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PCP Drug Abuse: What Is Angel Dust?

What is PCP?

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If asked to name commonly abused street drugs, the average person would not name phencyclidine. Although it may not have the same notoriety as other substances, phencyclidine abuse occurs at an alarming rate. Anyone using the drug or considering taking it should understand what PCP is and the risk it poses.

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Table of Contents

What PCP Is

Phencyclidine, commonly known as PCP, is a commonly abused street drug. Many people debate what kind of drug PCP is as it can appear to have stimulant effects on people. However, phencyclidine is defined as a central nervous system depressant due to the way it acts on the body.

Due to its unpredictable side effects, it is not used in therapeutic settings within the United States.

There are numerous phencyclidine street names. The most frequently used is angel dust, but other options exist. Additionally, when it is combined with marijuana, users give it different names. However, no matter the name, it is still referencing the same product.
Because the phencyclidine drug is not used in medical settings, most phencyclidine sold in the U.S. is manufactured in clandestine labs. PCP recipes can vary between producers, making the product users get unpredictable. While it is possible to get high on PCP, it is even more possible to experience significant adverse effects.

Phencyclidine is an incredibly dangerous and illegal substance. It is highly not advisable to try this substance to avoid the legal and health outcomes.

The History of PCP

Phencyclidine history began in 1926. This was when phencyclidine was first synthesized. In the 1950s, drug makers looked into marketing it as a general anesthetic. By 1965, clinical trials had documented adverse and unpredictable effects, which led to the discontinuation of phencyclidine use in humans.

Widely accepted PCP facts state that right as the medical use of the drug was discontinued, recreational use of the drug began to spread.

It was at this point that it became known as angel dust, its use starting on the West Coast and spreading throughout the country. By 1978, phencyclidine was made entirely illegal in the United States, restricted from even veterinary use. It is currently a Schedule II substance.

The Product Forms of PCP

Both people interested in using the drug and loved ones worried about abuse often wonder what PCP looks like. There are multiple phencyclidine forms, which can make it difficult to identify. Additionally, since clandestine labs only make it, there is little uniformity in the product.

Phencyclidine can come in three product forms: liquid, powder, and pill. The liquid PCP form is injected into a vein and in some cases, smoked. The phencyclidine powder is often snorted, but it can be inhaled as well. Smoking angel dust is the most common way to consume the drug, especially when mixed with marijuana. Pills are either swallowed or crushed into a powder.

In most cases, PCP liquid is slightly yellow. Powder phencyclidine ranges from white to tan. PCP pills have no uniform color as the producers often add colors and designs to them.

vial with liquid PCP

Cost of PCP

How much the phencyclidine drug costs will depend on the area where the purchaser lives and the product form they are targeting. When purchasing PCP drugs in pill form, the price is as high as $15 per tablet. The powder form tends to go for around $30 per gram. Liquid phencyclidine comes in at about $300 per ounce. While the drug is cheaper than some other substances, it is still costly, causing significant financial troubles for those who abuse it.

It is legally prosecuted to sell or buy this susbtance. Do not try to purchase, manufacture, or sell this drug.

How PCP Is Used

While decades ago, people observed what PCP does and found medical applications for it; these uses are no longer considered legitimate in the United States. While other countries may continue to allow the use of phencyclidine for anesthesia or tranquilizing animals, the majority do not.

This means that phencyclidine users take it strictly for getting high.

Since there are no legitimate applications for the drug, if a PCP drug test comes back positive, users can experience negative consequences.

PCP Abuse Risk Groups

No group is immune to abusing drugs, including phencyclidine. However, certain groups are more likely to take angel dust drugs. These include:

  • Those with a genetic predisposition to addiction
  • People with brain characteristics that make them vulnerable to addiction
  • People who are easily influenced by their peers
  • Younger people
  • Those with behavior disorders, including depression and anxiety
  • An impulsive nature
  • Those with significant trauma in their past
  • People who have used similar drugs (for example, PCP and ketamine are of the same class)

Ultimately, why people do phencyclidine comes down to a variety of factors and is difficult to predict.

PCP Addiction

While there will always be people who debate if phencyclidine is addictive, the scientific and medical community affirms that it is. PCP addiction arises based on how the medication affects the brain and body. Both mental and psychological dependence is possible.

Physical Addiction

When physical addiction to phencyclidine occurs, the user feels a bodily need to use the drug. This can be in the form of cravings that manifest as physical symptoms. It can also be in the process of withdrawal from PCP. Often, this presents flu-like symptoms when going too long between doses. The person may feel physically jittery and unable to remain still as well.

Psychological Addiction

Psychological addiction is possible with most any substances, including phencyclidine. All it requires is that someone feels attached to the drug, finding some benefit in its use that they are afraid to lose. However, phencyclidine addiction goes more profound than merely feeling connected to the drug.

It alters the chemistry of the brain, producing effects that the mind and central nervous system, in general, can become dependent upon. As such, the psychological addiction to phencyclidine can be potent.

The Effects of PCP Abuse

PCP adverse reactions extend far beyond simple phencyclidine high. Phencyclidine abuse has wide-ranging effects that can be devastating. Phencyclidine drug effects can be classified as physical, mental, and social.

Physical Effects

The physical effects of phencyclidine use include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Chronic numbness, especially in the extremities, that does not get better with movement
  • Cancer of the lungs, throat, and mouth
  • Pupillary changes (known as PCP pupils)
  • When too much is taken, PCP overdose

woman with lung cancer

Mental Effects

Because of how phencyclidine acts on the body, many of the most devastating effects are mental. Some of the psychological impacts of phencyclidine abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation and aggression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Struggles forming ideas
  • Difficulty expressing ideas when created
  • Amnesia

These effects can become long-term due to brain damage from the drug. Users should consider how devastating such effects can be before they use the substance.

Social Effects

In addition to the effects felt in the mind and body, users often suffer significant social consequences. When someone begins engaging in drug use, they tend to switch social groups, losing long-term friends, and meaningful relationships. Often, they will sacrifice financial security to obtain the drug, which can cause them to lose their home and even their family. Depending on how heavy the drug use is and the damage it does to the user’s brain, they may be unable to function at work. The potential reach of these social consequences is immeasurable, and often, the reason why people finally choose to enter angel dust abuse treatment.

Getting Clean From PCP

Anyone who is addicted to phencyclidine can get clean. Usually, they need the right support and resources. Through drug rehabilitation centers, addicts can access the care and help they need to live their best lives.

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  1. PHENCYCLIDINE. Drug Enforcement Administration. Office of Diversion Control. Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section
  2. Phencyclidine (PCP). University of Maryland. Center for Substance Abuse Research.

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.


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