Phencyclidine, or PCP, was originally created as an anesthetic. But human use was discontinued due to post-operative delusions and agitation. 1 Although PCP is legal for use in animals, it is rarely used in veterinary settings. 2
Today, people abuse PCP for its psychoactive and hallucinogenic effects.
What Is PCP?
PCP is a dissociative anesthetic that was developed in the 1950s for surgical purposes. But it began to be sold on the streets in the 1960s, 3 and it is now illegal for use in humans. It is a Schedule II controlled substance, 4 which means that it has a high potential for abuse and dependence.
Pure PCP is a white, crystal-like powder. On the streets, it may have a tan or brown color or be sold as a clear, yellowish liquid in vanilla extract bottles. 4, 2
PCP causes hallucinations and feelings of detachment in those who abuse it.
Some common street names for PCP include: 4
- Angel dust.
- Animal tranquilizer.
- Peace pill.
- Rocket fuel.
- Super kools.
Methods of PCP Use
PCP can be snorted, injected, smoked, or taken orally.
PCP is available in a number of different forms, including: 5
- Capsule or tablet.
PCP can be snorted, injected, smoked, or taken orally in capsule or tablet form. 4 It can also be mixed in a cigarette with dried plant materials such as marijuana, tobacco, oregano, mint, or parsley. 5 Sometimes pills sold as Ecstasy or MDMA may have PCP in them as well. 5
Additional forms of use include eye drops or absorption through the skin. 4
PCP can produce a variety of effects in users, including psychotic symptoms. The effects of PCP are dose-dependent, which means that they will change and/or intensify as the dose increases, and may also differ depending on the route of administration.
In general, the effects of PCP will be experienced within 1-5 minutes if the drug is smoked or injected and within about 30 minutes if it is snorted or orally ingested. 4 Intoxication can last from 4-6 hours, and it may take 24 hours for the effects to completely wear off. 4
Smoking or injecting PCP will result in the most rapid onset of short-term effects. 4
The range of short-term effects includes: 4
- Euphoria or feeling of well-being.
- Pain relief.
- Distorted sensory perception.
- Feelings of invulnerability and strength.
- Feelings of detachment.
In addition to short-term effects, PCP can produce many adverse or unpleasant effects, such as: 4
- Excessive anxiety.
- Psychotic symptoms, including paranoia.
- Concentration problems.
- Amnesia or memory loss.
- Bizarre behaviors.
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
- Rise in body temperature.
- Excessive sweating.
- Blurred vision.
- Speech problems.
- Loss of body control.
Chronic PCP users can experience several long-term effects, which can last for years. 6 These potential complications include: 4, 6
- Memory loss.
- Speech and cognition problems.
- Weight loss.
- Abnormal liver function.
- Rhabdomyolysis (the breakdown of muscle tissue, which can lead to kidney failure).
- Social withdrawal or isolation.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Interpersonal or social problems.
- Financial hardships.
- Chronic absenteeism from school or work.
- Job loss.
- Child neglect.
- Loss of custody.
- Exacerbation of physical and mental health problems.
Signs and Symptoms of PCP Addiction
A PCP addiction (diagnosed as phencyclidine use disorder) is characterized by problematic PCP use that leads to impairment in the user’s life. 3
The signs and symptoms include: 3
- A larger amount of PCP is used than previously intended.
- The user experiences failed attempts to cut back or quit using PCP.
- Excessive time is spent getting PCP, using it, and recovering from side effects.
- The user has strong urges to use PCP.
- PCP is abused despite school, work, or home consequences.
- PCP is used in spite of social or interpersonal issues worsened or caused by the substance.
- PCP is abused in favor of important social, occupational, or recreational activities.
- Use of PCP in perilous situations, such as while driving a car.
- PCP is used in spite of physical and psychological problems exacerbated or caused by the drug.
- The user needs more PCP to achieve the desired results, or the same dose produces a diminished effect.
- The user experiences withdrawal symptoms when he or she quits using, or uses to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
A user can overdose on PCP if he or she takes a high dose of the drug. An overdose can result in psychosis, coma, or death if unrecognized and untreated. 7 Other possible consequences involve self-injury and violent behavior, such as homicide and assaults.
Common signs of a PCP overdose include: 7
- Psychosis, or a loss of contact with reality.
- Trance-like state (lack of reacting, moving, or talking).
- Uncontrolled eye movements.
Someone who has overdosed on PCP is a danger to both himself or herself and others in close proximity. 7 If you suspect someone has overdosed on PCP, do not approach the user if he or she is agitated or violent. 7 Keep a safe distance and call 911 immediately. When you call 911, have the following information ready, if possible: 7
- Amount of PCP used.
- Time it was used.
- Person’s age, weight, and current condition.
- Emergency department visits involving PCP increased over 400% between 2005 and 2011. 8
- 45% of emergency department visits in 2011 involved 25- to 34-year-olds. 8
- In 2011, nearly half of PCP-related emergency department visits involved other illegal substances. 8
- About 0.2% of people ages 12 to 17 have reported using PCP at least once. 9
- Almost 1% of people ages 18 to 25 have reported using PCP at some point in their lives. 9
- Nearly 3% of people ages 26 or older have reported using PCP during their lifetime. 9
Find Treatment for PCP Addiction
. National Drug Intelligence Center. (2003). PCP Fast Facts.
. University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research. Phencyclidine (PCP).
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.). Phencyclidine (PCP).
. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). Phencyclidine.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2015). What Are the Effects of Common Dissociative Drugs on the Brain and Body?
. Heller, J.L. (2015).Phencyclidine overdose. National Library of Medicine.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Emergency Department Visits Involving Phencyclidine (PCP).
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Hallucinogens.
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