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PCP Addiction: The Danger of Abuse

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.

Table of Contents:

PCP Overview

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

Is PCP Legal?

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. It is usually found on the streets as a combination of PCP-weed as joints, known as ‘killer joints.’

Phencyclidine is a hazardous and illegal substance. By 1978, phencyclidine was made entirely illegal in the United States, restricted from even veterinary use. It is currently a Schedule II substance.

The drugs included in Schedule II class, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, come with a high potential for abuse and acute physical and psychological dependence.

Phencyclidine was transferred from Schedule III class to Schedule II class on January 25, 1978.

In Canada, the drug is a Schedule I class drug under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. In the Netherlands, it is a List I drug under the Opium Law, and in the United Kingdom, a Class A substance.

What Type of Drug Is PCP?

The Phencyclidine drug class is a hallucinogen. As a hallucinogen, Angel Dust has a moderate potential for creating dependence, and there are records of people who underwent PCP detox. Other risks associated with the class of hallucinogens are life-threatening accidents and personal injury due to unpredictable, bizarre behavior.

A hand in a glove holds a prohibited substance against the background of a guy in handcuffs.

Professional drug abuse treatment may be required to cope with the aftereffects of this substance. Drug rehab centers providing such services operate nationwide and accept insurance in most cases.

The Product Forms of PCP

People worried about loved ones’ safety often wonder what this drug 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
  • pill

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.

PCP Mechanism Of Action

To understand how the drug affects the human body when utilized in any form, it is important to consider the PCP mechanism. When it comes to asking a question like how it works, it is crucial to note that the compound’s chemical structure is very similar to that of Ketamine.

Whether a person is smoking PCP or using it in a pill form, the action mechanism would remain the same, as specific receptors are affected by the substance. Most people do seem to choose inhalation as an administration method. More specifically, when a person uses this drug, it will interact with NMDA receptors in the patient’s body. These receptors are also known as N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors.

The PCP ingredients cause these NMDA receptors to become inhibited.

When the NMDA receptors in a patient’s body are inhibited, it causes the person to experience a dissociative state. This is essentially what yields the hallucinogenic effects that have been associated with the use of PCDP compounds.

People using weed laced with this drug and other substances variations will experience a similar action mechanism, but with additional effects caused by the compounds that the PCP is laced with.

Different forms of drugs lie on a black background.

Generally, most people find that the PCP formula tends to reduce their ability to experience pain sensations. This can cause the person to participate in painful activities since they would not feel the pain.

This is primarily why the drug is considered dangerous – these activities could quickly put the person’s life in menace.

PCP Addiction

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

Physical Addiction Symptoms

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. 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 Symptoms

Psychological addiction is possible with most 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 brain’s chemistry, 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.

PCP Abuse Risk Groups

No group is immune to abusing drugs, but certain groups are more likely to take angel dust drugs, which 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 Side Effects

Many side effects can occur in people who abuse this drug. The short term effects of PCP are dose-dependent. This drug can affect a person’s memory, speech, appetite, and sleep when used long term. This will be discussed in detail below.

PCP Short Term Effects

The most common picture seen with phencyclidine use disorder is violent behavior, PCP nystagmus, fast heart rate, high blood pressure, and analgesia.

What does PCP do to the body?

Some of the physical effects of the PCP molecule include:

  • Impairment of motor control
  • Constriction of pupils and blurring of vision
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased pain perception
  • Speech disturbance ranging from incoherence to inability to speak
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Blank staring
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Irregular, shallow, or slow breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased saliva production
  • Increased body temperature and sweating alternating with chills
  • Convulsions, stupor, coma, or death at high doses

How does phencyclidine affect the brain?

The PCP mechanism of action disrupts the neurotransmitter glutamate and influences the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.

Phencyclidine is often compared to other drugs with a similar action, for example, PCP vs. ketamine, some of which cause less severe side effects.

Some of the short-term psychological symptoms of phencyclidine use include:

  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness or relaxation
  • Dissociation with the environment
  • Feelings of alienation
  • Feelings of weightlessness
  • Distortion of time and space or disorientation
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Confusion and difficulty focusing
  • PCP schizophrenia with agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions
  • Bizarre or erratic behavior or PCP rage
  • Obsessions
  • Irrational and overwhelming panic or terror about the imminent death

PCP Long Term Effects

In addition to the more immediate signs and symptoms that phencyclidine causes, several long-term consequences can prove dangerous.

Long-Term Physical Effects

  • Speech impediments including stuttering, problems with articulation, and inability to speak
  • Tolerance with increasingly higher doses needed to produce a degree of euphoria
  • Physical and psychological dependence on the drug with withdrawal symptoms when the drug is withheld

Long-Term Mental Health Effects

  • Impaired memory
  • Flashbacks such as those experienced by LSD users
  • Severe anxiety and depression leading to potential suicidal ideation and attempts
  • Isolation and social withdrawal
  • violence or aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Auditory hallucinations

The Effects of PCP on Pregnancy

Expectant mothers who abuse phencyclidine during pregnancy expose their baby to the drug and its side effects.

Studies show that in utero exposure to angel dust can lead to neonatal narcotic withdrawal syndrome. Symptoms include jitteriness, increased tone, vomiting, and diarrhea.

A pregnant woman is sitting with an ultrasound scan.

The diagnosis is made based on the drug’s presence in the baby’s and mother’s urine. Babies exposed to phencyclidine may suffer from sleep and temperament problems. Other effects of angel dust abuse during pregnancy include abnormal attachment behavior and small weight for age.

Preventing Side Effects of Phencyclidine

People who are abusing phencyclidine should speak to a physician about safely coming off the drug. During drug treatment, healthcare professionals can help reduce and prevent side effects. They can also help overcome angel dust withdrawal symptoms and the dangers of PCP in a safe manner.

Mild phencyclidine intoxication and side effects can be treated within several hours, whereas chronic use may require a few weeks of treatment.

Some medications are available to treat phencyclidine-induced psychosis and other PCP effects. Symptomatic treatment for high blood pressure, abnormal blood sugar levels, and convulsions can be given as needed under a doctor’s care.

Besides, side effects such as violent outbursts can be reduced by keeping the person in a closely-monitored, dark, and quiet environment with minimal provoking tactile and auditory stimuli in one of the drug rehab institutions.

PCP Overdose

Large phencyclidine doses that can be stated higher than 15mg can result in overdose and show severe symptoms like paranoia, mood swings, suicidal behavior, and even outright insanity. Overdose symptoms show that on specific doses of angel dust, the user loses all sense of self and acts entirely different from who they are. Let’s find out what are the causes of PCP overdose and possible treatments.

PCP Overdose Symptoms

There are several ways a person can identify overdose symptoms. Hallucinogens are different from other classes of drugs such as painkillers and sedatives. Where they show rather more muted symptoms, the overdose signs produced by hallucinogens are overt. Hence it is hard to overlook them.

Here is a list of symptoms of PCP that can be identified in an overdose:

  • Paranoid, erratic actions or thoughts
  • Lack or decrease of non-existent motor functions
  • Catatonic behavior
  • Unusual or painful breathing
  • Debilitated muscle activity
  • Blank expression
  • Heightened body temperature
  • Harmful delusions
  • Delayed response to stimuli or pain
  • Eye twitching

It might be difficult for overdose victims to express their unease or problems. It makes complete sense because, under this hallucinogen’s effects, the user may even lose their sense of awareness.

PCP Overdose: Lethal Danger

There is a definite possibility of death from overdose. Most of the deaths caused by the overdose are not because of the toxic effects of Phencyclidine but as a result of self-inflicted harm or accident, whereas acids majorly cause deaths by toxicity.

A young guy is lying on the floor after a drug overdose.

Overdosing causes diminished breathing capacity, which can cause a lack of oxygen in the tissues leading to severe damage to vital organs, resulting in seizures, convulsions, cardiac arrest, renal failure, and death.

SAMHSA report shows that emergency visits to the hospital caused by angel dust increased from 14,825 to 75,538 between 2005 and 2011, which is a 400% increase in emergency visits.

What To Do If Someone Overdoses On PCP

Individuals that are not trained should not attempt to use any medications or apply any substance to someone who has overdosed on Phencyclidine. Instead, the first course of action would be to call the emergency services as soon as symptoms appear.

To perform an overdose response, follow these steps:

  • Remain calm and stay under control
  • Maintain a safe distance if the user is having hallucinations or is hyperactive because, in this state, they can be dangerous
  • Eliminate environmental stimulation by turning down the heat, lowering the lights, and restricting all kinds of noise
  • Put them in a sitting position if the person is in a comatose or unconscious state. Make sure that they can breathe easily and their airway is free of any impediment
  • Do not administer medications, food, or fluids without any prior training
  • Do not induce vomit unless a professional instructs to do so
  • Passerby calling an ambulance while checking the pulse of unconscious

When help arrives, the medical team will need crucial information for the treatment.
Try and collect the information given below to make things go swiftly:

  • The substance they have taken and how they took it
  • The approximate time of when they took the substance
  • The weight, age, and medical conditions of the person
  • The amount of substance taken by them

PCP Intoxication Treatment

After the person overdosed on PCP intoxication is in the care of medical personnel who know what’s in PCP, the treatment that undergoes will include the following:

Stabilizing the patient: After the patient is brought into the emergency room, the medical staff will assess the patient’s airway, take vital signs, maintain them, secure intravenous access, and then head on to provide symptomatic treatment.

Medical analysis: After stabilization, the professionals will diagnose the cause(s) of the symptoms. To measure the presence and levels of the drug, a PCP test will be conducted. Staff will conduct toxicology screening and see whether alcohol or other drugs were used.

Sedation: Professionals will apply restraints on the person or use sedation to keep them calm as the user can be violent or suicidal under the influence of PCP.

Using activated charcoal: Activated charcoal ensures that the person’s digestive tract does not absorb any more drugs.

Treating the seizures: If there are any seizures, they will be treated with proper medication.

Cardiac monitoring: Patients showing severe cardiac symptoms will be placed on heart monitoring.

How Long Does PCP Stay In System?

The first question that needs to be addressed is how long the drug will show positive when undergoing a Phencyclidine drug test.

It is crucial to understand that there is a standard time for PCP in the system after the substance has been used, but the results do tend to vary between different testing methods.

Furthermore, a person should also realize that the PCP name on a drug test will show up as Phencyclidine, which is the scientific name for the substance.

Below is an overview of the duration that the substance will stay in the system, based on a PCP lab test that looks at different patient samples.

Blood test

It is used to determine if a person has been using the substance is not the most common way that such testing is done. When a person experiences PCP effects on the brain that cause more severe side-effects, the individual may be taken to an emergency room. If its usage is suspected, blood tests may be used. In most cases, a blood test would have to be done within one to four hours after the substance has been used.

Urine test

A urine test is usually the most common way to determine if a person has used this drug. Even when one of the PCP analogs is expected, the testing method is through a urine sample. It takes approximately four to six hours before the drug can be detected in urine. The substance will remain detectable in a person’s urine sample for a period between seven and 14 days.

Saliva test

Saliva testing is sometimes used to assist in detecting this substance in a person’s body, primarily because this check yields the fastest results. Within five to ten minutes, the drug is detectable in saliva. However, the duration is shorter, as the substance is only detectable for about three days following the use of the drug.

Hair test

It is sometimes also used. This yields the most prolonged duration but takes up to 10 days before the drug will be detectable. When hair testing is used, the substance can be detected for about 90 days after the person is used.

Half-Life Of PCP

Scientists found that the average PCP half-life in most people tends to be around three days. At this time, half of the drug that a person took will be eliminated from their bodies. However, this does not account for every single case but rather provides a general overview of the averages.

PCP False Positive Drug Screen

A false positive for PCP is possible in some cases and has been recorded multiple times in the past. This raises the question: what is this substance made of? It is essential to look at its components as there seem to be some substances that may trigger a false positive when tested individually for this particular drug.

The 2013 study on false-positive urine screens found that a PCP false positive drug test is most likely due to the use of:

  • Tramadol
  • Clonazepam
  • Alprazolam
  • Carvedilol
  • Dextromethorphan
  • Diphenhydramine

PCP Withdrawal And Detox

Symptoms will depend on individual factors such as how long the user has been using the substance, what amounts have been taken, and the age and general health of the user.
Drug users can have long-lasting effects that often make it difficult to stop using the drug once abuse has started. Treatment for phencyclidine is necessary for anyone experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

PCP Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms

Depression and memory loss are long-term symptoms that can last for as long as a year after the end of the use of the drug. The possibility of developing these symptoms and the length of their duration is primarily affected by how long the patient has used the drug.

Short-term effects of withdrawal may include elevated body temperature, seizures, and muscle breakdown. Muscle twitching, agitation, and hallucinations may also occur depending on the length of use.

Acidosis has also been reported in some users experiencing intoxication treatment.

PCP withdrawal symptoms can also include:

  • Weight loss
  • Confusion
  • Decreased reflexes
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Depression
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts

PCP Withdrawal Timeline

Because of PCP’s long term effects, the withdrawal symptoms can often be disturbing. Some of the most prevalent symptoms of withdrawal have to do with the patient being unable to process pleasure or happiness due to the receptors that trigger dopamine release inhibited by overuse. Holding the patient for a minimum of two hours’ observation after they are alert and oriented is necessary before the process can begin. If the user remains in a stupor or a coma for more than three hours, they should be held for a minimum of 24 hours.

Day 1 – 7:
The immediate withdrawal symptoms can include a user’s decrease in the ability to feel pleasure, as well as potential flashbacks or visual hallucinations that may have been prevalent during the user’s time on the drug. After all, the triggering of illusions is typically what PCP is used for. There may also be symptoms that include nausea or insomnia.

Day 7 – 30:
After a few weeks of withdrawal, users may note that visual disturbances or slight hallucinations may continue to occur. The user may notice that their reward system doesn’t function properly, which may linger for up to a month after the detox has started.

Day 30 – 60:
After many months of not using the drug, users may continue to experience cravings for it.
Visual disturbances and psychotic effects may also persist, and in some cases may worsen as time goes by. This may be heightened in cases where the angel dust drug effects are compounded because of a foreign substance being mixed with the medical drug.

PCP Detox Process

Drug addicts must seek the care of a primary care physician who is in an excellent position to diagnose, manage, and intervene with patients who are undergoing the process of treatment and recovery from drug disorders.

An angry guy is sitting with folded hands.

In addition to quarantining the user from the drug and engaging them in as much physical exercise as they can handle, it’s essential to check their urine for trace elements of the drug continually. A user must go to detox for withdrawal to help cleanse the body of the drug.

Receiving treatment for their PCP withdrawal symptoms from an accredited drug treatment facility will help users learn to manage cravings and prepare them for life free of drugs.

While conducting the stool or urine checks for narcotic elements, note that a false positive for PCP is common and should be considered.

Why should you never take this drug?

Angel dust is a particularly dangerous dissociative drug. It can cause a wide variety of harmful symptoms in users, especially those who are in their teen years. The drug can lead to hallucinations and symptoms similar to schizophrenia, such as paranoid delusions, disorganized thinking, and catatonia. Many individuals have died from accidental injury or suicide during drug abuse. During the PCP withdrawal process, these same individuals are at risk of suicide because they feel as if their feeling of euphoria is gone.

Asking for professional medical help in substance abuse rehabs is the way to reduce and prevent harmful symptoms of withdrawal. Detoxification is an essential part of the drug addiction treatment process.

Sources
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Medically Reviewed By Michael Espelin APRN
PG

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.