Phencyclidine, or PCP, made its debut in the pharmaceutical and hospital industry as a powerful anesthetic and sedative for use in surgery in the mid-20th century.
However, its detrimental hallucinogenic and behavioral side effects, coupled with the discovery of the less dangerous ketamine in 1965, removed PCP entirely from the pharmaceutical market.
Today, PCP is a Schedule II hallucinogen, due to its high potential for abuse and physiological dependence. Commonly known on the street as angel dust or peace pills, PCP is a popular, powerful street drug with hallucinogenic and sedative effects that users actively seek.
Effects of PCP
PCP takes a variety of forms, from white powder, to tablets, to liquid sprayed on herbs or cannabis to be smoked.
Different dosages and different forms of PCP can alter the intensity of its effects. Typical effects from PCP use include:
- Lack of rational judgment
- Increased aggression
- Perceptions of invincibility
- Lessened or dulled response to pain
- Willingness to harm others
These symptoms can worsen if the drug is not “pure,” or is laced with unreacted chemicals in the manufacturing process; this is seen as brown discoloration in the drug, which is usually white. Impure PCP can have a number of more severe side effects, both on a short-term and long-term basis.
- Increased blood pressure, temperature, and/or breathing rate
- Decreased appetite
- Sensory confusion, such as the perceived ability to “see” sounds
- Sense of invulnerability
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dry mouth
- Hallucinations, often touted as “spiritual” experiences
- Loss of coordination
- Excessive sweating
- Paranoia or psychosis
While there is limited research on the long-term effects of ongoing hallucinogen use, it is known that various health issues can occur. Long-term side effects of use include:
- Memory loss
- Substantial weight loss
- Speech difficulties
- Anxiety, depression, and/or suicidal thoughts
Psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety, are more pronounced in users with co-occurring mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Any signs of suicidal or self-harming thoughts indicate a medical emergency, and prompt professional attention is needed.
In addition, in animal studies, long-term use of PCP is linked to permanent brain damage.
Per SAMHSA, between 2005 and 2011, there has been a 400 percent increase in emergency room visits due to PCP abuse and overdoses, signaling an alarming increase in recreational use. The age group that experienced the largest increase in emergency room visits were those ages 25-34. Roughly two-thirds of all visits involve male patients, indicating that men favor use of the drug.
PCP abuse and addiction also frequently present alongside other co-occurring disorders, including alcoholism, other substance abuse, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Signs of PCP addiction are similar to signs of addiction in general and include:
- Continued use of PCP despite the desire to stop or cut down on use
- Lying about one’s substance abuse
- Continued use despite negative life effects, such as financial issues, relationship troubles, and health problems
- Constantly using PCP, thinking about using it, or recovering from using it
- No longer participating in activities that used to be enjoyed due to a total focus on PCP use
Medication is sometimes part of comprehensive addiction treatment. Generally, the symptoms of PCP withdrawal are largely psychological in nature. They include anxiety, depression, insomnia, and weakness. In some instances, medications may be used during withdrawal and recovery to address specific symptoms as they arise. Medication is never considered a “cure” for addiction-related issues; it should always be used in conjunction with therapy.
PCP abuse often co-occurs alongside other types of substance abuse. As a result, those seeking recovery from PCP addiction often need to detox from other substances as well. Medical detox is generally recommended in cases of polydrug abuse to ensure the individual’s safety and comfort throughout the withdrawal process. In some instances, medications may be used to ease withdrawal, and alternative therapies, such as massage and meditation, may be employed as well. Medical detox ensures that the individual has 24-hour medical supervision, so prompt care is available if needed. Detox merely clears the substance from the body, but it doesn’t address the reasons that led to substance abuse in the first place. As a result, a complete substance abuse treatment program must follow detox. Comprehensive care will address the root issues behind the substance abuse, as well as any co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or personality disorders. In addition, therapy will identify triggers to drug use and develop methods to deal with those triggers to prevent relapse.
With use of PCP on the rise in recent years, awareness of the drug’s dangerous side effects can hopefully mitigate an increase in use. While recovery is entirely possible with proper care, it’s ideal if use is avoided in the first place.