PCP (phencyclidine) is a hallucinogen that was introduced as an intravenous anesthetic in the 1950s. It was discontinued in 1965 because patients suffered post-operative delusions, often becoming agitated and irrational.
Unlike most hallucinogens, PCP is highly addictive. Regular use leads to craving, psychological dependence, and compulsive behavior. For this reason, the FDA has classified it as a Schedule II controlled substance.
Understanding PCP Abuse
PCP is a hallucinogen and a dissociative drug. This means that it alters your perception of sight and sound, and creates a feeling of detachment. A 2013 report from the Drug Enforcement Administration explains that PCP’s “intoxicating effects can be produced within 2 to 5 minutes after smoking and 30 to 60 minutes after swallowing. PCP intoxication may last from 4 to 8 hours; some users report experiencing subjective effects from 24 to 48 hours after using PCP. Low to moderate doses (1 to 5 mg) induce feelings of detachment from surroundings and self, numbness, slurred speech and loss of coordination accompanied by a sense of strength and invulnerability…Higher doses of PCP produce hallucinations.”
PCP is a bitter-tasting, crystalline white powder that is easy to dissolve in alcohol or water, and is often dyed to be colorful. It is sold as a tablet, capsule, liquid, or powder, but smoking is the most common way PCP is abused. Leafy material such tobacco or marijuana—or even mint, parsley or oregano—is saturated or sprinkled with PCP, then rolled into a cigarette and smoked. A cigarette or joint that has been dipped in liquid PCP is known as a “dipper.”
Other street names for PCP are:
- Angel Dust
- Embalming Fluid
- Love Boat
- Peace Pill
- Rocket Fuel
Signs and Symptoms of PCP Abuse
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are possible signs that someone may have taken PCP:
- a feeling of being separated from your body and surroundings
- problems with coordination and movement
- aggressive, possibly violent behavior
- involuntary eye movements
- lack of pain sensation
- increase in blood pressure and heart rate
- problems with thinking and memory
- problems speaking
- impaired judgment
- intolerance to loud noise
- seizures or coma
Dangers of PCP Abuse
PCP is incredibly dangerous, not just for the person who takes it, but for everyone around them. PCP users often become violent and irrational, and can be fueled by feelings of rage and invulnerability. You should not approach someone who has taken PCP if they appear agitated.
MedlinePlus lists a number of adverse effects that can be caused by PCP, especially in high doses. These include:
- agitation (overly excited, violent behavior)
- altered state of consciousness
- catatonic trance (person does not talk, move, or react)
- high blood pressure
- side-to-side eye movements
- uncontrolled movement
- lack of coordination
One of PCP’s strangest and most dangerous effects is that it can actually cause mental illness. According to an article from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, oral doses of 5 to 10 mg can induce acute schizophrenia, including psychosis, audiovisual hallucinations, agitation, paranoid delusions, and catatonia.
Who Abuses PCP?
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, “PCP is predominantly abused by young adults and high school students.” This is especially problematic because PCP can interfere with hormones related to an adolescent’s growth and development.
Abuse of PCP has also been on the rise in recent years. Between 2008 and 2010, there was a 44% increase in emergency room visits associated with PCP.
PCP can have terrible consequences from the very first use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “High doses of PCP can cause seizures, coma, and death, though death more often results from accidental injury or suicide during PCP intoxication.”
Although most hallucinogens are not considered to be physically addictive, PCP is the rare exception. Physical dependence has been demonstrated via the withdrawal symptoms that regular users experience when they attempt to stop taking the drug. These include:
- drug craving
- increased appetite
- increased need for sleep
Chronic abuse of PCP can impair cognitive function, causing problems with memory and thinking. Long-term abuse can cause:
- persistent speech difficulties
- social withdrawal
- suicidal thoughts
Am I Addicted to PCP?
It can be difficult to admit that you have a substance abuse problem, but being honest with yourself is the first step to changing your life for the better.
Read through the questions below, and consider each one carefully.
- Do I feel like I can’t get through the week without taking PCP?
- Have friends or family members confronted me about my drug use?
- Does this make me hostile and defensive?
- Do I take drugs to escape my problems and/or avoid feeling negative emotions?
- Am I secretive about my drug use, and/or do I lie about when I use or how much I take?
- Do I feel like my life revolves around getting and using drugs?
- Have I done things that frighten me, or that I am ashamed of, to obtain drugs, or while under the influence of drugs?
- Have I tried to cut down or quit PCP, but gave up due to withdrawal symptoms such as those listed above?
- Do I find it difficult to have fun, be social, or even complete ordinary, everyday activities without taking drugs?
- Have I developed a tolerance that requires I take more PCP now than I did when I first started using?
- Have I experienced any major problems in the last year, such as a breakup, job loss, car accident, family problems, financial problems, or getting arrested as a result of my drug use?
- Despite knowing how bad my drug use is for me and my loved ones, do I feel unable to stop using PCP on my own?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then you have a problem that requires professional treatment.
PCP Addiction Treatment
There are many kinds of treatment programs available. You may choose to enter a residential inpatient facility so that you can concentrate on the recovery process without the distractions of everyday responsibilities. You may prefer an outpatient program where you can incorporate the recovery process into your life without having to leave home or commit to 24/7 treatment.
No matter which level of care suits you best, there will be certain phases of treatment that you will encounter in any drug addiction program.
Your treatment will begin with you meeting members of your recovery team and discussing your specific preferences, strengths and weaknesses, needs and goals. You may also undergo testing to find out if you have any undiagnosed mental health issues that may be contributing to your drug use. These are called co-occurring conditions.
Once your care providers have a good idea of who you are and how best to help you, they will customize a treatment plan suited to your needs.
In order to progress in recovery, you will, of course, have to completely give up your drug of choice. Although there are no FDA approved medications to help with PCP withdrawal, the medical staff at a drug and alcohol treatment facility will have tools and treatments at their disposal that will ensure you detox as comfortably and safely as possible.
The mainstay of all treatment programs is talk therapy. You will work with a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed therapist (or possibly all three) to uncover and address any issues that may be fueling your drug use. Counseling can also help you deal with past trauma, and teach you new and better ways of thinking about yourself and your relationship to drugs. Your therapist may employ behavioral therapy to teach you new ways of coping with drug cravings, stress, conflict, and trigger situations.
You will also likely undergo group and family counseling. Group counseling reminds you that there is a strong community of recovering addicts who are facing the same kinds of challenges that you are. Also, it can be equally as beneficial to offer support to others as it is to receive support. Family therapy will help you and your loved ones resolve interpersonal problems, improve communication, and learn ways to support your sobriety at home, after you are discharged from treatment.