Drug Rehab

Dissociatives: PCP (Angel Dust), Ketamine (Special K) and Dextromethorphan (DXM)

Since the 1960s an awareness of the dangers of "Angel Dust" or PCP has pervaded the conciousness of America and most of us grew up seeing the proverbial "Flip Out" of kids on PCP in after-school specials. More recently we have seen the news media belay the dangers of Ketamine, a powerful anesthetic used in veterinary medicine. However, powerful dissociatives are not only found among groups of hard core users, nor are they difficult to obtain. In fact, anyone that has access to a local pharmacy and a few dollars can obtain a common, but powerful and dangerous dissociative drug known as Dextromethorphan or "DMX".

Phencyclidine [Street Names: Angel Dust, Rocket Fuel, PCP, Killer Weed]

PCP is commonly misclassed as a hallucinogen, as it produces effects similar to LSD or Mescaline. However, it is instead a powerful dissociative, first used as a surgical anesthetic in the 1950s. Due to the trance-like anesthetic effects, sometimes described as an "out of body" feeling or trip affecting perception, mood, memory, sensation and conciousness, it has been used for much the same reason as those pursuing an expanded conciousness with LSD or Mescaline. It's dangers, when used recreationally, however have given the drug a "bad rap" on the street and been the focus of popular media since the early 1980s. The drug has also been deemed unsuitable to medical science, because of the unpredictable delirium and extreme agitation produced in patients even under medical supervision.

In the 1960s PCP was mainly distributed in pill form, with it's effects taking longer to set in and producing unpredictable results. In the 1970s a more potent powdered form appeared on the streets, illicitly marketed as "angel dust", "ozone," "rocket fuel," "love boat," "hog," "embalming fluid," or "superweed" and was smoked in marijuana joints or rolled in tobacco and sometimes snorted or injected.

The following is an excerpt from the NIDA website and describes the precise physical action of PCP in users.

When snorted or smoked, PCP rapidly passes to the brain to disrupt the functioning of sites known as NMDA ( N -methyl-D-aspartate) receptor complexes, which are receptors for the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate receptors play a major role in the perception of pain, in cognition - including learning and memory - and in emotion. In the brain, PCP also alters the actions of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for the euphoria and "rush" associated with many abused drugs.

At low PCP doses (5 mg or less), physical effects include shallow, rapid breathing, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and elevated temperature. Doses of 10 mg or more cause dangerous changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, often accompanied by nausea, blurred vision, dizziness, and decreased awareness of pain. Muscle contractions may cause uncoordinated movements and bizarre postures. When severe, the muscle contractions can result in bone fracture or in kidney damage or failure as a consequence of muscle cells breaking down. Very high doses of PCP can cause convulsions, coma, hyperthermia, and death.

PCP's effects are unpredictable. Typically, they are felt within minutes of ingestion and last for several hours. Some users report feeling the drug's effects for days. One drug-taking episode may produce feelings of detachment from reality, including distortions of space, time, and body image; another may produce hallucinations, panic, and fear. Some users report feelings of invulnerability and exaggerated strength. PCP users may become severely disoriented, violent, or suicidal.

Repeated use of PCP can result in addiction, and recent research suggests that repeated or prolonged use of PCP can cause withdrawal syndrome when drug use is stopped. Symptoms such as memory loss and depression may persist for as long as a year after a chronic user stops taking PCP.

Ketamine [Street Names: Special K, Ket, Super Acid, Kit Kat]

Originally developed in the 1960s to replace PCP as a dissociative anesthetic in medical and veterinary use, Ketamine Hydrochloride has made its way onto the streets, usually diverted from veterinary hospitals and supplies because of the lessened security. The medical form of Ketamine is an injectable liquid form, but is usually dehydrated to produce a white powder suitable for snorting. Ketamine first made waves in the media as Club Kids or young adults attending all night raves began experimenting with the drug to heighten the experience felt at these parties.

The effects of Ketamine are similar to PCP, eliciting emotions and states ranging from extreme euphoria to hallucinatory experiences to boredom to the ultimate "near death" experience, often with the unpleasant side-effect of rendering the user comatose. The effects are described by users as being in a "K-Hole", going to "K-Land", "Baby Food" and "God". To many users this is a particularly frightening experience and to others, the desired state to be achieved. Due to it's dissociative anesthetic properties, Ketamine is often used as a "rape drug" because the users experiences while under the influence of Ketamine are rarely remembered fully or with complete detail or accuracy (amnesia) and can make someone unable to fight back a sexual assault or rape. The drug is odorless and tasteless, making it easy to slip unbeknownst into a drink at a party or a bar.

The immediate effects of Ketamine last usually 4-6 hours, however the drug does not fully wear off for 24-48 hours and according to the DEA use of the drug can cause delirium, amnesia, depression, and long-term memory and cognitive difficulties. In addition to the damaging long-term effects, it has been known to cause permanent and immediate brain damage, coma and death when used in large doses or in combination with other drugs and/or alcoholic beverages.

Dextromethorphan [Street Names: DXM, DM, Robo, Velvet, Rojo]

Dextromethorphan has come into view only recently by drug awareness groups, school counselors and the media. It is virtually an infant in the pharmacopia of illicit drugs and therefore is very dangerous to those experimenting with the drug, because not much is common street knowledge about it's effects, use or dangers. It is in fact as dangerous chemically as PCP and Ketamine and even more so to new users, because of the young age of the typical first timer, the relative unknowns about the drug and it's widespread availability on store shelves.

Dextromethorphan is the generic name for a common dissociative anesthetic found in almost any over-the-counter cough syrup. Most people reading this can go to their medicine cabinet and probably find a product containing dextromethorphan. The DEA website at www.deadiversion.org has the following to say about DXM.

There have been reports of sporadic abuse of dextromethorphan (DXM), with isolated case reports of overdose and death. Many users of DXM have opted for a powdered form of the drug because of the large volumes of cough syrup which need to be ingested in order to achieve intoxication. DXM-intoxication is typically referred to as "Robo-ing"; the term derived from the most typical form of DXM - Robotussin. Recent sales of the powder, dextromethorphan hydrobromide, and the publication of a recipe-like extraction procedure used to separate DXM from cough syrups have become available on the world wide web of the Internet. Recent adverse event reports to the DEA have led to monitoring of the drug.

More recently, the popular media has begun to cover the dangers of DXM in OTC cough syrups. The media reports that in addition to the negative side-effects associated with any dissociative anesthetic at high doses, there is an added danger because of added active ingredients in many of the products in which DXM is found. This fatal mix has been the most common cause in death of users in recent years. For example many cough syrups contain dextromethorphan and pseudoephedrine together. Pseudoephedrine at high doses (like those needed to produce the "plateaus" or intoxication desired by DXM users) can cause stroke, heart failure and death. When combined with the drug dextromorphan it can exacerbate these effects and products contatining DXM in combination with other active ingredients has been lauded by many DXM users as "Stroke in a Bottle".

Due to other drug interactions with MAOI inhibitors, anti-depressents, anti-convulsants and other street drugs such as MDMA (Ecstasy) users are finding that the dangers far outweigh the effects and are turning away from the drug. However, more education and knowledge about the dangers of DXM, the warning signs of use and research about long term use and addiction still need to be done to effectively combat the recreational use of this dangerous and deadly drug.

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Bibliography and Resources:

  1. "http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drugs_concern/dextro_m/summary.htm", Drugs and Chemicals of Concern, Dextromethorphan (DXM, DM, Robo, Velvet, Rojo) ; August 2001
  2. "http://www.dextromethorphan.ws/dxmguide.htm", The DXM Harm Reduction Project Information Website, RFG's "Beginner's Guide to DXM (dextromethorphan)"- Version 3.0 ; 19 January 2004
  3. "http://www.drugabuse.gov/ResearchReports/Hallucinogens/halluc4.html", NIDA - Research Report Series, Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs: What are the facts about dissociative drugs? ; 21 October 2002

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