Addiction Drug Use Hallucinogens Three Types of Dissociative Drugs and Their Effects Overuse of these drugs can be harmful By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on May 13, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE Medically reviewed by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Learn about our Medical Review Board Print © Getty Images Dissociative drugs distort perceptions of sight and sound and create feelings of detachment or dissociation from a person's environment and self. Although these effects are mind-altering, they are not technically hallucinations. Drugs in this class can have harmful effects on the body, especially when taking in higher dosages. These effects range from blurred vision and dizziness to increased heart rate and severe breathing problems. Dissociative Anesthetics: Mechanism of Action Dissociative drugs are thought to work by disrupting the action of glutamate (a neurotransmitter) throughout the brain, thereby affecting perception of pain, responses to environmental stimuli, and memory. Types of Dissociative Drugs Phencyclidine (PCP), ketamine, and dextromethorphan (DXM) are three common types of dissociative anesthetics. Both PCP and ketamine were originally developed as general anesthetics to be used during surgery. Dextromethorphan is a common ingredient in cough suppressant medications. Phencyclidine (PCP) PCP is no longer used as a surgical anesthetic. It is not manufactured legally, except for small amounts for research purposes. PCP can be taken as a pill or capsule, snorted as a powder, or smoked (the powder is sprinkled over smokable substances like marijuana leaves). Some people dip cigarettes or marijuana joints into liquid PCP, then smoke it. PCP is considered an addictive drug because it can create cravings and psychological dependence. People who use this dissociative drug can become compulsive about seeking and using the drug, and they can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it. PCP is widely known as angel dust, but it has also been called rocket fuel, Supergrass, and embalming fluid. Overview of Phencyclidine Use Disorder Ketamine Ketamine was initially created as a replacement for PCP. Known on the street as Special K or simply "K," this dissociative drug is still used medically as human anesthesia and a sedative for animals. It is also widely used and FDA approved for suicidal ideation in depression. When used for nonmedical purposes, ketamine is a powder that is snorted. It can also be smoked when sprinkled on tobacco or marijuana. What Is Ketamine Addiction? Dextromethorphan (DXM) Dextromethorphan is a cough-suppressing ingredient found in many over-the-counter cold and cough medications and in products usually marked "extra strength." When taken as directed, this dissociative drug is a safe and effective cough reliever. Known as DXM or Robo, dextromethorphan is a popular drug with adolescents because it's more readily available than illicit drugs. Because it is contained in cough syrup, dextromethorphan is taken orally. Other Dissociative Drugs Nitrous oxide, or "laughing gas," is another example of a dissociative drug that is often used as an anesthetic. So is Salvia divinorum, a plant in the mint family that can create feelings of detachment after being smoked, chewed, or consumed in a juice. Effects of Dissociative Drugs Of the three most common dissociative drugs, PCP produces the most unpredictable reactions, especially at higher dosages. PCP can cause schizophrenia-like symptoms, along with a variety of cognitive impairments. When abused, ketamine produces effects similar to PCP, but they are less intense and shorter-lasting. The reaction that users get is very dose-dependent. At low doses, users can experience loss of memory, reduced learning ability, and a loss of attention. At higher dosages, ketamine can cause delirium, amnesia, and severe breathing problems. One study found that three days after using ketamine, some users displayed "semantic memory impairment and dissociative and schizotypal symptomatology." Low dosages of DXM can produce a mild stimulant effect and possibly distorted visual perceptions. At higher dosages, DXM causes effects similar to those of the other dissociative drugs, including feeling detached from one's body. Because cough syrups usually also contain antihistamines and a decongestant, taking them in high dosages can produce other dangerous effects as well, including: Blurred visionDizzinessIncreased heart rateLack of coordinationLow blood pressureSleepiness Long-Term Effects of Dissociative Drugs Research is somewhat lacking on long-term effects of dissociative drugs. That said, some studies have looked at the lasting effects of PCP and found that they can include: Development of a substance use disorder Increased risk of withdrawal when discontinuing use Increased tolerance Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression Memory loss Persisting difficulty with speech Social withdrawal Suicidal thoughts If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Hallucinogens and dissociative drugs research report. Lodge D, Mercier MS. Ketamine and phencyclidine: the good, the bad and the unexpected. Br J Pharmacol. 2015;172(17):4254-76. doi:10.1111/bph.13222 Matthew S. The evidence for ketamine in mood disorders. Healio Psychiatric Annals. 2020;50(2):44-45. doi:10.3928/00485713-20200108-02 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Salvia: What is salvia? Fujigaki H, Mouri A, Yamamoto Y, Nabeshima T, Saito K. Linking phencyclidine intoxication to the tryptophan-kynurenine pathway: Therapeutic implications for schizophrenia. Neurochem Int. 2019;125:1-6. doi:10.1016/j.neuint.2019.02.001 Curran HV, Morgan C. Cognitive, dissociative and psychotogenic effects of ketamine in recreational users on the night of drug use and 3 days later. Addiction. 2000;95(4):575-90. doi:10.1046/j.1360-0443.2000.9545759.x National Institute on Drug Abuse. Over-the-counter medicines. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are the effects of common dissociative drugs on the brain and body?. By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.