Medically reviewed: April 10, 2018
What is phencyclidine?
Phencyclidine (PCP) was developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic but, due to the side effects of confusion and delirium, its development for human medical use was discontinued.
In its pure form, it is a white crystalline powder that readily dissolves in water or alcohol and has a distinctive bitter chemical taste. On the illicit drug market, Phencyclidine contains a number of contaminants as a result of makeshift manufacturing, causing the color to range from tan to brown, and the consistency to range from powder to a gummy mass. It is available in a variety of tablets, capsules, and colored powders, which are either taken orally or snorted. The liquid form of phencyclidine is actually phencyclidine base dissolved most often in ether, a highly flammable solvent. For smoking, phencyclidine is typically sprayed onto leafy material such as mint, parsley, oregano, or marijuana.
Phencyclidine is illicitly marketed under a number of street names including Angel Dust, Hog, Lovely, Wack, Embalming Fluid, and Rocket Fuel, which reflect the range of bizarre and volatile effects. Supergrass and Killer Joints are names that refer to phencyclidine combined with marijuana.
Effects of Phencyclidine Use
A moderate amount of phencyclidine often causes users to feel detached, distant, and estranged from their surroundings. Numbness of the extremities, slurred speech, and loss of coordination may be accompanied by a sense of strength and invulnerability. A blank stare, rapid and involuntary eye movements, and an exaggerated gait are among the more observable effects. Auditory hallucinations, image distortion, severe mood disorders, and amnesia may also occur. In some users, phencyclidine may cause acute anxiety and a feeling of impending doom; in others, paranoia and violent hostility, and in some, it may produce a psychoses indistinguishable from schizophrenia. Many believe phencyclidine to be one of the most dangerous drugs of abuse.
Physiological effects of phencyclidine include a slight increase in breathing rate and a more pronounced rise in blood pressure and pulse rate. Respiration becomes shallow, and flushing and profuse sweating.
At high doses of phencyclidine, there is a drop in blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration. This may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, flicking up and down of the eyes, drooling, loss of balance, and dizziness. High doses of phencyclidine can also cause seizures, coma, and death (though death more often results from accidental injury or suicide during phencyclidine intoxication). Psychological effects at high doses include illusions and hallucinations.
Phencyclidine is addictive and its use often leads to psychological dependence, craving, and compulsive phencyclidine-seeking behavior. Users of phencyclidine report memory loss, difficulties with speech and learning, depression, and weight loss. These symptoms can persist up to a year after cessation of phencyclidine use. Phencyclidine has sedative effects, and interactions with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, can lead to coma or accidental overdose. Use of phencyclidine among adolescents may interfere with hormones related to normal growth and development.
Many phencyclidine users are brought to emergency rooms because of phencyclidine's unpleasant psychological effects or because of overdoses. In a hospital or detention setting, they often become violent or suicidal, and are very dangerous to themselves and to others. They should be kept in a calm setting and should not be left alone.
Extent of Phencyclidine UseAccording to the 1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), 3.2 percent of the population aged 12 and older have used phencyclidine at least once. Lifetime use of phencyclidine was higher among those aged 26 through 34 (4.2 percent) than for those 18 through 25 (2.3 percent) and those 12 through 17 (1.2 percent).
The 1997 Monitoring the Future Study (MTF) shows that use of phencyclidine by high school seniors has declined steadily since 1979, when 7.0 percent of seniors had used phencyclidine in the year preceding the survey. In 1997, however, 2.3 percent of seniors used phencyclidine at least once in the past year, up from a low of 1.2 percent in 1990. Past month use among seniors decreased from 1.3 percent in 1996 to 0.7 percent in 1997.
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