Dissociative anesthetics or dissociative drugs are a class of hallucinogen known for altering or distorting people’s sensory perceptions (e.g., sight, sound, sense of time) and for making them feel detached from the reality. People who take dissociative drugs may feel separated from the world around them, the environment, and partially or completely detached from their own senses, which can be a terrifying experience for some.
Under the influence of dissociative drugs, the users often report rapid and intense emotional swings, seeing images, feeling sensations, and hearing sounds that may seem real. Though the exact mechanism by which dissociative drugs work is not known, research suggests these drugs work by temporarily disrupting communication between the neurotransmitter systems throughout the body that regulate sensory perception, mood, body temperature, and muscle control, among others.
How do dissociative drugs work?
Researchers believe that dissociative anesthetics work by disrupting the activity of glutamate on certain types of receptors of nerve cells throughout the brain. Glutamate is a brain chemical important for memory and learning, perceiving pain and emotional processes. 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 like phencyclidine (PCP).
Effects of dissociative drugs
The effects of dissociative anesthetics depend on the dose and the particular drug taken by the user. The effects are unpredictable and are seen within minutes of taking the drugs.
Following are some general symptoms produced by dissociative drugs taken in low-to-moderate doses.
- Visual and sound distortions
- Changes in a person’s sense of time
- Dizziness, nausea and vomiting
- Increased blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and respiration
When taken in higher doses, dissociative drugs have the ability to produce more unpredictable effects. Following are some of the general symptoms produced by dissociative drugs taken in high doses.
- Memory loss
- Fear and anxiety
- Extreme panic
- Physical and psychological distress
People who take dissociative drugs with alcohol or other CNS depressants run the risk of experiencing fatal respiratory problems that can eventually result in death.