hallucinogen with dissociative properties which can put users in a trance that makes them feel removed from reality. PCP can be smoked, swallowed, injected, or snorted, and it’s sometimes used to cut other drugs like marijuana to enhance their effects.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide is a gas used medically for pain relief and sedation. This gas is also found in common household items like aerosol cans. The gas is typically inhaled directly from canisters containing it, also known as whippets due to the common use of whipped cream cans. It can produce a rush of euphoria, distorted sensory perceptions, or a sense of floating.

Salvia divinorum

Salvia is a powerful dissociative hallucinogen that causes the user to experience intense psychoactive effects including detachment, hallucinations, and delusions. The compound is derived from a plant in Central and South America, which can be dried and smoked, brewed as a tea, or chewed.

Effects of Dissociative Drugs

Dissociative drugs’ main effects involve a sense of detachment from one’s own body or environment. However, it carries a wide range of other psychological and physical effects. Depending on the drug and its route of administration, these effects may last a few minutes or hours to several days. They include:

  • A state of confusion or disorientation
  • Feeling detached from the body or the senses
  • Sensory hallucinations
  • Enhanced or altered perception of the senses
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated temperature
  • Feeling of panic or terror
  • Psychosis
  • Memory loss
  • Seizure

The likelihood of experiencing more dangerous short-term effects increases with higher doses. This makes it more likely that vital indicators like blood pressure, temperature, or respiratory rate will be severely impacted by dissociative use. In addition to these common effects, specific dissociatives have their own characteristics and risky side effects. For instance, PCP users often become aggressive or violent, and ketamine can make people feel as if they are near death.

Indirect effects of dissociative drugs may also be dangerous or life-threatening. For instance, users may put themselves at risk of motor vehicle accidents or drowning. They may also act on aggressive, violent, or suicidal impulses while under the effects of the drug.

Dissociative Drugs Long-Term Effects

Long-term use of dissociative drugs is associated with several detrimental effects on physical and mental health. In some cases, these effects can last for over a year after dissociative drug use is discontinued. These effects include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Memory loss
  • Development of speech problems
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Incontinence
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Anemia
  • Tolerance and withdrawal
Signs of Dissociative Drug Addiction

Some physical and behavioral signs can be used as indicators of dissociative drug addiction. These include:

  • Tolerance to the drugs, which requires the user to take larger doses to achieve the same effects
  • Withdrawal symptoms that present themselves when individuals stop using the drug
  • Social withdrawal associated with drug use
  • Persistent attempts to obtain the drug
  • Increased time spent obtaining, using, and recovering from dissociative drugs
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop using
  • Increased irritability, hostility, or anger
Overdose on Dissociative Drugs

Overdose is possible especially when combining certain dissociative drugs. Some dangerous signs of overdose when using drugs like PCP, ketamine, and DXM include:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Seizure
  • Impaired consciousness
  • Bluish lips and fingernails
  • Spasms in the stomach or intestines
  • Coma Death

Mixing dissociative drugs with each other with depressant substances like alcohol carry a greater risk of overdose because the effects of each drug become compounded. This makes it more likely that serious respiratory depression or loss of consciousness will occur.

Getting Help

Some dissociative drugs can be addictive, requiring treatment in order to successfully quit using. Treatment for dissociative drug addiction and abuse may include various components including medical detox, inpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment.

Medical detox can be helpful to safely eliminate dissociative drugs from your system while limiting withdrawal symptoms’ effects. Detox can be completed under careful medical supervision to ensure safety and comfort.

Inpatient and outpatient treatment are generally designed to treat other aspects of drug addiction using a multi-faceted approach that fosters healthier habits and mental resilience. During treatment, individual and group therapy can help uncover underlying issues and triggers related to dissociative drug use. Nutritional support and prescribed physical activity can return the body to an optimal state after detox.

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