Originally developed for medical use as a general anesthetic, phencyclidine (commonly known as PCP) no longer has any medicinal use in the United States.
Instead, it is largely considered a recreational drug of abuse that can be found in tablets, capsules, liquid, or white powder form, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports.
The hallucinogenic drug is most commonly smoked; however, it can also be abused by snorting or swallowing it. Marijuana, mint, parsley, oregano, tobacco, or another leafy plant material can be soaked in PCP and then smoked. A marijuana cigarette that has been soaked with liquid PCP is called a “dipper.” On the street, PCP is known as:
- Angel Dust
- Tic tac
- Love boat
- Peace pill
- Rocket fuel
- Embalming fluid
- Elephant tranquilizer
- Crystal joint
PCP is classified as a hallucinogenic drug due to the way it alters perceptions of reality and the senses; it also alters a person’s thoughts and feelings. Hallucinogenic drugs cause a person to see, feel, or sense things, images, or sensations that are not really there.
PCP is a dissociative hallucinogen, meaning that it makes users feel detached from themselves and the environment around them. It is also addictive, and it can lead to dependence and several other long-term side effects if the drug is taken regularly. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), as published by the NIDA, nearly 2.5 percent of the American population (aged 12 and older) have abused PCP at least once in their lifetime.
Signs of PCP Abuse
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that PCP is most regularly abused by teenagers and young adults as a recreational drug for the way it alters the mind and consciousness. When snorted or smoked, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) publishes that PCP’s effects begin within a few minutes; it takes closer to a half-hour for the effects to become noticeable if the drug is swallowed. A PCP “trip” or “high” typically lasts about 4-6 hours for the majority of the symptoms; however, it can take up to a full day or two for the brain and body to completely return to normal.
Indicators of PCP intoxication are outlined below.
Low to moderate dosage:
- Detachment from self
- Slurred speech
- Blank stare
- Involuntary rapid eye movements
- Loss of motor control
- Feelings of being invincible and bouts of super strength
- Distorted senses
- Trouble concentrating
- Disordered thoughts
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
- Shallow and rapid breathing
- Lethargy and stupor
- Episodes of violence towards others or oneself
- Memory loss
- Bizarre behavior
- Catatonic posturing, similar to symptoms of schizophrenia
- Rigid muscles
- Complete lack of coordination
- Being catatonic and unresponsive
- Extremely high blood pressure
- Convulsions and seizures
- Violent, aggressive, agitated, and excitable behavior
- Uncontrolled movements
- Loss of consciousness or coma
Those who are under the influence of PCP may display unpredictable behaviors that are out of character and potentially dangerous to themselves or those around them. If PCP intoxication is suspected, immediate medical help should be sought to keep everyone involved safe from accidents and violent behaviors that are associated with PCP. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), publishes that in 2011, more than 75,000 Americans sought medical treatment in an emergency department for a negative reaction involving PCP. Mixing PCP with other drugs or alcohol can increase the unpredictability of all substances as well as all possible hazards.
PCP is considered to be an addictive substance, as regular use of the drug can cause a person to become psychologically dependent on it and therefore lose their ability to control dosage levels and the frequency with which they take the drug. With repeated use, tolerance to PCP can develop, and a person will need to keep taking more frequent and higher doses to keep feeling the drug’s effects.
Chronic use of PCP can lead to withdrawal symptoms when the drug processes out of the body. These symptoms include lack of energy, depression, and sleep disturbances. Cravings for PCP may be significant as well. Individuals may spend much of their time determining how to get PCP, using it, and recovering from a PCP trip. Other obligations and interests may take a backseat to PCP use, leading to troubles at work or school and interpersonal relationship difficulties. Social withdrawal, increased secrecy, and isolation as well as increased risk-taking behaviors, mood swings, and uncharacteristic actions are potential signs of addiction involving PCP.
Other consequences of long-term PCP use include memory loss, persistent difficulties with normal thought and speech abilities, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, weight loss, and significant depression, which can last up to a year or so after the drug use is stopped, NIDA warns. PCP is mainly metabolized in the liver, and repeated use of the drug can lead to liver function abnormities.
As mentioned, hallucinogenic drugs change the way users see and feel about themselves and the world around them, distorting perceptions and the senses. One of the possible side effects of abusing a hallucinogenic drug is the potential for experiencing “flashbacks” of experiences that occurred while under the influence of the drug. Individuals may even suffer from hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), which is a serious disorder indicated by visual disturbances and hallucinations that are persistent and may crop up at any time without warning.
PCP is a dangerous illegal drug with numerous hazardous consequences associated with even one-time use, all of which are exacerbated by long-term use of the drug. Early intervention and a specialized addiction treatment program can be highly beneficial in reducing and minimizing the possible negative ramifications of addiction involving PCP.
The initial goal of treatment is to provide supportive care and keep everyone safe. Medical detox can help a person to safely process PCP out of the body in a secure facility where they can be monitored around the clock. Benzodiazepines or other medications may be administered to calm anxiety and agitation. Medical detox is short-term and designed to help a person become physically stable before entering into a complete addiction treatment program.
Nearly all treatment programs for addiction involving PCP will include therapeutic and supportive methods. Group and individual counseling and therapy sessions are helpful in determining potential drug use triggers and in teaching healthier methods for dealing with stress and anger. Families are often involved in recovery, and relationships that were damaged during active addiction can be repaired.
As with any addiction treatment, care should be tailored to the individual needs of each client. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to addiction treatment, so it’s important to choose a facility that takes the entire individual into account, rather than treating just the addiction. Any co-occurring disorders, such as medical or mental health issues, should be identified and treated as part of the overall treatment regime.