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PCP Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau, MSCP, LPCI, NCC

April 1, 2019

PCP is an illicit drug that causes hallucinations and detachment from reality. This highly addictive substance can have devastating consequences.

What Is PCP?

PCP is the abbreviation for phencyclidine, also known as Phenylcyclohexyl piperidine. PCP was originally developed and used as an anesthetic in the 1950s. PCP was considered effective as an anesthetic, because unlike other anesthetics, PCP did not negatively effect the lungs or heart.

However, reports of post-operative psychosis, extreme anxiety, detachment, and dysphoria resulted in PCP being taken off the market for human use. PCP was limited to veterinary use as an animal tranquilizer. Pharmaceutical companies discontinued PCP in 1965. Since then PCP has been created in clandestine labs or for use in veterinary medicine.

PCP became a street drug in the 1960s. It could be easily found in Haight Ashbury, San Francisco. This area was well-known for hallucinogens and psychedelic drug use, and PCP fit right in. PCP can be snorted, smoked, or swallowed and is abused for its mind-altering effects.

In 1978, it became illegal to sell PCP outside of veterinary purposes. This meant that PCP was no longer legal for human consumption in any setting. It is currently classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a schedule II substance due to the high potential for abuse and increased possibility for dependence and addiction.

How Is PCP Abused?

PCP is abused in a variety of ways. Often times it is mixed with other substances, the most common being marijuana or tobacco, and MDMA. Cigarettes laced with or dipped in PCP are often referred to as wet, killer joint, crystal supergrass, rocket fuel, or fry. Mixing MDMA with PCP is usually called elephant flipping or pikachu.

Taking PCP in any way is considered abuse, as PCP has no longer has any legal medical purpose for people and can only be obtained illegally. A person who possesses or is caught under the influence of PCP can be charged with drug possession.

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Abusing PCP by itself can be dangerous and addictive, abusing PCP with other substances can fast-track the potential for addiction and lead to a number of devastating outcomes. Taking PCP with depressants like alcohol, opioids, or benzos can lead to total sedation, unconsciousness, or death. Abusing PCP with stimulants can result in cardiac arrest, seizures, or death.

PCP Facts And Information

  • Street names for PCP include angel dust, belladonna, rocket fuel, embalming fluid, amp, zoom, hog, wack, zoom, and tic tacs
  • PCP has been added to other drugs or even sold as other drugs with similar effects, such as LSD, ecstasy, MDMA, or meth.
  • It is nearly impossible to know the amount of PCP that a person is taking due to it being made in clandestine labs, making PCP extremely dangerous
  • 2.7% of adults over 26 admitted to using PCP

PCP Effects

PCP attaches to receptors in the brain that regulate dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, and effects the release and reuptake of these neurotransmitters. Creating an imbalance in these neurotransmitters can result in a dissociative state with symptoms of detachment, amnesia, sedation, and sight or sound distortions.

PCP also inhibits NMDA receptors and blocks the action of glutamate in the brain. This area of the brain is responsible for emotions, learning, memory and sensations. The effects of PCP on these receptors causes a disconnection between the brain and reality. However, PCP has shown inconsistent, unstable side effects at varied doses.

The range of effects of PCP depends on the dosage and how the drug is ingested. Smoking PCP elicits results within two to five minutes, swallowing PCP usually takes 30 to 60 minutes to take effect, and the results of snorting PCP are within a few minutes. PCP intoxication lasts and average of four to eight hours, but some people report effects of PCP for up to 48 hours.

One to five milligrams of PCP will usually result in the following effects:

  • slurred speech
  • loss of coordination
  • increased heart rate
  • high blood pressure
  • detachment
  • invulnerability
  • numbness

Higher doses of PCP will actually reduce blood pressure, breathing and heart rate. A person will likely experience several of the following as well:

  • hallucinations
  • disorganized thought processes
  • catatonic posturing (holding a pose for extended periods of time, seemingly frozen in place)
  • depersonalization
  • intense euphoria
  • impending doom
  • unable to feel pain
  • unsteady gait
  • combativeness
  • bizarre behavior
  • delusions
  • drooling
  • violence
  • muscle rigidity
  • rhabdomyolysis (damage to skeletal muscles)
  • self-injurious behaviors

Many symptoms of PCP use are similar to symptoms of schizophrenia.

People who use PCP reported that their behavior while under the influence of this drug can depend largely on their mindset prior to taking PCP. This unpredictability can lead to a person behaving anxious, empathetic, aggressive, violent, or any extreme of emotion. The intense emotions combined with hallucinations and detachment from reality can be dangerous.

Long-Term Effects Of PCP Abuse

Taking PCP for any length of time can result in dependence and addiction. Other devastating effects of long term PCP use include:

  • memory loss
  • problems speaking (stuttering)
  • difficulty thinking
  • suicidal thinking
  • overall cognitive impairment
  • depression
  • flashbacks
  • severe weight loss

These symptoms can sometimes last up to a year after a person stops taking PCP. If a person develops toxic psychosis or hallucinogen-induced persisting perceptual disorder (HPPD), they can struggle to function normally, even after they have stopped taking PCP.

PCP Addiction

Developing a PCP addiction can occur after only a few times of use. The amount needed to feel the same effects as before can increase with every use, referred to as tolerance. The longer a person takes PCP and continues to increase the dose, they more likely they are to become addicted to PCP.

A person who is addicted to PCP may engage in some or all of the following:

  • illegal behaviors to get more PCP
  • avoid responsibilities in order to use PCP
  • unable to stop or lower dose on their own
  • experience cravings and withdrawals without PCP
  • have significant behavioral changes, including aggression and violence
  • appear to be ‘in another world’
  • continue to use PCP even though they experience negative effects of the drug

The longer a person struggles with PCP addiction, the higher chance they have of overdose. This is especially true if they are mixing PCP with other substances.

PCP Overdose

Overdosing on PCP requires immediate medical attention, as death is a real possibility. If you or someone you are with is taking PCP and begins experiencing any of the following symptoms, contact 9-1-1 immediately:

  • fever
  • vomiting
  • excessive drooling
  • blurred vision
  • trouble breathing
  • very high blood pressure
  • rapid heart rate
  • stiff muscles
  • tachycardia
  • seizures
  • stroke
  • coma

PCP Abuse And Addiction Treatment Options

A person struggling with PCP abuse or addiction is encouraged to attend a detoxification program to stop taking PCP. There are withdrawal symptoms and cravings that may be difficult to overcome, and a comprehensive substance abuse program can help.

After detoxification, an inpatient treatment program is usually a good fit for someone dealing with a PCP addiction. These facilities are equipped to assess and treat both substance abuse and co-occurring diagnosis. Many inpatient facilities also work with residents to design a thorough aftercare plan that could address many of the potential issues related to PCP addiction

Finding a location that is capable of treating PCP addiction can feel overwhelming. Contact us today and we can help find the right substance abuse treatment program to guide you on the path toward sobriety.

Medline Plus - Substance use - phencyclidine (PCP)

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Hallucinogens

American Family Physician - An Approach to Drug, Abuse, Intoxication and Withdrawal

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