The Effects of PCP Use
What Is PCP?
PCP abbreviation for the powerful, dissociative sedative drug phencyclidine. PCP is found sold on the street in many forms including:
- White powder.
The tablets can be found in multiple colors and, like many illicit substances, are distributed in difficult to determine doses--frequently mixed with other intoxicating substances. The various forms can be swallowed, snorted, or smoked either alone or in combination with other drugs like tobacco, marijuana, and MDMA.
Where Did PCP Come From?
The history of this chemical substance dates back to the 1920s when it was initially developed. In the 1950s, PCP was administered intravenously, as a surgical anesthetic. Due to a number of unwanted side effects, it fell out of favor as a substance with practical medical use. Today, pharmaceutical PCP is only rarely as a veterinary tranquilizer. Currently, the drug continues to be manufactured in small amounts for research and testing, but the majority of the drug is manufactured illegally.
Learn more at our article, PCP History and Statistics.
The short-term effects of PCP vary depending on the particular dose taken as well as the route of administration used. As an example - when the drug is smoked - the effects will begin in as few as 2 minutes.
Swallowing the drug slows the absorption and results in the onset of effects delayed until about 30 - 60 minutes.
In either case, the effects may last for as few as 4 hours and as many as 48 hours depending on the amount used.
Like its chemical cousin, ketamine, PCP is a dissociative sedative-anesthetic drug. It has hallucinogenic properties, however--meaning that it is known to produce visual and auditory distortions, as well as perceptual changes. PCP's dissociative effects can result in an individual feeling detached from themselves or the world around them. While under the influence of PCP, someone might feel temporarily divorced from reality, or that their body is not their own.
Dosage and PCP's Effects
A low dose of PCP between 1 and 5 mg will lead to symptoms including:
- Numbness and relaxation.
- A sense of well-being and euphoria.
- Problems concentrating.
- Slurred speech.
- Loss of motor coordination.
- Misperceptions of abilities including strength, speed, and invulnerability.
- Odd, erratic, or unexpected behaviors.
Someone witnessing the effects of PCP use may observe the person staring blankly or showing rapid eye movements. In some cases, the person using PCP will be perfectly still for long periods without responding to stimulation.
A higher dose of PCP can lead to other effects including:
- Seeing things that are not present.
- Hearing things that are not there.
- Delusions of grandeur with inflated sense of importance.
- Higher blood pressure and heart rate.
- Breathing problems.
- Raised body temperature.
- Anxiety, panic, and feeling extreme worry.
With excessive use of PCP over an extended period of time, the negative effects of PCP become more troublesome, and may persist for periods even when the drug isn't actively being taken.
They can begin negatively impacting the mental and physical health of the PCP user. These effects include:
- Impaired memory.
- Thinking problems and impaired decision-making abilities.
- Speech problems.
- Severe depression with suicidal thoughts.
- Higher anxiety, paranoia, and isolation.
- Extreme weight loss.
- "Flashback" phenomena.
- Continuous hallucinations and delusional thinking even when not using the substance.
These long-term effects can be quite dangerous; case studies indicate that some of these reported symptoms may persist for as long as a year following last use of PCP.
Is PCP Harmful?
While under the influence of PCP, people are more likely to act aggressively or violently against others or themselves.
Perhaps deservedly so, PCP has developed a very negative reputation based on reports of what can happen to those under the influence of the drug. People are more likely to act aggressively or violently against others or themselves. The incidence of such behaviors may be more common in people with a history of mental health issues.
People using PCP often overestimate their abilities or think themselves impervious to harm, which can lead to accidental injuries and death. For example, someone will think they can cross a street quickly enough to avoid the traffic, only to be hit by a car.
While using PCP, people may misinterpret and distort calm situations as confrontational and respond with violence, and since they are perceiving pain inaccurately, the violence could end with serious physical injuries.
Another level of danger from PCP is that the substance is easily mixed with other drugs like marijuana or tobacco. In powder form, PCP can be used to "lace" marijuana or tobacco prior to being smoked. Similarly, a cigarette can be dipped into liquid PCP to produce a more covert way of using the drug.
Some people - intent on purchasing ecstasy or MDMA - are deceived, and instead given pills that combine PCP and other substances including ketamine, caffeine, or methamphetamine.
Like many drugs with sedating or tranquilizing properties, PCP can be an addictive substance. People that use PCP consistently will begin craving the drug and will likely engage in risky, dangerous, or illegal behaviors to acquire and use more of the substance.
Physiologic dependency becomes an issue with extended PCP use. When dependency develops, the user's body has grown accustomed to the effects of the drug, and will function or will be perceived by the dependent individual to function sub-optimally without it.
PCP Addiction Treatment
There are a number of options that can benefit someone struggling with an addiction to PCP. Seeking professional advice is always the appropriate course of action if you, or someone you know, is negatively impacted by abuse of PCP.
Depending on your situation, a range of treatments can be helpful including:
- Inpatient detoxification or rehabilitation services. After the immediate presence and influence of the drug relinquishes its hold, inpatient or residential programs continue seamless transition into a mode of intensive therapy. Furthermore, the inpatient environment allows individuals to focus sole attention towards their recoveries--free of the distractions and temptations they might contend with in their native environment. A combination of individual and group therapies will aid in this process. During your stay, you may see a doctor that can prescribe helpful medication to manage withdrawal symptoms to increase your chance of success.
- Outpatient drug and alcohol or mental health treatment. If the inpatient path is not best for you, you can find benefit in the outpatient setting. As opposed to inpatient, where you will stay at the treatment facility, outpatient services permit you to sleep at home. Programs will vary with options ranging from intensive, all-day programs to weekly hour-long appointments.
Whatever your situation, be sure to follow the treatment recommendations of the professionals to help ensure that you get the level of care that fits with your needs.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). Phencyclidine.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Hallucinogens.