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Dissociative Drugs

Depiction of a teen girl experiencing dissociation after taking a dissociative drug

Hallucinogens and dissociative drugs have become quite popular among some teenagers. But what are dissociative drugs? What do dissociative drugs do? Moreover, what can parents do to protect their teenagers from them?

What are Dissociative Drugs?

Dissociative drugs are like hallucinogens, but they are primarily dissociative anesthetics. They cause a dissociative state similar to those experienced when under surgical anesthesia.

“Dissociative” literally means to cause separation or disconnection. In the case of dissociative drugs, it is a separation of mind and body that occurs. Dissociative anesthetic drugs include substances such as PCP, salvia divinorum, ketamine, and DXM.

What Do Dissociative Drugs Do?

Dissociatives cause a separation of the mind and body. This dissociation is part of the “high” that accompanies using a dissociative drug. In general, dissociatives cause this disconnection, as well as disorientation, confusion, loss of memory, increases in heart rate and blood pressure, psychological distress, hallucinations and, in some cases, death.

It’s hard to classify dissociative drugs as a stimulant or depressant because they can have properties of both. They can increase heart rate or blood pressure, but can also lead to respiratory depression, especially if combined with other central nervous system depressants.

Dissociative Drugs List

A list of dissociative drugs includes examples such as PCP, salvia divinorum, DXM and ketamine.

  • PCP: PCP or phencyclidine is a party drug that falls under the class of dissociative anesthetics. PCP can be particularly dangerous because it readily creates a state in which a person has no idea what they are doing. This drug also causes a decrease in pain perception. It is usually smoked in some fashion, although when bought on the street it comes in a powder or liquid form that can be consumed through snorting or injecting as well. Some people coat their marijuana with the drug, which can lead to more dangerous effects due to the quick onset of a large dose of PCP. Chronic use of PCP can result in dependency with withdrawal symptoms developing after stopping using the drug.
  • Salvia Divinorum: Salvia divinorum, salvia, or the “sage of the diviners,” is actually a member of the mint family. However, it is quite a potent psychoactive drug with dissociative properties. It is consumed by smoking either the raw plant or a concentrated extract of the plant. When smoked, it produces intense but short-lasting hallucinations. Like other dissociatives, it causes a disconnection between mind and body. Unlike other dissociatives, it works primarily through the kappa opioid system (whereas other dissociative anesthetics work primarily through the NMDA glutamate receptor). The psychoactive nature of salvia still makes it an attractive drug to abuse among teens and young adults.
  • Ketamine: Ketamine has antidepressant properties in clinical settings, but it is usually used as a party or rave drug. People who use ketamine will typically snort, smoke or inject the drug. Like PCP, it also works on NMDA glutamate receptors and it produces a dissociation of mind and body and alterations in sensory experiences. Hallucinations are also possible. However, ketamine is also addictive due to its reinforcing and euphoric effects that are mediated via serotonin, dopamine, and opioid systems within the brain. Long term use of ketamine can also lead to lower urinary tract symptoms.
  • DXM: Dextromethorphan, or DXM, is the active ingredient in cough syrup. In small doses, it is an effective cough suppressant. In large doses, it is a dissociative anesthetic. Teens drinking cough syrup to get high is not uncommon. Like PCP and ketamine, DXM works by modulating NMDA glutamate receptor activity. However, the hallucinations associated with high-dose DXM use are more akin to those experienced on classic hallucinogens like psilocybin or LSD. Fatal overdosing on DXM though is a possibility.

Street Names for Dissociative Drugs

There are several street names for dissociative drugs that one can become familiar with. Dissociative drugs street names include:

  • PCP: Angel Dust, Supergrass, Boat, Tic Tac, Zoom, and Shermans
  • Salvia Divinorum: Leaves of Mary, the Shepherdess, Sage of the Seers, Diviner’s Sage, Diviner’s Mint, Sally-D, and Magic Mint
  • Ketamine: Special K, Kitties, Kit Kat, Cat Valium
  • DXM: Dex, Triple C, CCC, Skittles, Robo, Poor Man’s PCP

Effects of Dissociative Drugs

Broadly speaking, the effects of dissociative drugs are to separate the mind and body. Hallucinations and alterations in sensory perception are the results of each dissociative drug’s complex actions in the brain on a variety of systems, including glutamate, dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and opioid signaling systems. In some cases, dissociative drug use can lead to dissociative drug addiction.

The teenage brain on drugs is particularly at risk for addiction to these substances.

The long-term effects of dissociative drugs include increasing psychological distress, enduring feelings of dissociation and disconnection from reality, memory loss, speech difficulties, depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, and suicidal thoughts.

If you believe your teenager is abusing dissociative drugs, know that help is out there and that you are not alone. Treatment for teens struggling with substance abuse is available at Next Generation Village. Contact us today to learn more about our personalized, evidence-based treatment services are designed to meet your teen’s needs.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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