Dissociative Drug Abuse Fact Sheet

What are dissociative drugs?

Dissociative drugs were originally developed as surgical anesthetics, but are now misused or abused illegally in order to get high. Dissociative drugs get their name because they produce feelings of detachment (dissociation) from oneself and from the world around you. These mind altering effects distort perceptions of sight and sound, but are not hallucinations.

What are the most commonly abused dissociative drugs?

The most commonly abused dissociative drugs are PCP (phencyclidine), ketamine and dextromethorphan.

* PCP: PCP is an addictive drug that can cause psychological dependence, craving and compulsive behavior. Suddenly discontinuing PCP use can cause withdrawal symptoms and some of the effects of PCP can last for over a year. PCP can be snorted as powder, swallowed as a tablet or capsule, or smoked by applying it in powdered form to leafy substances such as marijuana, mint, parsley or oregano. It can also be smoked by dipping a marijuana or tobacco cigarette into liquid PCP.

* Ketamine: Ketamine, also known as ‘Special K’ or ‘K,’ is a powerful hallucinogen that is often used by veterinarians as an animal tranquilizer. Small amounts of ketamine result s in a loss of attention span, learning ability and memory. At higher doses, ketamine can cause delirium, amnesia, high blood pressure, depression and severe, potentially fatal, breathing problems. Ketamine comes in a powder form that is usually snorted but is sometimes sprinkled on tobacco or marijuana and smoked.

* Dextromethorphan: Dextromethorphan, also known as ‘DXM’ or ‘rob,’ is a cough-suppressing ingredient found in many over-the-counter cold and cough medications. At very high doses, dextromethorphan produces dissociative effects similar to those of PCP and ketamine. These effects vary with dose and can range from a mild stimulant effect with distorted visual perceptions to complete dissociation from one’s body.

Effects and consequences of dissociative drugs

Dissociative drugs produce a variety of physical, psychological and long-term effects.

* PCP effects include nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, profuse sweating, flicking eyes, slurred speech, anxiety, mood changes, unpredictable and often violent or suicidal behavior. Long-term effects of PCP use include memory loss, difficulty with speech or thought, depression, weight loss, flashbacks and mood disorders. PCP produces psychological effects that are so unpleasant that users often become violent or suicidal. High doses of PCP can cause seizures, coma and even death as a consequence of accidental injury or suicide while under the drug’s effects. The effects of PCP at high doses may also resemble symptoms of schizophrenia. Young people who abuse PCP are particularly at risk because even moderate use can negatively affect the hormones responsible for normal growth and development and can stunt learning abilities.

* Ketamine effects include visual distortions, euphoria, confusion, slurred speech, paralyzed feeling, hallucination, depression, finger and toe numbness, and amplified visual perception and sense of touch. Panic, rage and paranoia may also occur. Long-term effects of ketamine use include delirium, amnesia, impaired motor function and potentially fatal respiratory problems. Some ketamine experiences involve terrifying feelings of almost complete detachment that have been described as near-death experiences. These ‘bad trips’ are called entering the ‘K-hole.’

* Dextromethorphan effects include confusion, double or blurred vision, slurred speech, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, headache, finger and toe numbness, seizures, slowed breathing, and the inability to move arms, legs or to talk. Long-term effects of dextromethorphan use include permanent brain damage, cerebral hemorrhages, and stroke. Cough medicines that include DXM can also contain other ingredients, such as acetaminophen, which can interact and be very dangerous when taken in large doses. At high doses, DXM can suppress the central nervous system and cause the brain to stop telling your lungs to breathe, resulting in death.

Dissociative Drugs Facts and Statistics

* 6.1 million people over the age of 12 reported they used PCP in their lifetime. (NSDUH, 2007)

* 1.8 percent of high school senior reported using PCP in their lifetime. (MTF, 2008)

* About 1 percent of high school students have tried ketamine. (MTFS, 2007)

* Over 3 million people aged 12 to 25 have used an over-the-counter cough medicine to get high. (NSDUH, 2006)


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.