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What are Dissociative Drugs?

What are Dissociative Drugs?

Dissociative drugs are a class of drugs that cause feelings of being dissociated from reality. More specifically, they cause distortions of time, space, and one’s own body. The drugs are highly dangerous and can lead to a variety of side effects, including panic and confusion. While some of these drugs are currently being researched for uses in clinical settings, when taken recreationally they can be extremely unsafe.

Common dissociative drugs include ketamine, PCP, and dextromethorphan (DXM). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, laboratory studies suggest that dissociative drugs “cause their effects by disrupting the actions of the brain chemical glutamate at certain types of receptors—called N-methyl-D-aspartate—on nerve cells throughout the brain.” Glutamate is important to basic cognition, learning, memory, emotion, and the perception of pain. Some dissociative drugs are used as a therapeutic treatment for chronic pain, and others are being researched for clinical uses in treating depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a variety of other mental health conditions.

According to the NIDA, “While the exact mechanism by which hallucinogens and dissociative drugs cause their effects are not yet clearly understood, research suggest that they work at least partially by temporarily disrupting communication between neurotransmitter systems throughout the brain and spinal cord that regulate mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and muscle control.” At lower doses, dissociative drugs may cause violent behavior, blurred vision, dizziness, and a decreased awareness of pain. The University of New Hampshire’s Office of Health Education and Promotion, “at higher doses, loss of coordination and severe muscle contractions along with kidney damage can occur. At very high doses, convulsions, coma, hyperthermia and death can result.”

Use of dissociative drugs can lead to a variety of short long-term health consequences, including anxiety, memory loss, problems with motor function, body tremors, and numbness. The NIDA explains, “These effects, which depend on the amount of the drug taken, are also unpredictable—typically beginning within minutes of ingestion and lasting for several hours, although some users report feeling the drug’s effects for days.” PCP, a common dissociative drug, can have long-term health consequences that include persistent speech difficulties, memory problems, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and social withdrawal for a year or more after one stops using the drug.

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