Dissociative Anesthetics

Dissociative anesthetics distort people’s sensory perceptions (e.g., sight, sound, sense of time) and can make them feel as if they are, in a sense, detached from reality. People who take dissociative drugs may feel separated from the world around them and partially or completely detached from their own senses, which can be a terrifying experience that can occur in those who take moderate-to-severe doses of ketamine.

How Do Dissociative Drugs Work?

Researchers believe that dissociative anesthetics work by changing the activity of glutamate, a brain chemical that is important for memory and learning, perceiving pain and emotional processes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Dopamine, another brain chemical that plays an important role in pleasure and reward, is responsible for the “high” produced by addictive drugs and is also affected by dissociative drugs such as phencyclidine (PCP).

Effects of Dissociative Drugs

The effects of dissociative anesthetics vary according to the dose and the particular drug that is taken by the user. At low-to-moderate doses, dissociative drugs can produce a range of symptoms including:

  • Visual and sound distortions
  • Changes in a person’s sense of time
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there)
  • Numbness
  • Nausea
  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and respiration
  • Disorientation

Typically, higher doses of dissociative drugs have the ability to produce more unpredictable effects and can lead to:

  • Hallucinations
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety
  • Extreme panic
  • Fear
  • Aggression
  • Exaggerated sense of strength

People who take dissociative drugs with alcohol or other CNS depressants are also at a greater risk for experiencing fatal respiratory problems.

Types of Dissociative Drugs

The three primary types of dissociative drugs include ketamine, PCP and dextromethorphan (DXM).

Ketamine — also referred to as special K, super K, Cat Valium and K — is a dissociative anesthetic that is commonly used in human and veterinary medicine for its pain-relieving and amnesic properties. People who take ketamine can experience sedation, memory loss and the inability to move, along with the primary effects of dissociative anesthetics, such as feelings of detachment, hallucinations and sensory distortions.

PCP, also referred to as angel dust, is a synthetic dissociative anesthetic that can be snorted, smoked, ingested or injected. PCP users can become violent or aggressive, or experience psychotic symptoms when they take moderate-to-high doses. Similar to ketamine, people who abuse PCP can also experience major problems such as serious, respiratory distress and cardiovascular effects.

DXM is a psychoactive drug found in cough and cold medications that, according to the NIDA, produces short-term effects such as:

  • Euphoria
  • Slurred speech
  • Increased blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Movement problems

While DXM can be safely used for suppressing a cough, taking large doses of the drug for its dissociative effects can be extremely dangerous. People who take DXM can develop other health-related issues such as breathing problems and seizures.

Additional Effects of Ketamine Use

Short-term effects of ketamine use include:

  • Coordination problems
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Lethargy
  • Slowed respiration or fatal difficulties with breathing
  • Violence
  • Chest pain
  • Terrors

A “K-hole,” a terrifying experience in which people feel almost completely detached from their senses, similar to a bad LSD trip, can also occur among people who abuse higher doses of ketamine. Although ketamine overdose deaths are rare, it is possible to overdose on the drug.

Additional Effects of PCP Use

Some of the additional physical and psychological effects of PCP use include:

  • Intense euphoria
  • Paranoia
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Sensitivity to pain or touch
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Stupor
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure and respiration.

The psychological effects produced by PCP can lead to accidental deaths (e.g., drowning, leaping from four-story buildings), suicides and homicides. Taking high doses of or overdosing on PCP can be fatal.

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Health Consequences

People who take dissociative anesthetics are at risk of causing damage to their motor skills, cognition, memory, learning and ability to think clearly. People who take these drugs may experience sleep problems, such as insomnia, and other mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia symptoms, including paranoia and psychosis. Dissociative drugs can also produce potentially fatal respiratory problems, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Dissociative Drugs

People who abuse dissociative anesthetics may develop tolerance, the need to take more of a drug to feel its effects. When a person tries to stop taking or reduces use of dissociative drugs, withdrawal symptoms such as chills, drug cravings, hallucinations and others can occur. Detoxification can be a lengthy process and may require medication to mitigate the effects of withdrawal.

Dissociative Drugs and Ketamine Treatment Centers at Rancho San Diego

Rancho San Diego’s programs for dissociative drug abuse and addiction, and ketamine treatment centers include an individually tailored and holistic treatment approach. Ketamine addiction treatment assists teens in overcoming their substance use disorder, so they can be successful in their recovery and life. For more information about the treatment of ketamine addiction or another substance use disorder involving dissociative drugs, call our 24/7 helpline.

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