What Is PCP?
It has a variety of street names, including “Angel Dust”.
In some cases, either nicotine or marijuana cigarettes are dipped in a liquid containing PCP and smoked. This concoction is referred to by a number of names including “embalming fluid,” “wet,” or “fry.”
PCP is phencyclidine. Similar to ketamine, it is a dissociative anesthetic that causes:
- Out-of-body experience.
The DEA has it listed as a Schedule II drug, which means it has a high potential for abuse and may lead to severe dependence (psychological or physical).
It’s usually sold as a white powder, although colors can range from dark brown to white. The whiter it is, the purer it usually is. The brown coloration comes from the manufacturing process; it’s usually the results of unreacted chemicals, which can cause severe side effects.
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Signs and Symptoms
Signs of PCP use can include the following:
- Reduced sensitivity to pain.
- Feelings of super strength.
- Sense of invulnerability.
Hallucinations typically accompany PCP use along with distortions to a person’s sense of time and being. In some cases, the sense of a person’s self can be destroyed. Naturally, confusion abounds and logic is not present. With the loss of the self, the user may feel intense alienation — as though the world and the people in it make no sense — and feelings of depression.
In some cases, people may suffer from delusions that they are celebrities or dignitaries; they may also suddenly feel overwhelmingly scared of death.
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Effects of PCP Abuse
The effects of PCP abuse vary widely, depending on the amount of the drug that has been ingested. It’s nearly always smoked, which makes dose management very hard.
- Low doses are characterized by numbness in the hands and toes as well as general drunken-like behavior.
- Moderate doses produce partial or full anesthesia, where the person cannot move their limbs or any part of their bodies.
- High doses have the potential to cause convulsions and even death.
Unfortunately, due to the way it is manufactured and presented, it is virtually impossible to know how much of the active ingredient you have — or even if it’s really PCP.
When mixed with alcohol or benzodiazepines, the drug can cause severe respiratory depression, leading to coma and even death. However, because PCP reduces the person’s capacity to think rationally, other drugs are often ingested.
PCP is also associated with increased risk of suicide.
Tolerance and Addiction
Sustained PCP abuse can lead to tolerance and addiction. As the person takes more and more of the drug to achieve the same effects, the risks of long-term damage are heightened. It has been reported to cause psychosis in persons suffering from schizophrenia and has been noted in chronic users of PCP.
Memory loss is common, and loss of concentration and a rejection of boundaries are almost normal with continued PCP abuse.
Ultimately, the drug can cause a complete breakdown of the person’s life.
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PCP Abuse Treatment
The effects of PCP abuse and addiction are wide-ranging; however treatment is possible and PCP users tend to respond well to addiction treatment.
The first step of the process will be to safely detox off the drug. Because PCP withdrawal can induce certain symptoms that can be dangerous such as seizures, detoxing under medical supervision is important. An inpatient rehab center can provide a safe and supervised environment to detox. If a patient is hospitalized for PCP intoxication, benzodiazepines such as Valium may be used as a treatment option for sedation or for the prevention of seizures.
Once the withdrawal process is complete, addiction treatment therapy will start, either in an inpatient rehab center or as part of an outpatient treatment program.
Ongoing recovery options include sober living houses, 12-step programs, and continuing therapy. Treatment and aftercare will provide the skills and support someone in recovery will need to live a life of sobriety and prevent relapse.
Getting your loved one to a PCP rehab center can be hard, however, which is why professional interventionists can be used. If your loved one has been abusing PCP for a long time, it is usually worth hiring a professional to organize the intervention, as it can be planned and timed for maximum effect.
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- In 2015, an estimated 1.2 million people aged 12 or older were current users of hallucinogens, including PCP 1.
- PCP-related emergency room visits increased 400% between 2005 and 2011, with increases seen in both genders 2.
To learn more, visit our page, PCP History and Statistics.
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Teen PCP Abuse
PCP was a precautionary drug tale in the 1990s, so an entire generation grew up without wanting to risk its use. However, there has been a recent surge of use among teens and young adults, with “wet” or “embalming fluid” being the most common method of use. In 2015, an estimated 1.4% of high school seniors reported using it in the past year 3.
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Resources, Articles and More Information
The Council on Drug Abuse offers some great resources on PCP use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a list of facts about PCP, LSD and other hallucinogens. You can also check out the following articles for more information:
Join the conversation about substance abuse today by visiting our Forum.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables . (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51).
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2013). The DAWN Report: Emergency Department Visits Involving Phencyclidine (PCP). Rockville, MD:
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs.