PCP, otherwise known as Phencyclidine, is a hallucinogenic drug that distorts consciousness and the perception of sight and sound. The drug accomplishes this by blocking signals from the brain to keep those signals from traveling to the conscious mind. PCP is a dissociative drug that produces feelings of detachment from the self and its surroundings. As a glutamate antagonist, the drug affects the glutamate receptor in the brain that controls learning, memory, pain perception and responses to environmental stimuli. PCP also interacts with dopamine, opioid and nicotinic receptor sites in the brain, lending to some of its side effects. The drug is not deemed physically addictive but it can become psychologically addictive and tolerance to the drug is rapidly built-up in the body. PCP is considered a Schedule II controlled drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and is considered a very dangerous.

Use and Side Effects

PCP is a white crystalline powder that is easily soluble in water or alcohol and is illicitly sold on the street as a capsule, tablet or powder. The powdered form of of the drug is usually snorted, smoked or orally ingested by drug abusers or addicts. When smoking PCP, it is often sprayed onto some type of leafy material, such as marijuana, parsley, oregano or mint. When mixed with marijuana it is known on the street as Angel Dust, Pea Ce Pill, Hog, Wack, Ozone, Rocket Fuel and Super Grass. Addicts will also inject a liquid form of PCP or mix it with crack cocaine, known on the street as Beam Me Up or Scottie. If the drug is smoked or injected, its effects will be felt within 1-5 minutes. When the drug is snorted or taken orally, it will take up to 30 minutes to feel the effects. Depending on the amount ingested, a PCP high can last from 4-6 hours.

The moderate use of PCP can cause the following side effects:

  • Numbness of the extremities
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Blank stare
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid and involuntary eye movement
  • Severe mood disorders
  • Exaggerated gait
  • Image distortion
  • Paranoia
  • Psychoses similar to schizophrenia

Serious side effects of PCP include:

  • An unsafe change in blood pressure
  • Pulse rate fluctuations
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooling
  • Loss of balance

Severe adverse reactions and overdose symptoms can also occur. These include:

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Prolonged use of PCP can also lead to excitatory glutamate activity in some areas of the brain like the hippocampus and cerebellum causing severe memory loss.


PCP was first developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic. It was discontinued shortly after because of the serious side effects of mania, delirium and hallucinations. Although it was no longer used for medical purposes, people began using the drug for non-medical purposes to feel certain side effects. The abuse of PCP has been in decline in the U.S. according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It has been estimated that approximately six million U.S. residents aged 12 years and older have used PCP at least once in their lifetime. For adolescents, using this drug can cause problems with normal growth and development.

PCP, mescaline, LSD, peyote, Ecstasy and psilocybin mushrooms are grouped together as hallucinogenic drugs. Because it is an analgesic, the user may start to crave the feeling of numbness to the mind and body and this can lead to psychological dependence. Cravings, memory loss, learning difficulties and weight loss have been known to last up to 12 months after drug use was stopped. It is also important to note that PCP abuse and addiction commonly occurs with other disorders such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, alcoholism and substance abuse.

Some of the social and psychological behavior patterns of PCP addicts are:

  • A need for more frequent and/or higher doses
  • Odd behavior that isolates the addict and causes the loss of important relationships
  • An inability to live responsibly or make decisions
  • Loss of employment and finances
  • Inability to attend school
  • Attention deficit
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
  • Altered reality

The physical manifestations of PCP abuse and addiction include hypertension, tachycardia, muscle

spasms, lung secretions, respiratory failure, stuttering, a blank stare, numbness and brain damage. Overdose victims of PCP are often highly unstable and violent, suicidal and a danger to themselves and others. If the victim is in a dangerous drug-induced psychosis, they should be admitted to a hospital where they will be treated, monitored and observed 24/7.

Withdrawal and Detox

Withdrawal from PCP is an extremely sensitive and dangerous process that should only be performed under professional supervision by trained and experienced medical personnel. Some of the withdrawal symptoms the patient can experience include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Speech impairment
  • Decreased reflexes
  • Lack of control
  • Coma
  • Suicide
  • Death

Because the patient has experienced a negative cognitive impact from PCP abuse, they must be put into a stabilized environment to be able to work their way back to normal orientation. In-patient rehabilitation facilities can provide the stable environment and medical attention necessary for the recovery of the patient. Treatment most often includes individual and group therapy, education, behavior modification and relapse prevention skills.