No longer used as an anesthetic, PCP – phencyclidine – is a member of the group of drugs called hallucinogens. It was developed in the 1950s, but the delirium and hallucinations that individuals experienced post operatively led to it no longer being used, or even produced, in the United States.
The United States Drug Enforcement Agency lists the following aliases for PCP:
- Angel dust
- Tic tac
- Rocket fuel
- Embalming fluid
When PCP is combined with marijuana, it may be called killer joints, supergrass, fry, lovelies, wets, and waters; a dipper is a joint or cigarette that has been dipped into liquid PCP.
A National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that within their group of interviewees in 2015, 2.9 percent had used PCP in their lifetime.
How PCP Is Ingested
As described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, PCP is a white crystal-like powder that dissolves into water or alcohol easily. It tastes bitter, and it is sometimes mixed with dyes that can be snorted. PCP can also be sold as a tablet or capsule for oral ingestion, or smoked with marijuana or another leafy product. Some tablets of MDMA – ecstasy – have been found to contain small amounts of PCP.
PCP’s effects last somewhere around 4-6 hours, depending on how much was ingested and the way it was ingested. The doses are generally small, around 5-10 milligrams.
When PCP is used, it acts on a certain receptor in the brain – one that is crucial for the brain’s perception of pain, responses to the surroundings, learning, and memory. When a small dose has been used, increases in respiration, blood pressure, and heart rate can be detected. The increase in respiration is accompanied by shallow breathing, flushing, and profuse sweating. The extremities can become numb, and muscle coordination can be affected. Since PCP is known to have a sedative effect, combining it with other depressants, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, can cause the individual to lose consciousness and/or become comatose.
PCP is well known for its hallucinations, and it is sometimes called the dissociative drug, as it can make users feel detached from the environment and from themselves. The hallucinations – distortions in reality that can be visual or audio – that PCP can cause are often compared to symptoms of schizophrenia. Other adverse effects that may mimic mental illness include delusions, disordered thinking, and paranoia.
PCP is also known for causing a bad trip, however, some users do continue to use it due to the feelings of invincibility and mind-numbing effects that result. Mood disturbances are present in approximately half of all PCP-related emergency room visits; within 48 hours of using PCP, individuals may feel extreme anxiety.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has estimated that in the year 2011, approximately 75,538 emergency room visits were related to PCP – 72 percent of those involved other illicit drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.
Long-term abuse of PCP has been reported to cause deficits in cognitive function, including memory loss, difficulties with thinking and speech, and depression. Some users have also reported weight loss. These effects can take place well after the individual stops abusing PCP – up to a year later.
Repeated abuse can cause PCP users to become dependent on the drug and develop a tolerance, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration describes. This means that users will need to gradually increase the dose to achieve the same high. As addiction takes hold, users may begin engaging in drug-seeking behaviors and experience cravings for PCP. They will also develop withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit using the substance, including:
- Decreased reflexes
- Memory loss
- Weight loss
- Loss of impulse control
- Speech difficulties
In contrast to the effects of small doses, when an individual uses a large dose of PCP, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate drop. Other symptoms that may be indicative of a PCP overdose include:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of balance
If an individual is experiencing an overdose, emergency services should be contacted immediately, as PCP overdose can lead to death.
Individuals under the influence of PCP may be brought to the emergency room for overdose or because of extreme psychological effects from the drug. Some users may be a danger to themselves or others. In fact, deaths related to PCP are most often the result of suicide while under the influence or injuries due to an accident.
Treatment for PCP Dependence
If individuals are brought to an emergency department for an acute adverse reaction or potential overdose, they must be medically stabilized before beginning treatment for dependence. Since both of these conditions can lead to death, there may need to be multiple medical interventions, from reducing fever to lowering high blood pressure. Benzodiazepines may be used in the hospital setting to help with these symptoms.
After medical stabilization has been completed, the focus should be shifted to treating the PCP addiction. Inpatient – or residential – treatment is recommended, along with behavioral therapy.
Individuals should be assessed for any mental health diagnoses, such as anxiety or depression. At times, drug abuse is a symptom of an underlying mental illness. If the individual was not referred from a hospital, these assessments should still be made.
Behavioral therapy, whether the individual has received a mental health diagnosis or not, should focus on identifying maladaptive behaviors and beginning to change said behaviors. Lifestyle changes, such as avoiding situations in which PCP use is likely, and the development of new coping skills, such as meditation or relaxation techniques to use when the individual feels a craving for PCP, should also be introduced in therapy.
After individuals are released from inpatient care, ongoing treatment is needed. Since PCP can be detected in urine for around seven days, drug testing can be helpful in monitoring an individual’s compliance. Oftentimes, drug tests may be part of an ongoing outpatient treatment program. In addition, clients may participate in ongoing individual counseling as well as group therapy sessions and any alternative therapies that were found to be beneficial during inpatient treatment, such as art therapy or equine-assisted therapy.
Groups such as Narcotics Anonymous may also offer individuals many benefits in ongoing recovery. The continued peer support that such groups provide can serve as a support system in an individual’s new life in recovery. Oftentimes, this support can be crucial when temptations to relapse arise.