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What are Dissociative Drugs?

Dissociative Drugs

Dissociative drugs, also known as hallucinogens, are drugs that cause distortions in the perception of sounds and sights, often leading to feelings of detachment. It is the feeling of detachment that provides the name dissociative to this class of hallucinogenic drugs.

Most Commonly Abused Dissociative Drugs

There are many drugs that can lead to a dissociative state, but those in the class can also cause sensory deprivation, hallucinations or trances, and can also affect the body’s dopamine and opioid system, leading to a feeling of euphoria.  The most commonly used drugs in this category are:


Ketamine, developed in 1963 to replace PCP, is used as an anesthesia for humans and animals. Ketamine sold on the street is often derived from the animal version of the drug, rather than the human version. The drug is sold in liquid form, but this is usually evaporated into a powder for illicit use, and is snorted or swallowed. Some users do inject the drug, however. This drug is odorless and tasteless, making it easy to slip into drinks without being detected. It causes dream-like states and hallucinations, while some users report complete sensory detachment, almost like a near-death experience. In lower doses, users have attention impairment, memory loss or inability to learn. The memory loss aspect of the drug is why it is often used in the commission of sexual assaults, as a victim can be drugged unknowingly, attacked and be completely unaware of the attack afterward.  Ketamine is sold under the street names Cat Valium, K, Special K, and Vitamin K. High doses of the drug can lead to respiratory depression severe enough to cause death. Teenagers and young adults are the most common users of Ketamine.


Phencyclidine, or PCP, was developed in the 1950s for use as a surgical anesthetic, but its use was discontinued when doctors discovered that patients became delusional, irrational and agitated while recovering from its effects. It is a white, crystalline powder that dissolves easily in water or alcohol, and the drug has a bitter, chemical taste. The drug is sold illegally in tablet, capsule and colored powders. Users snort, smoke, inject or swallow the drug, and it is often sprinkled on leafy substances, such as mint, parsley, tobacco or marijuana. Many times, the drug is taken unknowingly as it can be hidden in tobacco or marijuana products. Low to moderate doses cause effects similar to alcohol use, but users may experience shallow breathing, numbness of the extremities, poor muscle contraction and profuse sweating. At high doses, the drug can cause hallucinations and seizures, as well as nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, eye flickers, drooling and dizziness. Although death after ingestion is possible, those using the drug more often die from accidental injury, suicide or when it is used in combination with alcohol or other depressants. Users often become violent or suicidal, and can become a danger to themselves or others. PCP is often called angel dust, happy sticks, magic dust, Peter Pan or lethal weapon.

Salvia Divinorum

Salvia divinorum is a plant, found in a cloud forest in Sierra Mazateca near Oaxaca, Mexico, which induces visions and hallucinations. Salvia is legal in Mexico, but many states have banned the drug in the United States. Users report feeling giddy and disoriented, with effects that can last up to two hours. Other effects include feeling as if the user is floating or lost in a tunnel. Those who use the drug either chew the leaves, drink juice extracted from the plant or smoke it after the leaves have been dried similar to how marijuana is smoked. Users can also use water pipes or can vaporize the leaves and inhale them.  Studies are currently being conducted on a link between salvia use and mental illness, as the drug has triggered panic attacks, schizophrenia relapses and an increase in borderline personality traits.  However, there is little research into whether the drug leads to addiction, or if the hallucinogenic properties of the drug are severe enough to warrant its illegal status in some states. There have been limited studies into the long-term effects of the drug, although initial studies indicate that since the drug affects dopamine levels, it has potential for being addictive. Street names for the drug include shepherdess’s herb, Maria Pastora, magic mint and Sally-D.

Dextromethorphan (DXM)

Dextromethorphan is found in common, over-the-counter cough medicines, but can be used recreationally for its dissociative effects. The drug can be purchased without a prescription in cough syrup or cold tablets, while a powder form is available on internet sites. Users swallow the drug, and effects include confusion, dizziness, slurred speech, nausea, vomiting and blurred vision. Abusers claim that there are different plateaus during use of the drug which range from color and sound distortion to out-of-body experiences. The drug is sold under the street names Robo and Triple C, while a particularly strong reaction is known as Robo-tripping.

Specialized Treatment May be Required For Addiction

For those who have a loved one who is abusing dissociative drugs, or for those who are suffering from addiction to any of the drugs described, seeking inpatient treatment is the best option as self-treatment could be dangerous. Prolonged abuse of these drugs could result in painful or dangerous withdrawal symptoms.  Consider seeking the assistance of a trained addiction counselor or center that specializes in addictions to dissociative drugs.

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