Most commonly known as “angel dust”, Phencyclidine (PCP) is a mind-altering drug that is often abused. Most recreationally popular drug in the United States, it is typically smoked in conjunction with cannabis, but it can also be orally ingested, snorted, or injected.

Made in 1926 and introduced in the 1950s, PCP was initially an anesthetic medication for surgeries and later became popular among veterinarians as an animal tranquilizer. It was widely used in the medical field as an anesthetic because of its lack of negative effects to the heart and lungs. Later on; however, its adverse side effects outweighed its uses. By 1967, PCP use was limited to strictly veterinary use until 1978, when the sale of PCP was outlawed.

Today, PCP is classified as a Schedule II substance. Drugs under Schedule II classification have high potential for abuse and an even higher risk of a user becoming physically or psychologically dependent.

The Effects Of PCP

As previously stated, Phencyclidine (chemically named Phenylcyclohexyl piperidine) falls under the Schedule II substance classification. While technically defined as a depressant for its sedative effects on the central nervous system, many people refrain from labeling it as a depressant because of its many stimulant, depressant, and hallucinogenic effects.

In smaller doses, PCP acts as a sedative that can result in the numbness of extremities and symptoms similar to those of other depressants. The most common adverse effects of small doses include:

  • Detachment
  • Difficulty in speech
  • Numbness
  • Physical overconfidence

In larger doses, PCP’s use as an anesthetic becomes apparent and effective. Significant drops in things such as heart rates, breathing, and blood pressure are common, and users may have difficulty in coordination. The most common adverse effects of larger doses include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Changes in heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and breathing

Chronic use of PCP can prove deadly and even fatal. Dependence on PCP leads to a tolerance, which consequently leads to higher and higher doses. Extreme agitation, seizures, and even comas (lasting anywhere from five days to several weeks) are common in PCP overdose/abuse, so treating PCP addiction should be on the top of your priorities. Common adverse effects of chronic PCP use include:

  • Physical dependency
  • Lower cognitive function (including memory and decision-making)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

PCP High

Seeing as the dose size can greatly alter the effects of PCP, it can be difficult to determine what exactly someone feels while on PCP. Many people report a variety of physical and psychological effects, but a common one is a feeling of disassociation from reality. The user may feel as if they are in a fantasy world, but that does not necessarily mean it is enjoyable.

When taken orally, PCP can produce a high lasting anywhere between five and eight hours. When smoked or injected, PCP can produce a high a bit shorter, between three and five hours. 

While PCP users may experience a high or “trip” from recreational PCP abuse and use, many firsthand accounts describe a PCP trip to be traumatizing. Lack of control, difficulty in speech, and total immobilization have been reported by PCP users. Generally, PCP’s effects when recreationally used include the following (in order):

  • Disassociation. Commonly referred to as an “out-of-body experience,” the user experiences a distorted image of themselves as well as their surroundings. 
  • Hallucination. The user will then become confused about their surroundings, self-identity, time, and space. While in the “hallucination” state, some users may exhibit violent and aggressive tendencies while others may show signs of withdrawing and lack of communication.
  • Depression. In the final stages of a PCP high, the user will slowly become depressed and may feel still partly dissociated with reality. Anxiety, irritability, and alienation are all common feelings that users experience towards the end of the PCP high.

It is very important to note that, because of its unpredictability, the effects of PCP on someone can vary greatly from person to person. The timeline for a PCP “trip” listed above, while generally accurate, does not apply to everyone. The same goes with PCP addiction treatment; there is no “cookie cutter” treatment method, so seeking professional help will ensure a safe process tailored specifically to each person. 

PCP Addiction Detox

As a Class II substance, PCP has high potential for abuse, and PCP addiction is much more common than you think. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.1 million people 12 and up have reported lifetime use of PCP, accounting for roughly 2.5 percent of everyone 12 and up. Chronic use of PCP can cause a tolerance to form, resulting in higher doses leading to dependency and PCP addiction. The first step in treating PCP addiction is medical detoxification.

Quitting “Cold Turkey”

For someone suffering from PCP addiction, detox can go one of two ways, the first way being self-detox via “cold turkey.” In case you do not know what the term “cold turkey” means, it refers to the immediate quitting of a drug in an attempt at self-detox. Many people will quit not only PCP, but also many other substances by going cold turkey in an attempt to avoid the work that must go behind proper medical detox. 

Quitting cold turkey is dangerous. Quitting cold turkey is not only uncomfortable and harmful, but it is even counterproductive in the entire recovery process. Detoxing is very difficult, which is why our team of professional doctors and nurses may even need to administer medications like Valium to aid in detox. If PCP addiction detox is difficult even for medical experts with help from medications, you can only imagine how dangerous quitting cold turkey by yourself is.

Medical Detox

Medical detox is the first and arguably one of the most important steps in treating PCP addiction, so successful detox is extremely important to treatment as a whole. The point of detox is to rid the body of any residue or toxins that may be left over from constant drug abuse, in this case PCP. 

Through gradual tapering, doctors will begin to lower the patient’s PCP levels with the aid of medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms. In the case of PCP detoxification, certain benzodiazepines are the first line of defense against PCP withdrawal symptoms such as seizures and other convulsions. It is important to note that, while in medical detox, a patient will be under 24/7 medical supervision. This is essential in ensuring the safety and comfort of the patient, further proving that professional detox is much safer than any other option.

How Dangerous Is PCP?

Setting aside the severe side effects listed previously, PCP can be extremely dangerous and can easily prove fatal. This is not due to the physical chemicals that are put into PCP production, but more so as a result of the behavioral disturbances while under the effects of PCP.

Most PCP-related fatalities are a direct result of an intoxication (high, “trip”) causing overconfidence and perhaps doing its job too well as a painkiller. For example, someone under the effects of PCP may believe that they are invincible and, because PCP is a painkiller, may consequently do things that they would otherwise not, such as punching solid objects without feeling pain.  

This feeling of almost superhuman capabilities is, unfortunately, the leading cause of PCP fatalities. The user’s impaired judgement leads to self-injurious behavior, which ultimately leads to fatalities from self-inflicted injury and over-exertion.

However rare, death, as result of direct effects of PCP, are very much possible. These direct effects of PCP can include:

  • Hyperthermia (body producing more heat than it gives off)
  • Acute renal failure (failure of kidneys to filter waste from the blood)
  • Rhabdomyolysis (death of muscle cells, with leftover breakdown products released into bloodstream)
  • Blood clots

PCP Statistics And Facts

  • Approximately one in every four street marijuana samples contains PCP, causing it to be one of the most popular substances in adultering
  • The most extreme spike in PCP overdoses occurred between 2005 and 2011, when emergency room visits for PCP-related incidents rose 400 percent.
  • Nearly half of PCP-related emergency room incidents involve other illegal substances
  • Almost 3 percent of people 26 or older have reported trying PCP at least once in their lifetime
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