PCP Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources

Updated On: Jan 13, 2024
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    Phencyclidine, or PCP, is a powerful hallucinogenic substance that has gained notoriety for its mind-altering effects and potential for addiction. Commonly known as “angel dust,” PCP was initially developed as an anesthetic but was later discontinued in medical settings due to its alarming side effects. Despite its restricted medical use, PCP remains a dangerous substance that can lead to several physical and psychological issues when misused.

    What is PCP?

    PCP is a potent dissociative hallucinogenic. In the 1950s, it was developed as an intravenous anesthetic.[1] However, due to its severe and unpredictable side effects—which include hallucinations, agitation, and delirium—its medical use was discontinued in the ensuing years. Since then, PCP has widely been utilized as an illegal street drug, owing to its potential to induce euphoric states and a sense of invulnerability.[2,3]

    According to data reported in the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, an estimated 6 million US residents over the age of 12 have used PCP at least once in their lifetime, with 225,000 individuals between 12 and 17 and 777,000 individuals between 18 to 25 using the drug at least once.

    The DEA Controlled Substances Act lists PCP as a Schedule II controlled substance. This categorizes PCP as a substance with a high potential for abuse and limited modern medical applications.[4] Some common street nicknames for PCP include angel dust, ozone, rocket fuel, and sherm.

    Side Effects of PCP

    PCP is known for inducing a wide array of effects on perception, cognition, and behavior. It can lead to distorted sensory perceptions, dissociation from one’s environment and body, and altered thought processes. The drug’s effects can vary widely, ranging from euphoria and a sense of detachment to extreme anxiety, paranoia, and violent behavior. It can often induce slurred speech and issues with balance in the short term.

    Taken long-term, PCP can lead to a host of negative health consequences, including:

    • Injuries resulting from actions taken while under the influence
    • Catatonia
    • Long-term delusions or paranoia
    • Weight loss
    • Memory loss
    • Increased risk for seizures and coma
    • Risk for overdose
    • Cognitive impairments

    How is PCP Taken?

    PCP is commonly sold in liquid and powdered forms, though it can also be used as a tablet. It can be ingested in various ways, including smoking, snorting, or mixed with liquid for oral consumption. PCP is often combined with marijuana to be smoked, which is sometimes referred to as a “super joint.”

    Intoxicating effects can take hold within 2 to 5 minutes after smoking the substance and within 60 minutes after swallowing. The high can last from between 4 to 8 hours.[5]

    PCP Quick Reference

    Drug Category Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration
    Stimulant Uppers Schedule II Oral, snorted, injected, smoked

    Learn About Other Substance Use Disorders

    Statistics on PCP Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    Emergency department visits involving the ingestion of PCP increased over 400% in the previous decades, with 45% of these visits involving individuals between the ages of 25 to 34. Nearly half of PCP-related ER visits also involved other illicit substances.[6]

    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 2.6% of people aged 12 or older (which equals approximately 7.4 million people in the US) used hallucinogens in 2021. The highest percentage of hallucinogens users are between the ages of 18 and 25.[7]

    Effects of PCP Abuse

    PCP abuse can lead to a wide range of negative effects, many of which are highly unpredictable and potentially dangerous. The strength and type of effects can vary depending on several factors such as the amount taken and the individual’s unique physiology.

    Some of the effects of PCP abuse include:

    • Hallucinations
    • Dissociation
    • Distorted sensory perception
    • Agitation and restlessness
    • Aggression or violence
    • Impaired judgment
    • Memory issues
    • Lack of sensation for pain
    • Speech and motor impairment
    • Depersonalization
    • Psychotic episodes
    • High blood pressure
    • Increased heart rate

    Additionally, individuals who abuse PCP are at risk of severe psychological distress, accidents, acts of self-harm, and potential overdose.

    Can You Overdose on PCP?

    Yes, overdosing on PCP is possible, especially when consumed in large doses. Due to the lack of dose regulation in recreational settings, the risk of overdose is significant.

    Signs and Symptoms of PCP Overdose

    Some of the symptoms of a PCP overdose can include:[8]

    • Agitation
    • Convulsions
    • Seizures
    • Uncontrolled movements
    • Lack of coordination
    • Coma

    What to do if you suspect someone is overdosing on PCP:

    If you suspect someone of overdosing on PCP call 911 immediately, as an overdose can be fatal.

    Dangers of Long-Term PCP Use

    The dangers of long-term PCP use can have a lasting impact on a person’s physical and mental health. Chronic usage can lead to severe cognitive impairments and memory loss, in addition to the dangers presented by developing tolerance and the risk of potential overdose.

    Furthermore, long-term users may experience significant mood disturbances, including anxiety, depression, and violent behavior, and may experience strong cravings to use and extreme difficulty in stopping on their own.

    Mixing PCP with Other Drugs

    Mixing PCP with other drugs is a common practice, which is commonly referred to as “dipping” a substance in PCP. Combining marijuana with PCP is frequently seen as a way to increase the high individuals feel, which can have severe consequences.[9]

    Combining PCP with sedatives or depressants (such as alcohol) can be particularly problematic, as these substances amplify one another’s effects and can lead to an overdose, during which the individual lapses into a coma, or dies.

    PCP Addiction and Abuse

    According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), an individual can be diagnosed with phencyclidine (PCP) use disorder if they meet at least 2 of the following criteria within the previous year:[10]

    • PCP is frequently ingested in increasing quantities or for longer periods of time than originally intended
    • There is a frequent urge and/or unsuccessful attempts to decrease or better-manage PCP usage
    • Substantial time is given to activities necessary to acquire PCP, use PCP, or recover from its effects
    • Experiencing cravings to use PCP
    • Ongoing PCP usage leading to an inability to engage with one’s responsibilities across several domains (work, school, home, etc.)
    • Ongoing PCP usage despite negative social and interpersonal issues either arising from or worsening from the substance
    • Important recreational, professional, or social activities are curtailed or stopped as a direct result of PCP
    • Frequent PCP usage occurs within the context of circumstances in which physical harm is possible (e.g., operating a motor vehicle)
    • PCP use continues despite an awareness of having an ongoing physical or mental health condition which is likely worsened by the substance
    • Tolerance, as characterized by either of the following:
    • A need to use increasing amounts of PCP to achieve the desired effect
    • A significantly reduced effect with sustained usage of the same amount of PCP

    Is PCP Addictive?

    Yes, PCP is psychologically addictive and may cause individuals to struggle with cessation after prolonged periods of use, triggering withdrawal. PCP is considered to be extremely psychologically addictive, with many individuals reporting uncomfortable and difficult signs of withdrawal after ceasing their usage.

    Signs of Addiction to PCP

    Individuals who have developed an addiction to PCP may display signs of aggressive or violent behavior. They may begin to be injured or suffer self-harm behaviors as a result of their usage. Individuals addicted to PCP may also face potential legal issues associated with their drug use.

    PCP Addiction and Mental Health

    PCP addiction can cause disruptions in overall mood, functioning, and outlook, creating vulnerability for additional, potential co-occurring conditions (such as depression or anxiety), in addition to other substance use issues.

    Co-Occurring Disorders

    Individuals struggling with substance use disorders are also at risk for developing one or more concurrent mental health conditions or chronic diseases.

    Some of the more common co-occurring disorders seen in individuals with a diagnosed substance use disorder include:

    • Anxiety disorders (including generalized, panic, and obsessive-compulsive disorders)
    • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    • Any mood disorders (including depression and bipolar disorder)
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

    Cutting Agents Used for PCP

    Several cutting agents may be used in the PCP production process, which include:

    • Talcum powder
    • Cornstarch
    • Flour
    • Baking soda
    • Other hallucinogens (such as ketamine)

    PCP Addiction Treatment

    Treatment for PCP addiction will typically be multi-faceted, and may include several different levels of care and treatment modalities.

    Individuals struggling with PCP addiction and/or PCP withdrawal symptoms may begin with a medically-supervised detox program where a team of professionals can assist with any severe withdrawal symptoms in a safe, controlled environment. Many patients will then go on to engage in a structured inpatient environment to work on the underlying factors of their PCP addiction, in addition to engaging in treatment for any co-occurring or additional substance-related issues they may have.

    The total time and cost of PCP treatment will vary depending on several factors, including the severity of the addiction.

    PCP Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

    • Medical Detox: A place to safely manage any potential withdrawal symptoms under the medical supervision of professionals with experience in substance cessation
    • Inpatient treatment: A structured treatment environment in which participants receive several different modalities of treatment
    • Residential Treatment: A safe space in a supportive environment ideal for focusing on your recovery. Free of distractions, your health and wellness are the priority every day.
    • Aftercare: Aftercare programs provide ongoing support, relapse prevention strategies, long-term counseling, and other resources to sustain long-term recovery after the initial phase of treatment is complete.

    Therapies Used in PCP Addiction Treatment

    There are many different treatment protocols that can be utilized in the treatment of PCP addiction, some of which can include:

    • Group therapy: Group therapy helps you to process your experiences and gain new insights in a supportive environment of peers, guided by a licensed professional.
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps you identify negative thought patterns to think more positively and build healthier patterns.
    • Holistic Treatment Modalities: Some holistic modalities include smudging, meditation, music therapy, yoga, reiki, sound healing, massage therapy, Ayurveda, and physical fitness training. These interventions support mind-body healing.
    • Experiential Therapy: This is a hands-on therapy guided by a licensed professional to help you address mental health and trauma while participating in relaxing and fun activities like music, crafts, and nature walks.

    How to Find PCP Addiction Treatment in Connecticut

    It can be hard to think about finding quality treatment services for PCP in Connecticut, especially when you or a loved one is struggling—but there are many ways to seek help.

    Most substance use and co-occurring treatment facilities accept several different kinds of insurance. Contact your insurance provider about which treatment resources are in-network for your plan.

    Additionally, several other useful resources can help link you to qualified treatment providers in your area of the state, including:

    Finally, it’s important to research treatment centers and resources by reading online reviews and speaking to potential providers. This will help you get a feel for the services they offer, the treatment modalities they provide, and how they structure their treatment so you can feel secure and comfortable with taking the best path ahead for you.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Is PCP still used in the medical setting? Chevron Down
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