PCP - Side Effects, Effects on Brain, and Treatment

PCP is a highly addictive and dangerous dissociative drug. It can cause users to act in ways that they never would while they are sober. It can also lead to serious medical emergencies, including coma and death.
Evidence Based
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What is PCP?

Phencyclidine, better known as PCP, is an illegal, synthetic, mind-altering drug. It is a dissociative hallucinogenic, which is different from class 1 hallucinogens, such as psilocybin, LSD, peyote, and DMT.

PCP is a noncompetitive NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor antagonist and glutamate receptor antagonist. It affects the brain’s neurotransmitter systems and inhibits the reuptake of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. It also blocks NMDA receptors, which play a role in emotions, pain sensation, learning, and memory.

The effects of PCP make it possible for the brain to disconnect from “normal” sensory experiences. The drug also stimulates certain reactions in the brain, especially when taken in large doses.

Pure PCP is white crystal powder, but as a street drug tends to be mixed with contaminants that alter its color and consistency.

It goes by a variety of street names, including:

  • Angel dust
  • Love boat
  • Hog
  • Boat
  • PeaCe pill
  • Dust
  • Rocket fuel
  • Embalming fluid

PCP is taken in capsule, tablet, or powder form and smoked, taken orally, injected, or snorted. It can also be blended with marijuana and smoked in a joint. Some people call this combination whacko or whacky tobacco, supergrass, or superweed.

Using PCP causes hallucinations or distortion in your perception of reality. Users experience unusual sounds, colors, and sights, and perceive changes in their surroundings that are not occurring.

PCP was originally developed in the 1950s and used as an IV anesthetic. It was later replaced by Ketamine when doctors determined that PCP use led to serious neurotoxic risks. Patients given the drug experienced agitation, mania, and hallucinations. The suspension of all legal PCP manufacturing occurred in 1979 and the drug is now only made in illegal drug labs.

Graphic human body showing symptoms.

Side Effects of PCP

PCP is a dangerous drug that triggers serious side effects, even in small amounts. Users tend to feel detached from their surroundings and experience hallucinations and changes in perception. Additionally, the use of the drug can lead to mood disorders or amnesia.

Other side effects of PCP include:

  • Numbness in the extremities
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Increased sense of strength or invincibility
  • Rapid, involuntary eye movement
  • Exaggerated gate (taking big steps while walking)

PCP users sometimes experience elevated negative side effects, sometimes called a “bad trip.” Bad trips might induce paranoia, hostility, anxiety, and a feeling of impending doom. The experience tends to mimic the symptoms of schizophrenia.

In addition to the psychological effects of PCP, users who take a small to moderate dose of the drug also experience physical symptoms including:

  • Increase in breathing rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated pulse rate
  • Flushing and sweating
  • Shallow breathing

Users who take a high dose of PCP can experience more severe side effects, including:

  • Decreased breathing rate or problems breathing
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decreased pulse rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Blurred vision
  • Flicking of the eyes
  • Dizziness and problems with balance
  • Memory loss
  • Amnesia
  • Pain and anxiety
  • Inability to move
  • Mood swings
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Violent or suicidal tendencies
Head filled with brain with a bandage

How Does PCP Affect the Brain?

People using PCP, especially in high doses, tend to experience delusions and hallucinations which can lead to fatal mistakes in judgment. The drug affects the brain chemical glutamate, which regulates pain perception and response to one’s environment. Because of this, people using the drug might feel invincible, threatened, or under attack and act on their false beliefs.

It would not be out of the norm for a PCP user to do something that would be unheard of for a sober person to do, such as jumping out of a window or walking in front of a moving vehicle. Decisions are made based on false perceptions that, when combined with a reduced sense of pain and overall distortion of reality, can be fatal.

PCP users who take the drug intravenously are at risk of contracting hepatitis and HIV and other infectious diseases.

Users who mix the drug with other central nervous system depressants, including alcohol or benzodiazepines, are at risk for coma and overdose.

The effects of PCP tend to last between four and six hours. Long-term use of PCP also leads to health problems, including:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty with speech and learning
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
Icon of transparent brain showing mental health.

Is PCP Addictive?

Though some hallucinogens are not believed to be addictive, as a dissociative drug, PCP is addictive. PCP addiction symptoms include psychological dependence on the drug and physical cravings.

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PCP Treatment

There are no FDA-approved medications or treatments for PCP addiction. Those with a PCP addiction typically undergo a medically supervised detoxification process followed by different types of supportive therapy for addiction.

Detoxification, or detox, refers to the cleansing of toxins from the body. This phase typically includes symptoms, such as:

  • Cravings
  • Increased appetite
  • Sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Sweating

People addicted to the drug typically receive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and other counseling to help with recovery. However, despite success in some cases, more research is needed to determine what treatment is most effective for addictions to PCP and other hallucinogens.

PCP causes users to feel out of control or disconnected from their body and environment. This can lead to violent actions and a higher chance of putting themselves or others at risk.


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Resources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Hallucinogens.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2018, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens

Davis, FNP, Kathleen. “PCP (Phencyclidine): Facts, Effects and Health Risks.” Www.Medicalnewstoday.Com, 12 Oct. 2017, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/305328

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
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Medically Reviewed: March 7, 2020
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Annamarie Coy

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