Although all substances of abuse cause chemical changes in the brain, dissociatives are unique in that they produce hallucinogenic effects, which may vary from slight to extreme in nature. PCP, ketamine, and DXM (an ingredient in most cough syrups) are the most common dissociative drugs. To dissociate means to separate or detach from reality, and drugs are capable of executing this in a multitude of ways. Dissociative hallucinations include, but are not limited to, loss of or over stimulation of sensory function, sensory distortion, and dream-like states or trances. While some are known to produce a euphoric-like state, it is equally common to experience a “bad trip,” in which a variety of horrifying or disturbing psychological phenomena occur. Dissociative drugs share many common features with other hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD (acid), mescaline and psilocybin (mushrooms). There is a major difference, however, in the specificities of the hallucinations. Dissociative substances cause depersonalization, the feeling of being unreal, a disconnection from one’s self, the inability to control one’s actions, and the feeling that the outside world is unreal or that one is dreaming. These hallucinations can cause marked psychological distress, including feelings of extreme panic, anxiety, paranoia, fear, exaggerated strength and aggression, which are far more crippling than colors and shapes being visually warped.
Apart from potential mental terrors that can cause clouded judgement and irrational behavior, many dissociative substances have general depressant effects that produce sedation, respiratory depression and ataxia (purposeless movement and lack of coordination). Even more dangerous is the side effect analgesia, which causes the user to be incapable of feeling pain. While this may sound like a benefit, it can be fatal if the user finds him or herself in a situation in which feeling pain will save their life, for example if they have gravely injured themselves. The brain is also highly affected and altered during and after the influence of such potent substances. While cognition, rational thinking, logic, judgement and basic functioning are altered while these substances are active, memory impairment and amnesia can be permanent.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of dissociative drugs, though, is the uncertainty of their chemical composition. Street drugs such as these can be made in a home lab by anyone, thus making it impossible to know the exact amounts of each chemical in the recipe. Other additives are also commonly added as money-saving strategies, many of which are extremely harmful to the body. The person making the drugs could have produced a lethal product and be completely unaware of it, making these drugs high-risk substances.
Dissociative substances affect more than just the brain. High doses cause physical distress to the body, such as dangerous changes in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and body temperature, almost immediately and can quickly lead to dire situations if not dealt with accordingly. Additionally, the use of dissociatives in combination with alcohol or other depressant drugs can lead to respiratory arrest, resulting in death. Even low to moderate doses of these substances have strong physical effects, such as nausea, dizziness, vomiting, dizziness and an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Worse than this, dissociatives are unpredictable, making it impossible to foresee what will happen with each use. These substances have been known to cause sudden seizures and muscle contractions, and even death. While the long-term effects of most dissociatives are still being researched, it is clear that overuse of the drug can lead to severe depression, mood disorders and suicidal thoughts and actions.