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What is PCP?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 28, 2023

Table of Contents

PCP (phencyclidine) is an illegal narcotic that normally comes in white powdered form. PCP is also available in liquid form.

Informally known as angel dust, PCP is one of the most dangerous drugs of abuse.

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What is the PCP Drug?

Phencyclidine was developed as an intravenous anesthetic (Sernyl) in the 1950s. Researchers soon discovered that PCP triggered the following neurotoxic side effects:

  • Mania
  • Hallucinations
  • Irrational thoughts
  • Agitation

As such, the legal manufacturing of PCP for human medical applications was discontinued in 1967 in the United States. Ketamine (Ketalar) was introduced as an anesthetic for painful procedures and surgery. The substance is structurally similar to this drug but does not bring the same adverse side effects.

PCP is a mind-altering substance capable of inducing hallucinations – profound distortions to someone’s perception of reality. This substance is also classified as a dissociative drug. This class of drugs leads to a distortion of:

  • Self
  • Environment
  • Sights
  • Sounds
  • Colors

PCP in white powder form is the purest version of this substance. The crystalline powder easily dissolves in alcohol or water. The powder has a sharp and bitter chemical taste.

Black market PCP often contains contaminants that cause the color to vary from light brown to dark brown. The consistency of this illicit drug is gummy.

People use this narcotic in the following ways:

  • Snorting
  • Injecting into a vein
  • Smoking
  • Swallowing

PCP has many street names, including angel dust, rocket fuel, and embalming fluid.

Now a schedule II controlled substance in the United States, using PCP carries a strong risk for abuse and addiction. Severe physical and psychological dependence on the substance can rapidly develop. Manufacturing, distributing, possessing, and using PCP is illegal in the U.S.

Street PCP is made illegally in clandestine laboratories throughout the United States, but primarily in Southern California.

Is PCP a Depressant?

Research shows that PCP has depressant effects, as well as hallucinogenic, analgesic, and stimulant effects.

PCP belongs to the class of drugs known as hallucinogens. These substances can trigger hallucinations where you may feel, see, or hear things that are not real.

This substance is also a dissociative anesthetic that can cause you to feel a sense of separation from your body and your surroundings. The sedative, anesthetic effects of phencyclidine are trance-like. You may feel a sense of euphoria, while at the same time feeling disconnected from reality, as though you are floating above your body.

Additionally, phencyclidine interacts with other depressants of the CNS (central nervous system) like benzodiazepines or alcohol. This can lead to overdose or coma.

Effects of PCP

PCP acts on your brain and central nervous system, altering your mood and behavior, as well as how you relate to your surroundings and environment.

Using phencyclidine blocks the normal functioning of brain chemicals. Specifically, PCP inhibits the reuptake of:

  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine

Additionally, PCP blocks NMDA receptors and inhibits the action of glutamate (a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger). NMDA receptors are responsible for learning, memory, emotions, and pain sensations.

It is through the interruption of these receptors in the brain that allows those who use PCP to disconnect from reality – that is, normal sensory perceptions that are not distorted by a mind-altering drug like PCP.

If you take higher doses of phencyclidine, this can excite the receptors in your brain.

Taking PCP can cause a variety of effects, including:

  • Disorientation
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Stupor
  • Agitation
  • Ataxia (impaired coordination)
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Nystagmus (repetitive eye movements)
  • Seizure

The onset of the effects of phencyclidine depends on the route of administration as follows:

  • Injecting PCP: 2 to 5 minutes.
  • Smoking PCP: 2 to 5 minutes, peaking after 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Swallowing PCP: 30 minutes, peaking after 2 to 5 hours.

Other factors that influence the onset and duration of PCP’s effects include the amount of the substance taken and the duration of abuse.

Many people use this drug for its euphoric, calming, and psychedelic effects without realizing that many unwanted side effects can also manifest. Shortly after taking a low dose of PCP, blood pressure levels, body temperature, and heart rate may spike.

Consuming larger doses of this drug causes the opposite of these effects, with heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure levels falling.

These are the most common effects of PCP:

  • Euphoria
  • Distorted sights and sounds
  • Depersonalization
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Impaired coordination
  • Loss of balance
  • Inability to feel pain
  • Mood swings
  • Acute anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Fear of impending doom
  • Numbness in extremities

Taking PCP can also bring about:

  • Delusions
  • Memory loss
  • Rigid muscles
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If you take high doses of Phencyclidine, this can cause coma, seizure, or death.

The sustained use of this narcotic can also provoke the following long-term effects:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Speech problems like stuttering
  • Impaired reasoning
  • Amnesia
  • Social withdrawal
  • Flashbacks
  • Toxic psychosis
  • Addiction in the form of substance use disorder
An image of PCP | What is PCP

PCP Addiction

Phencyclidine is one of the most dangerous substances for abuse. Sustained use of this substance often leads to the development of cravings, psychological dependence, and compulsive use of this drug.

Chronic users of this drug report the following symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Problems with speech
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Weight loss

The repeated use of PCP can cause tolerance to form, meaning you’ll require more of the substance to achieve the same rewarding effects. This often initiates a vicious cycle and an increased rate of abuse leading to the development of physical dependence. If you become dependent on this narcotic, you will need the drug to function normally, and its absence will cause the presentation of adverse withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Unease
  • Confusion
  • Excitability
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Twitching
  • Increased body temperature
  • Weight loss
  • Seizure

PCP addiction is diagnosed as a substance use disorder according to the criteria outlined in DSM-5-TR (the fifth and most current edition of APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). While there is no cure for substance use disorder, this chronic brain condition usually responds positively to evidence-based treatment. We can help you access the best quality care here at Renaissance Recovery.

Rehab for PCP at Renaissance

Although withdrawal from PCP can be intensely uncomfortable, it is seldom life-threatening. If you have a severe addiction to phencyclidine, inquire about a supervised medical detox to safely kickstart your recovery. We can connect you with licensed medical detox centers throughout Southern California.

Once you are detoxed from angel dust, choose from the following treatment programs here at our affordable luxury rehab at Renaissance Recovery Center:

Research shows that intensive outpatient treatment is equally as effective as residential rehab for the treatment of most mild and moderate addictions. Our more intensive programming – IOPs and PHPs – offer a structured and supportive route to recovery without the restrictions or the expense of inpatient rehab.

All our treatment programs offer you access to the following evidence-based interventions and holistic treatments:

Once you complete your PCP addiction treatment program at Renaissance in Orange County, you will leave equipped with the coping skills, relapse prevention strategies, and aftercare you need to promote ongoing abstinence from this drug. Reach out to admissions today by calling 866.330.9449.

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At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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