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What is Phencyclidine (PCP)?

PCP (Phencyclidine) is a dangerous and powerful hallucinogen drug that causes intense psychoactive and physical effects. It has been part of the drug scene since the early 1960s and has adapted to meet modern drug use. Nowadays, it’s easy to find PCP laced into marijuana cigarettes or added to vapes, particularly among young teens. Yet, Phencyclidine is a hazardous drug that causes vary different side effects for everyone. 

What’s PCP?

Phencyclidine is a hallucinogenic drug that affects the brain directly. At first, PCP was used as an anesthetic until it moved to the party scene in the 1960s. It became popular to make people detach and dissociate from their surroundings while producing a strong euphoria feeling. The drug can be smoked, snorted, sprinkled on other drugs, or injected. 

It’s a Schedule II controlled substance that’s mostly available in the streets. 

Popular street names for Phencyclidine include:

  • Angel dust
  • Hog
  • Rocket Fuel
  • Peace Pills
  • Happy Sticks
  • Trank
  • Kools

What Does PCP Look Like?

PCP, in general, is a white crystalline powder, but it can also appear in liquid form. Modern Phencyclidine is also mixed with dyes, so it’s likely to occur in various colors, predominantly yellow. It’s also available in powder, tablet, and capsule forms that come in different colors and shapes. When sold as a powder, it’s often distributed in metallic foil. 

Common Side Effects

Within 20 minutes of taking PCP, people report feeling euphoric, and many also experience distorted perceptions of color, light, sound, and touch. Many say they have an “out of body” experience or feelings of detachment. These feelings include a sense of power, invulnerability, and strength. 

However, PCP, like most dissociative drugs, can have different effects on different people. Depending upon dosage and the way the drug is taken, it can have other effects, including:

Low Doses

  • Numbness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Changes in sensory perceptions
  • Hallucinations
  • Detachment
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Blood pressure fluctuations

High Doses

  • Extremely high blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Aggression
  • Psychological stress
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory loss

It’s common for people to take PCP with alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other depressants. However, because of its sedative effects, this can cause a coma that can be fatal. If someone you know becomes unconscious and unresponsive after taking Phencyclidine, call 911 immediately and tell them precisely what they have taken. 

Is PCP Addictive?

Though most hallucinogens are not addictive, Phencyclidine impacts the brain’s chemical composition and can be highly addictive.

People can feel the psychological effects of PCP very quickly. For example, people can feel the results in as little as 2 minutes when injected or smoked. However, these effects can last for about half an hour. When swallowed, it can take about 30 minutes to act, and its effects last for about 2 hours. It also depends on the doses of PCP someone takes.

It’s relatively easy to find drug paraphernalia like rolling papers and pipes if someone is using Phencyclidine. However, signs of PCP use include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushing and profuse sweating
  • Flicking up and down the eyelids
  • Disordered thinking
  • Detachment from reality

However, given the inconsistencies in a formulation, the various side effects, and the purity of PCP, this drug comes with a high risk of overdose. Signs of Phencyclidine overdose include:

  • Agitation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Uncontrolled movement
  • Hallucinations
  • Convulsions
  • High blood pressure
  • Psychosis
  • Catatonic trance
  • Coma and death

PCP Withdrawal and Treatments

People can quickly develop a tolerance to PCP, eventually needing more and more of the drug to experience the same experience. When people stop using PCP cold-turkey, they can experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Although these are not life-threatening, people who experience them might need medical assistance. PCP withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Cravings
  • Confusion
  • Depression 

Long-term PCP users are also likely to experience flashbacks, hallucinations, memory loss, weight loss, depression, and other mood disorders. These symptoms can persist up to a year after quitting the drug. 

How to Get Help

Similar to other hallucinogenic drugs, people can also experience a “bad trip” while on PCP. If this happens, it’s essential to place the person in a quiet area or a room with little sensory stimulation while you wait for medical attention. Doctors might use benzodiazepine to control seizures and prevent devastating side effects. 

There’s no FDA-approved treatment for Phencyclidine. However, residential treatment and evidence-based treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people address their addiction. Also, for those with a co-occurring mental health illness, choosing a dual diagnosis program can simultaneously address both conditions. 

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