What Is Dissociative Anesthetic?

Children may be given a dissociative anesthetic prior to medical procedures to reduce their fears.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2014
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Dissociative anesthetic provides pain management and control during medical procedures while the patient remains conscious but experiences a sense of disconnection from the body. Agents used for this purpose are typically short-acting and can be useful in the induction of anesthesia, maintenance of anesthesia for short procedures, and emergencies. Ketamine is a well known example of a dissociative anesthetic, although other drugs are available as well.

Patients can receive such medications through muscular or intravenous injections. Many act quickly to induce a trance-like state, allowing the patient to breathe independently and remain awake while feeling distanced from the procedure. Pain sensations are cut off and the patient’s muscles remain relaxed, while anxiety is reduced and the cardiovascular system remains uncompromised. The dissociative anesthetic can make the patient feel like the body and brain are separated, and it may induce a sense of floating outside the body.

In addition, these compounds induce amnesia. The patient will not remember the procedure afterward, which can reduce the risk of psychological trauma related to remaining awake for medical treatment. Without such medications, people may experience flashbacks to sounds or sights such as a surgeon adjusting a fracture and this could be upsetting. Practitioners may recommend dissociative anesthetic with children in particular to reduce feelings of anxiety and trauma that may surround visits to the doctor.

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It can take several hours to fully recover from a dissociative anesthetic and it may be necessary to stay in a recovery area before going home. Patients may experience hallucinations afterward that can vary in nature. Some may find them upsetting or agitating, while others find them enjoyable, an issue that has contributed to the recreational use of some dissociative anesthetic products. To limit the risk of abuse, these drugs are often tightly controlled in facilities where they are used, and practitioners typically need to sign a drug log when they access them to provide information about how and why they are being used.

Practitioners who work with animals may also utilize dissociative anesthetic. It can be useful as a tranquilizer for procedures an animal will not tolerate while awake and mobile. Using these medications reduces risks associated with general anesthesia that would otherwise be needed to perform the procedure, keeps the animal comfortable and relaxed, and limits pain. They can also be used as preanesthetic injections to calm an animal before providers induce anesthesia, as it can be hard to work safely with an animal who is frightened or nervous.

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