It seems to me that a little too much has been made of the phrase "dissociative anesthetic."
Edward Domino, MD, a pioneer researcher on the clinical pharmacology of ketamine in humans, writes, "In discussing the unusual actions of ketamine with my wife, Toni, I mentioned that the subjects were 'disconnected' from their environment. Toni came up with the term 'dissociative anesthetic.' That is what ketamine is still called today." (E. Domino. Taming the Ketamine Tiger. Anesthesiology Vol. 113 (3), Septembter 2010.)
That's where the term comes from, nothing overly scientific, fancy, or precise. It refers to the patient's behavior induced by the agent not so much it's pharmacology.
Evan Mahl, MD
Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine
Department of Emergency Medicine
Maimonides Medical Center
Brooklyn, New York
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