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What are Dissociative Drugs?

Dissociative drugs are a class of substances that cause people to feel detached from their surroundings and cause out-of-the-ordinary sensory experiences. 

If you abuse a dissociative drug you might have a distorted sense of self, time, color, sound, or motion. These drugs are a type of hallucinogen, which means they can cause you to hallucinate as well as cause you to feel detached from your surroundings. 

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Among people aged 12 or older in 2021, 2.6% (or about 7.4 million people) reported using hallucinogens in the past 12 months.”[1]

While dissociative drug abuse is less common than opioid or stimulant abuse, it is still important to be aware of the dangers of abusing these substances. 

How Do Dissociative Drugs Work?

Dissociative drugs work by interrupting the messages that fire from your brain and spinal cord. These messages are responsible for your mood, senses, body temperature, and even memory. Oftentimes, dissociative drugs have a depressant effect that can cause you to feel drowsy, slow your breathing, relieve pain, impair your cognitive abilities, affect your memory, and even cause anesthesia. 

According to NYC Health, “Dissociative drugs distort perceptions of sight and sound and produce feelings of detachment (or dissociation) from the environment and self.”[2]

It is important to note that dissociative drugs can affect each person differently. The effects you experience will vary depending on the following factors:

  • Size and weight
  • Overall health
  • The frequency you consume the drug
  • Whether you take other substances with it
  • The amount of the substance you take 
  • The potency of the drug
  • The environment in which you consume the substance

Because of the way dissociative drugs affect your brain, amnesia is a common side effect. While there are many types of dissociative drugs, many of them cause similar effects because they all affect similar parts of your brain that are responsible for your senses, mood, and cognitive abilities.

Types of Dissociative Drugs

Dissociative drugs are a type of hallucinogen, but they do not affect you the same as other hallucinogenic substances like LSD (acid) or psilocybin mushrooms (shrooms or magic mushrooms). Instead of producing hallucinations, they cause distorted senses and feelings of detachment from yourself and the world around you. This can be extremely dangerous, putting you at risk of engaging in unsafe behaviors because you do not believe your actions are real. 

The most popular dissociative drugs are:

Phencyclidine (PCP)

Phencyclidine, also known as angel dust, is a dissociative drug that also has hallucinogenic properties. Most people who abuse PCP experience a trance-like state and amnesia. 

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, “PCP is an addictive drug; its use often results in psychological dependence, craving, and compulsive behavior. PCP produces unpleasant psychological effects, and users often become violent or suicidal.”[3]

PCP abuse can cause the following.

  • Changing how you perceive reality 
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations 
  • Speeding up or slowing down time 
  • Feelings of happiness and increased energy
  • Depression, panic, or paranoia 
  • Violent or self-harming behaviors 
  • Believing things that are not true 
  • Loss of memory


Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic drug that is used by veterinarians before surgery. This substance is not intended for use by humans, however, many people in the club or rave scene abuse this drug to experience a high. While low doses of ketamine can cause stimulant effects, high doses can lead to out-of-body or near-death experiences.

The common effects of ketamine in humans include:[4]

  • Distorted perceptions of sight and sound
  • Feeling disconnected from one’s self and surroundings 
  • Feeling out of control of your own body
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Rushes of euphoria 
  • Impaired cognitive abilities 
  • Unconsciousness or sedation 
  • Amnesia 


Salvia divinorum is a naturally-occurring herb that is native to South America, Central America, and Mexico. This plant is often smoked, drank as tea, or chewed to experience dissociative and hallucinogenic effects. 

Salvia can produce the following effects when abused:[5]

  • Causing lights and colors to be bright and vivid 
  • Distorting shapes, objects, movement, or the perception of one’s body
  • Feelings of fear or panic 
  • Uncontrollable laughter
  • Paranoia 
  • Overlapping realities 
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired judgment 
  • Disrupted sensory and cognitive functions 
  • Loss of coordination, dizziness, and slurred speech

Dextromethorphan (DXM)

One of the most commonly abused dissociative drugs is called dextromethorphan or DXM. In small doses, DXM is used medicinally to alleviate coughs during common colds. Additionally, dextromethorphan is sold over the counter in common cough and cold syrups. 

However, large doses of DXM can produce dangerous and dissociative effects. The effects of DXM when taken in large doses include:[6]

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness and blurred vision 
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Drowsiness and disorientation 
  • Feelings of euphoria 
  • Mild distortions of color and sound 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Loss of motor control 

Nitrous Oxide 

Nitrous oxide is a dissociative drug that does have medicinal uses, such as an anesthetic before surgeries. This substance is also sold over the counter and marketed for use in whipped cream canisters, however, people purchase it to get high. In addition to being a dissociative drug, nitrous is also considered an inhalant because you have to inhale the drug to experience a high. 

The effects of nitrous oxide include:[7]

  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Disorientation
  • Headaches
  • Tingling sensations
  • Nausea 
  • Fainting 
  • Temporary loss of coordination and balance 

Find Help for Dissociative Drug Abuse and Addiction 

If you or a loved one are addicted to a dissociative drug like ketamine, PCP, or DXM, it’s time to seek professional help. Dissociative drugs can cause significant harm to your brain when used long-term, including the development of hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).

By attending a professional drug rehab program, you can gain the tools and support you need to maintain long-term sobriety. To learn more about our addiction treatment programs in South Florida, contact Mandala Healing Center today.  


  1. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA): Psychedelic and Dissociative Drugs, Retrieved June 2023 From
  2. NYC Health: Dissociative Drugs, Retrieved June 2023 From
  3. The National Drug Intelligence Center: PCP Fast Facts, Retrieved June 2023 From
  4. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): Ketamine, Retrieved June 2023 From
  5. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): Salvia Divinorum, Retrieved June 2023 From
  6. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): DXM Pamphlet, Retrieved June 2023 From
  7. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction: Spotlight on… Recreational use of nitrous oxide (laughing gas), Retrieved June 2023 From