Commonly referred to as angel dust, phencyclidine, or PCP, is a powerful synthetic drug that is considered to be one of the most dangerous substances to abuse. It has been associated with violent, hostile behavior and psychosis.
When someone uses PCP in a sustained manner, they will develop disturbing symptoms that point to the presence of dependence or addiction. If the substance use disorder is not addressed and treated, the individual will be vulnerable to overdose, accidents, homicide and suicide.
What is PCP?
PCP was first developed in the 1950s as a surgical anesthetic, but was discontinued in 1965 due to the psychedelic effects observed in patients. Those effects included delusions, out-of-body experiences, hallucinations, dissociation, and irrationality. PCP is now designated as a Schedule II controlled substance due to its potential for addiction and abuse.
PCP is sold in powder form, varying in color from white to dark brown. Generally, the whiter the power, the purer the drug. PCP can be ingested in various ways, including orally in pill form, smoked, or snorted, although it is most often smoked. In recent years, vaping products have been produced that are dipped in a liquid form of PCP, a concoction called “embalming fluid” or “wet.”
The effects of PCP will vary depending on the purity of the product, how it was ingested, and how much was ingested. Common effects last from 4-6 hours and include:
- Numbness in arms and legs
- Sensory distortions
- Feelings of detachment
- Hostile or aggressive behavior
- Mood swings
- Impaired motor skills
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shallow breathing
PCP interacts with the neurotransmitter systems in the brain, inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. It can also block NMDA receptors, which inhibits the action of glutamate.
When someone ingests too much PCP, it becomes a medical emergency and immediate intervention is required. Someone not properly trained to apply treatment measures to someone on PCP should not attempt to do so. Instead, maintain a safe distance, reduce environmental noise or stimulation, and call for emergency help.
Signs of a PCP overdose vary dramatically. In some individuals, the toxic dose can cause a very lethargic, even comatose state. In other cases, the person becomes hyperactive and displays signs of paranoid delusions or hallucinations. Some of the signs of overdose include:
- Agitation, aggression, hostility
- Uncontrolled side-to-side eye movements
- Inability to control movements
- Severe hallucinations or delusions
- A catatonic or comatose state
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced body temperature
- Irregular or slow pulse
Signs of a PCP Addiction
Although overall PCP use has dropped dramatically since the late 1970s, the vaping trend has introduced the dangerous drug to a new generation. Another method of use that is popular among young people is soaking cigarettes in PCP.
When someone uses PCP for an extended period, tolerance increases and prompts increased usage. Over time, addiction can take hold. Signs of PCP addiction include:
- Memory loss
- Weight loss
- Speech problems
- Hostile moods and behavior
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Sleeping at odd times
- Isolation from friends and family
- Decline in hygiene and self-care
- Relationship issues
- Frequent mood swings
- Feelings of impending doom
If you or a loved one has developed a PCP addiction, there is hope. A comprehensive treatment program supports the individual through the withdrawal management phase first, and then provides a wide range of therapeutic activities to help them overcome the PCP use disorder. Following treatment, continuing care actions help to further reinforce a new life in recovery.