PCP (phencyclidine) is a synthetic drug. It was originally given by injection as an anesthetic during the 1950s. Medical use was discontinued because after using it many patients  became:

  • agitated
  • irrational
  • delusional

PCP use was eventually limited to anesthetizing and tranquilizing large animals.

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About PCP

PCP is also known as angel dust. It produces:

  • feelings of detachment from the environment
  • a sense of separation of mind from body (dissociation)

It can also distort your sense of sight and sound.

In its pure form PCP is a white, crystalline powder that has a bitter taste. It can be mixed with dyes and is sold illegally in a variety of forms, such as:

  • tablets
  • capsules
  • coloured powders

Because PCP is relatively easy to make it is often substituted for (or mixed with) other illegal drugs. These include:

You can take PCP by:

  • mouth (orally)
  • sniffing it up the nose (snorting)
  • mixing it with water and injecting it

You can also smoke PCP by adding it to a leafy material like:

  • parsley
  • tobacco
  • oregano
  • cannabis

The effects last about 4 to 6 hours depending on how much PCP you take and how you take it.

PCP is controlled under Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Activities such as sale, possession and production of PCP are illegal unless authorized for medical, scientific or industrial purposes.

PCP is currently used in research to bring about schizophrenia in animal models.

Short-term effects of PCP

PCP use can lead to short-term mental and physical effects. The effects of PCP depend on how you take it. If you swallow it, the severity of effects depends on the amount of food in your stomach. If you smoke or snort it, PCP enters your bloodstream and brain rapidly causing immediate effects.

Mental effects

PCP can produce feelings of:

  • relaxation
  • pleasure and well-being (euphoria)

It might also trigger a “bad trip” and produce feelings like:

  • fear
  • panic
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • paranoia

Other mental effects can include:

  • inability to speak properly
  • distortion of time and space
  • a sense of being detached from your surroundings
  • feelings of weightlessness or floating (distorted body perceptions)
  • seeing or hearing things that are not really there (hallucinations or delusions)

If you take high doses of PCP you may also feel:

  • aggressive
  • depressed
  • disoriented

You can become violent and a danger to yourself and others. Those who are most at risk for violent outbursts under the influence of PCP often have a history of:

  • psychosis
  • antisocial behaviour

PCP can cause these individuals to:

  • mutilate themselves
  • kill others (homicide)
  • kill themselves (suicide)
  • die from accidents, such as drowning or vehicle crashes

Physical effects

You may also experience short-term physical effects, such as:

  • drooling
  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • blurred vision
  • increased heart rate
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abnormally low or high blood pressure
  • numbness in the arms and legs, with impaired coordination
  • irregular breathing (increased breathing rate or slow and shallow breathing)

Long-term effects of PCP

There is currently no available information about the long-term physical effects of PCP. Prolonged (chronic) use, however, has been known to produce some mental effects.

Mental effects

Long-term use may lead to symptoms, such as:

  • memory loss
  • severe anxiety and depression
  • difficulties speaking and thinking
  • spontaneous recurrence of visual distortions or emotional feelings from previous drug use (flashbacks)

These symptoms can last from months to years after the last drug use. They may even continue indefinitely.

Risks related to PCP use

If you share drug equipment such as needles and syringes, you are at increased risk of infection. Contaminated equipment can spread several serious diseases, such as

High doses of PCP may cause toxic psychosis, even if you do not have a previous history of mental illness. The effects of this resemble symptoms similar to schizophrenia. This condition can last for several days after the first dose. Sometimes, this leads to unpredictable behaviour, causing you to become a danger to yourself or others.

Taking too much PCP can possibly lead to death, by increasing the risk of overdose. Too large a dose of PCP may:

  • induce coma
  • cause overheating and convulsions

Co-use with other depressants such as alcohol or opioids, even in small doses, can be dangerous due to the sedative properties of PCP.

Staying at the scene of an overdose is important to help save the life of the person overdosing. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act provides some legal protection for individuals who witness an overdose and call 911 or their local emergency number for help.

Substance use disorders and withdrawal

PCP can be addictive. Repeated use can lead to developing a tolerance for PCP.

If you stop taking PCP abruptly after prolonged use, you may have symptoms of withdrawal. These include:

  • sweating
  • headaches
  • cravings for the drug

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