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Rehab and Treatment for PCP Drug Addiction and Abuse
Phencyclidine, better known as PCP, is a once widely abused drug with powerful dissociative and hallucinogenic properties. Though previously developed and marketed as a surgical anesthetic, PCP is now a Schedule I drug, with known abuse potential and no legitimate medical uses. The effects of PCP vary greatly depending upon the purity and amount used, with side effects ranging from a pleasant sensory disconnection to coma or even death.1
PCP is abused for its hallucinogenic and dissociative properties, and it can cause profound mind-altering effects.2 Street names include angel dust due its dusty appearance when sprayed onto plant material (e.g., tobacco) to be smoked—the most popular method of use.2 Understanding the drug, its effects, its risks of use, and treatment options are important steps in the fight against PCP use and abuse, whether for yourself or a loved one.
What Is PCP?
PCP is a dangerous, man-made, illegal drug. First introduced in the 1950s as an anesthetic for surgery, it was later used as a veterinary tranquilizer.1 The drug was discontinued from medical use after it was noted that patients were experiencing adverse mental health effects when they would emerge from surgery.3 Today, PCP is not legally made in the U.S. and has no approved medical uses.
Effects of the drug vary from user to user, compounding the threat of unforeseen health complications and even death.Recreational PCP use declined in the late 1980s and 1990s, but has experienced an increase in popularity in recent years.2 Effects of the drug vary from user to user, compounding the threat of unforeseen health complications and even death. Emergency department visits related to PCP increased more than 400% between 2005 and 2011 (from 14,825 to 75,538), demonstrating the recent resurgence in popularity of the drug. 4
PCP is a white powder in its pure state; however, street forms may have a yellow or brownish tint due to the illegal manufacturing process.1 PCP has a distinct ammonia-like odor, which is so strong that the term “embalming fluid” was added as a common PCP street name.2 Other common street names for PCP include:1,2
- Angel Dust.
- Peace Pills.
- Sherm, or Shermans.
When mixed with marijuana, common PCP street names include:1,2
- Killer Joints.
- Super Grass.
PCP can be snorted, injected, smoked, or ingested.2 Smoking is the preferred method. To smoke PCP, most users will take a leafy material, such as mint, oregano, tobacco, or marijuana, and saturate it with PCP.2 The leaves are then rolled into a joint or cigarette and smoked. The street name for this is a dipper.2
PCP provides rapid effects to the user. If PCP is smoked or injected into a vein, the user will feel the effects in as little as 2 to 5 minutes, with a peak or optimal effect at 15 to 30 minutes.5 When PCP is swallowed, the effects are much slower, with the first signs occurring in about 30 minutes and effects peaking between 2 and 5 hours.5
What Are the Effects?
As a dissociative drug, PCP distorts the sights and sounds that the user experiences and provides a feeling of disconnection from the body and reality.2 This disconnected feeling is often referred to as a “trip” by users, and is accompanied by hallucinations.
This feeling of being separate from the world around them and even themselves can make PCP users appear distant to family and friends. When under the effects of the drug, they may stare off in the distance and not react to their surroundings. With continued use, they may withdraw from hobbies they once enjoyed or things that were previously important to them.
Side Effects and Consequences
While the dissociative and hallucinogenic effects of PCP may be pleasurable, the drug is also associated with negative, potentially dangerous side effects, as well as social consequences. These side effects vary depending on dosage and length of time the drug is used.1 Some typical side effects seen in PCP users include:1,2
- Sedation. PCP suppresses certain brain activity, causing the user to become drowsy.
- Immobility. The anesthetic qualities of PCP may cause the user to be unable to move.
- Amnesia. Amnesia is the partial or total loss of memory.
- Feelings of detachment. As part of the dissociative effects of the drug, users may feel or appear disconnected from their environment and even themselves.
- Numbness. The analgesic effect of the drug may give the user a feeling of numbness, or lack of feeling in the body.
- Slurred speech. PCP broadly affects several brain processes and motor function, which could cause the speech to sound slurred or garbled.
- Loss of coordination. The cerebellum, which is part of the brain, controls coordination of the bones and muscles of the body. As PCP affects the function of this region of the brain, the user may appear clumsy or lack coordination.
- False sense of strength. People under the influence of PCP may have an elevated sense of their own physical strength and abilities, or seem unaware of dangers and limitations they face in physical confrontations.
- Blank stare, or rapid/involuntary eye movements. This is one of the most observable effects of PCP.
- Catatonia. PCP users appear to be in a stupor, or lack movement and engagement. This is similar to the catatonic posturing that occurs in people with schizophrenia.
- Hallucinations. PCP users may see or hear things that are not real, which could cause violent outbursts, especially in people with a history of mental health disorders.
- Variations in blood pressure. Blood pressure may be abnormally low or high, or alternate between the two extremes.
- Fast or irregular heartbeat. Elevated heart rate may be accompanied by rapid, shallow breathing and increased body temperature.
PCP can impair memory and thinking in long-term users, and may cause memory, reasoning ability, judgment, and common sense to fade.1,2 Additional symptoms of long-term PCP use include:2
- Persistent speech difficulties.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Social withdrawal.
PCP users may withdraw from life, including work, relationships, and hobbies, especially if their drug use progresses to addiction. Long-term PCP abuse can also bring about social consequences due to the change in the user’s behavior. Violent outbursts or erratic actions might lead to entanglements with law enforcement and strain personal relationships. Illegal activity associated with buying, selling, or consuming the drug could result in heavy fines or jail time. And excessive use of the drug may also cause the person to be unable to perform key duties at work or school, causing setbacks or financial difficulties.
PCP users may withdraw from life, including work, relationships, and hobbies, especially if their drug use progresses to addiction. Their behavior may concern family and friends who are unaware of the extent of the person’s drug use or addiction. Watching a loved one develop an addiction is difficult, confusing, and scary.
Observable Signs and Symptoms
When someone begins using drugs, close family and friends may notice both physical and emotional changes. Recognizing these changes and being concerned enough to help the user is a very important step in getting them the help they need.
There are some common physical and behavioral changes you may witness if a family member, friend, or loved one is using PCP.
Physical signs include:1
- Decreased responsiveness.
- Disorientation to time and place.
- Agitation, excitement, or self-harming behavior.
- Slurred speech.
- Open eyes with a blank stare.
- Rapid, uncontrolled movement of the eyes.
- Uncoordinated body movements.
- Restlessness or fidgety behavior.
- Increased salivation; drooling.
- Nausea and vomiting.
Behavioral symptoms include:1
- Social withdrawal.
- Violent outbursts.
Overdose and Other Dangers
Mixing these substances can result in coma or death.
The effects of PCP can vary greatly from one use to the next and from user to user. High doses of PCP can cause seizures, coma, and even death from overdose.6 Most deaths and emergency room visits related to PCP use, however, are the result of accidental injury or suicide related to hallucinations produced while on the drug.1,6 PCP users may experience violent outbursts and could pose a threat to themselves or others around them.
PCP can have sedative effects, slowing both the heart and rate of breathing. These effects are compounded when PCP is used in addition to other sedatives like alcohol or benzodiazepines.6 Mixing these substances can result in coma or death due to depression of the central nervous system.
Getting Treatment for Drug Abuse
While not much research exists specific to PCP addiction, treatment options exist for abuse or dependence on all types of illicit drugs, including PCP. People who have built up a tolerance to PCP (meaning they need to take higher doses of the drug in order to feel the same desired effects) or experience intense cravings when they try to stop using may benefit from professional drug rehabilitation.
Rehab is typically conducted in 4 phases:
- A patient intake and assessment, in which medical staff screen the patient for severity of their drug abuse and/or addiction plus other factors such as any medical conditions or mental health challenges that may need to be addressed in addition to the drug use.
- A detoxification period that commences after all drug use has stopped. During this period, rehab staff monitor patients for withdrawal symptoms or other complications, changing the treatment approach and administering medications as needed.
- The addiction treatment phase consists of therapeutic methods specific to the patient’s needs. This period generally lasts for 30–90 days and includes individual counseling, group therapy, and other methods depending on the facility. Patients learn the skills needed to manage cravings, identify triggers for their drug use, and form positive coping skills.
- An aftercare plan is then developed to help the patient prevent relapse and re-integrate into their daily life without falling back on the crutch of drug use. Aftercare can be a life-long process and often includes regular follow-ups with a drug counselor and participation in a 12-step program like Narcotics Anonymous.
There are many approaches to addiction treatment, including:
- Inpatient Treatment. Inpatient treatment may be beneficial for PCP users at risk of experiencing intense cravings or those who have other medical or psychological issues that need to be monitored closely by a team of healthcare professionals. Patients live at the facility 24 hours per day to receive detox, therapy, and other healthcare.
- Outpatient Treatment. Ideal for users who have a strong support system of family and friends, outpatient treatment consists of intensive office visits at the rehab facility and allows patients to continue living in their own homes. The user will attend therapy and check-ins with a counselor or other healthcare professional periodically, depending on the progress made and any health or mental health needs.
- Partial Hospitalization. Also known as a day program, this treatment requires the user to attend a facility for therapy and health needs during the day. They then spend their nights at home. This provides a sense of community with others in the rehab program, but also gives the user the autonomy to be on his or her own in the evenings.
- Group Counseling. Group counseling consists of attending group sessions with other recovering drug users and a therapist or counselor who leads the group. In group counseling, participants discuss reasons for their drug use and strategies for recovery. Group members learn about the risk of relapse and how to prevent relapse. Success varies on the willingness of the user to participate in the group counseling.
- Individual Counseling. Individual counseling consists of attending a therapy session one-on-one with a therapist or counselor. This is more intensive than group therapy. The therapist will lead conversations to discuss the reasons for drug use and ways to recover. Skills are taught to avoid relapse and remain healthy.
- 12-Step Programs. These programs are centered on a desire for fellowship and peer support while recovering from addiction. The 12-step process assists users in understanding the power of addiction and helps them move into a state of mental and physical health.
The effects of PCP are strong, but substance abuse can be overcome with the proper treatment. Many patients find that connecting with others who understand what they’re going through assists them in staying drug free. This can be met by attending aftercare programs and support groups. The support of friends and family is also important and will help the user to continue on the path toward a healthier, happier life.
- University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Phencyclidine (PCP).
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). Phencyclidine.
- Bey T., Patel A. (2007). Phencyclidine Intoxication and Adverse Effects: A Clinical and Pharmacological Review of an Illicit Drug. Cal J Emerg Med. 8(1):9–14.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2013). The DAWN Report: Emergency Department Visits Involving Phencyclidine (PCP).
- S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Substance use – phencyclidine (PCP).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2009). Hallucinogens: LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, PCP.