Signs and Symptoms of PCP Abuse

What Is PCP, and Is It Addictive? » Signs and Symptoms of PCP Abuse

PCP is the common nickname for phencyclidine, an illicit drug of abuse known also as angel dust, embalming fluid, or rocket fuel. The drug typically comes as a white crystalline powder, which may be mixed into water or alcohol, rolled into a cigarette or joint, or just snorted.  

PCP is a hallucinogenic substance, leading to mind-altering experiences, changes in the perception of time, visual or auditory hallucinations, and more. Typical euphoric experiences reported due to PCP include:  

  • Feeling like one is floating
  • Feeling disconnected from reality 
  • A “rush” or surge of energy 
  • Lowered inhibitions 
  • Delusions of grandeur, feeling like “superman” or feeling unstoppable 

Unlike other hallucinogens, PCP is addictive. Abusing this dangerous, intoxicating substance can lead to overdose and chronic health problems.

The Risks of PCP Addiction

By interacting with a mood-elevating neurotransmitter, dopamine, and also with glutamate, PCP can cause intense euphoria, changes in the perception of pain, altered reality, and changes to learning abilities, emotions, and memory. A large amount of dopamine in the brain can trigger hallucinations, while disrupting glutamate can lead to amnesia, difficulty with memory on an ongoing basis, struggles with learning, and changes in emotions and behavior.

Abusing this drug increases the risk of long-term damage from side effects or sudden overdose. Some common side effects associated with PCP include:  

  • Euphoria
  • Numbness in the extremities at low doses
  • Anesthesia at moderate doses
  • Blank stares
  • Rapid involuntary eye movements
  • Hallucinations
  • Irrational or dangerous behavior associated with altered perception of reality
  • Intense anxiety and paranoia
  • Symptoms like schizophrenia
  • Increased perception of personal strength or other delusions of grandeur
  • Painful reaction to sounds
  • Decreased sensitivity to touch
  • Muscular rigidity
  • Blurred vision
  • Stupor or coma
  • Hyperthermia

If a person experiences hyperthermia on a long-term basis, they are more likely to experience serious organ damage. Even experiencing a fever can cause acute problems if the body temperature spikes high enough. The kidneys, liver, and brain are all at risk for damage from fevers induced by PCP.

Violent or dangerous behaviors can also cause acute or chronic problems due to infection from cuts, loss of feeling leading to damage to extremities, and head injuries or broken bones from falling.

Damage to the heart can lead to heart failure, arrhythmias, greater risk of stroke or heart attack, and sagging heart muscle. Memory will be impaired with chronic abuse, and the drug can trigger flashbacks similar to those caused by LSD. The drug can trigger mood disorders, schizophrenia in those who are susceptible to the mental illness, or even toxic psychosis, which does not go away.

A person may binge on PCP – called a run – in which they take the drug for two or three days at a time. They do not eat or sleep until they cannot take the drug anymore, and they then collapse into a deep sleep for a long time. People who consistently abuse PCP may experience a run four or five times a month.

Withdrawal Symptoms and Getting Help

People who abuse PCP are likely to experience withdrawal when they stop taking the drug. Symptoms include:  

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Cravings for PCP
  • Changes in appetite, especially an increase in appetite 
  • Sleeping more or longer 

The psychological effects of PCP addiction are the greatest risk to staying sober. It is important to work with a physician to safely detox from PCP abuse and then find an evidence-based rehabilitation program to work on changing behaviors to avoid dangerous, intoxicating drugs like PCP.

Further Reading

What Are the Long-Term Effects of PCP Abuse?

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