PCP or phencyclidine is a crystalline synthetic illegal substance that offers anesthetic properties. PCP was originally developed as a surgical anesthetic under the name Sernyl in the 1950’s but was never used in medicine due to bizarre and seriously negative side effects that included agitation, delusions and irrational thinking.
PCP, a Schedule II controlled substance, produces its hallucinogenic effects as a NMDA receptor antagonist in the brain that blocks the activity of NMDA receptors in the brain and is significantly more dangerous than other categories of hallucinogens, such as ketamine (“Special K”), nitrous oxide (“whippets”), tileamine, and the cough-suppressant dextromethorphan. Used recreationally, the sedating effects of PCP, known on the streets as “angel dust,” “illy,” and “wet,” lead to a trance-like state during which people feel detached from their bodies and the environment around them. Many people who use PCP report feeling as if they are observing themselves from up above.
PCP may take the form of a tablet, capsule or colored powder. Most frequently sold on the streets as a powder or liquid it is abused by swallowing, snorting, smoking or injecting. The strong taste of PCP is masked by applying it to herbs such as the leaves of mint, oregano, parsley or tobacco. Sometimes PCP is applied to marijuana leaves to create a more potent effect.
Unfortunately, PCP is also a very addictive drug, which further increases the negative consequences associated with its use. Individuals who abuse PCP will develop a tolerance to the drug, and if they quit using, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. Once an addiction to PCP has developed, it can be extremely challenging to overcome without effective professional help.
For individuals 12 and older the previous year prevalence rate was estimated at 0.10% while the lifetime prevalence rate was estimated at 2.5%. However, there appears to be a significant age difference in use of this substance.
For adolescents ages 12-17 the estimated prevalence rate for the past year was 0.20% while the lifetime prevalence rate was estimated at 0.40%. For young adults ages 18 to 25 the past month estimate was 0.2% while the lifetime estimate was 1%. Finally, for those ages 26 or older estimates for the past year prevalence rate was 0.00% while the lifetime estimate was estimated at 3.00%.
PCP addiction and abuse commonly occurs with a number of different disorders. These co-occurring disorders include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance Abuse
Causes of PHP Abuse
Genetic: Those who have a first-degree relative who abuses drugs are more likely to abuse drugs than others without a similar family history. While there is only limited research related to hallucinogens, there is some support suggesting that those with a first-degree relative who used hallucinogens is at greater risk for abusing hallucinogens.
Brain Chemistry: PCP, like all drugs of addiction, affects the brain’s reward center. Under normal circumstances the brain responds to situations that are pleasurable by releasing the dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for communication within the brain. PCP among other drugs, interferes with the communication process, causing the neurons in the brain to flood the brain with dopamine. The increased amount and length of dopamine flooding is what causes the high associated with taking PCP.
Brain Chemical Imbalances: Sometimes individuals have certain chemical imbalances with the brain. Some individuals have chemical imbalances that lead to lower levels of pleasure or increased negative mood states. When individuals come into contact with a substance that improves these states and creates pleasure it is very difficult to decide to return to the former state.
Environmental: While it is clear that there is a genetic predisposition to developing drug-related disorders including PCP abuse, this does not mean that everyone with the predisposition will develop such a disorder. Research shows that life stressors and other environmental influences account for about 50% of the risk that someone with such a predisposition will go on to develop the disorder.
- Psychological cravings
- Continued use despite awareness that it is resulting in psychological problems
- Sedation or becoming overly calm
- Mood swings
- Intense anger
- Drug is used in higher doses or more frequently than intended
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut down
- The individual spends a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from PHP
- Inability to fulfill major life responsibilities
- Important activities given up due to the use of PCP Loss of important relationships
- Unusual behavior results in individuals ostracizing the individual
- Social withdrawal due to odd perceptions of others and living in a dreamlike state which precludes the ability to interact
- Loss of relationships due to arguments over drug use
- Consequences of drug intoxication
- Physical fights
- Physical cravings
- Continued use despite being aware that it is resulting in physiological problems
- Tolerance or the need for increasing amounts of the drug to produce the desired feelings
- Slurred speech
- Blank, wall-eyed stare
- Tachycardia Muscle spasms
- Lung secretions
- Inability to make decision
- Lack of motivation
- Getting caught up in a delusional system to the point the individual believes that is reality all the time
- Difficulty paying attention
The effects of long-term PCP addiction and abuse affect nearly every aspect of an individual’s life. Some of the effects of PCP use and abuse include:
- Feeling numb
- Lack of coordination
- Darting eye movements
- Auditory hallucinations
- Feeling invincible
- Feeling of no pain
- Willingness to harm self
- Lacks rational judgement
- Memory loss
- Sense of impending doom
- Extreme violence
- Intense aggression
- Brain damage
- Suicidal thoughts
Withdrawal from PCP is a very dangerous process that should only be performed under the careful supervision of trained medical professionals. Withdrawal symptoms of PCP include the following:
- Decreased reflexes
- Weight loss
- Memory loss
- Speech difficulties
- Lack of impulse control