Many drugs that are being abused today also have medical uses. Dissociative drugs are so named due to their ability to cause feelings of dissociation or detachment from one’s self and his or her surroundings when used. They alter the mind and distort sensory perceptions, but, unlike hallucinogens, do not cause visions or hallucinations. This mind-altering property is what attracts individuals to the recreational use of the drug; many use dissociative drugs in an attempt to produce feelings of calmness and euphoria, or simply to get a high and distract themselves from the pressures of everyday living. It is not uncommon that the recreational use of these drugs is one of the leading causes of drug addiction in the country.
There are a number of substances that can have similar effects to dissociative drugs, and many can mistake some other narcotic as a dissociative drug due to the fact that almost all drugs have a direct effect on an individual’s mind and perception. The most abused dissociative drugs today are phencyclidine (PCP), ketamine, and dextromethorphan (DXM).
Used formerly as a surgical anesthetic, PCP, or “angel dust” as is more known to its recreational users, became a popular street drug in the late 1960’s. It can come in liquid or powder form, and is usually sprayed on or combined with leaves or herbs like marijuana, parsley, or oregano to be smoked. Depending on the dosage, the effects of PCP may vary, but the most common are loss of balance, disorientation, panic, paranoia, and suicidal tendencies.
Ketamine or, simply, “K” is a powerful animal tranquilizer that can also be prescribed for humans as an anesthetic, usually combined with sedatives. It is a potent dissociative drug that can cause nausea, hypertension, and respiratory complications. Higher doses can be fatal and can induce a state referred to as “dissociative anesthesia,” a unique method of pain control where an individual is put into a trance-like state so that he or she will have no recollection of the treatment or procedure afterward.
DXM is a common cough suppressant that can be found in many common cough and cold medications. Used recreationally, excessive doses of the drug cause dissociative visions and hallucinations, distorted sensory perceptions, and complete dissociation from one’s own body. Also, cough and cold medicines contain other active ingredients, like acetaminophen, that can exacerbate side effects when taken in large doses.
Recently, a substance claimed by many as more powerful than LSD, has been steadily gaining popularity in the country. Known as the “YouTube drug,” Salvia divinorum or Salvia is a plant found in Oaxaca, Mexico with hallucinatory effects, and is a known producer of visions and other dissociative experiences. Traditionally, it has been used by shamans to induce a visionary state of consciousness during spiritual healing sessions. It has now reached mainstream popularity and evoked mixed responses from different people; some see it as a “gift from gods” while others view it as another street drug and “threat to society” that should be banned immediately. Most of Salvia’s side effects remain to be discovered, but the most common are dissociation from one’s own body, hypersensitivity to external stimuli, and altered sensory perceptions.