What Is PCP? - Definition, Effects, Addiction & Treatment

Instructor: Jennifer Kinder
Learn about the medical use of PCP the effects of this drug illustrated with an example. This lesson will also allow you to explore the use of PCP as a street drug and discover how a PCP addiction can be treated.

The Dangers of Phencyclidine

Police dispatch receives a call about a person who is walking down the middle of a main highway. When the police officers arrive at the scene, they are confronted by a man who resembles a wild animal. He is screaming something unintelligible, aggressively throwing his arms in the air, and his eyes are flipping upwards. He is snorting, drooling, and his chest is heaving with every breath. He is also naked and clearly unarmed. The officers struggle to subdue the man because he seems to have super human strength. It takes ten officers to get him in cuffs and on a stretcher to be taken to the hospital for treatment.

The above scenario is the typical description of someone who is intoxicated due to abusing phencyclidine (PCP).

PCP is a white, crystal-like powder that one can dissolve in water or alcohol for use. PCP was initially used in the 1950s as an anesthetic, or medication to render you unconscious during medical procedures. PCP is no longer used due to serious negative side effects. For example, patients who were anesthetized would become overly agitated and have delusions, bizarre and fixed beliefs that are irrational.

Phencyclidine in rock and liquid forms
PCP confiscated by police.

PCP: Effects

PCP is categorized as a hallucinogen. Hallucinogens often produce bizarre and unusual perceptual experiences in the person using the drug. This might involve seeing or hearing things that aren't there and intense mood swings. PCP also often causes dissociation, or a feeling of being detached from your body or environment. PCP has these effects due to the brain chemical it affects called glutamate, which is involved in pain perception, perceiving and responding to the environment, learning, and memory.

The effects of PCP generally last 4-6 hours, depending upon the amount and route of use. PCP is such a powerful chemical that abusers can experience these effects even after a year of not using PCP. The reported effects of PCP are:

  • Schizophrenia-like symptoms: delusions, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, dissociation
  • Mood symptoms: anxiety so extreme abusers frequent the emergency room for relief, depression
  • Cognitive complications: memory loss, problems thinking, and speech difficulties with long-term use
  • Physical changes: weight loss, blood pressure and pulse rate elevation, sweating, shallow breathing, numbness of hands and feet, problems with muscle control, nausea, vomiting, drooling, dizziness, seizures, coma, death
  • Violence: suicidal thoughts, high aggression towards others that may require psychiatric hospitalization

PCP: Addiction and Treatment

PCP began to be abused as a 'street drug' in the 1960s. On the street, PCP can be referred to as 'angel dust' or 'embalming fluid.' PCP can be abused by smoking it, snorting it, or taking it orally. When PCP is smoked, it is often added to a marijuana joint. PCP did not gain much popularity due to the hallucinations, delusions, and dissociation it caused. However, some still abuse PCP because it made them feel invincible, a very addictive high. Once someone is addicted to PCP, he or she will experience insatiable cravings and will compulsively seek it out despite potential negative consequences. For example, someone addicted to PCP might steal from, assault, or murder someone to have money to buy more PCP.

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