PCP Addiction and Abuse
Thought to have largely disappeared from the scene by the early 1990s, PCP is still around and just as dangerous today. It’s not abused at the same levels as other substances, but this deadly dissociative drug is being mixed into other widely abused “designer” drugs like ecstasy.
What is PCP?
When used alone in a pure pharmaceutical formulation, it’s a white, bitter-tasting powder that’s snorted, added to bottled water, or mixed with marijuana and smoked. In the adulterated forms found on the street, is can be off-white, yellow, or light brown.
Common PCP street names include Angel Dust, Rocket Fuel, and Embalming Fluid. The common name PCP is said to stem from the 1960s when it was nicknamed the PeaCe Pill. When added to marijuana or tobacco, it’s known by the slang terms whacko tobacco, love boat, and Supergrass. Since the early 2000s, underground manufacturers have mixed the powder with MDMA to create an experience that’s known on the party scene as elephant flipping or by the name Pikachu.
The drug contains the pharmacological compound phencyclidine, which is a powerful anesthetic. It was originally synthesized and released in 1927 and was approved until the 1950s for general use during surgery. However, side effects proved too dangerous for continued use on humans, so it was restricted by the federal government to veterinary clinics. This gave the drug another nickname: animal tranks. After it was restricted from clinical use, the drug went underground to join the ranks of other mind-altering substances made popular during the 1960s. It was officially declared illegal to sell or use phencyclidine for any clinical purpose on humans or animals in 1978.
The DEA classifies it as a dissociative anesthetic, but it’s often lumped together in the same category as hallucinogenic drugs like LSD. Despite a decreased popularity in favor of designer club drugs like ketamine, which is considered marginally safer while producing similar effects, a SAMSA report states that hospitalizations related to PCP consumption increased by more than 400 percent between 2005 – 2011. Due to the anesthetic properties that make users impervious to pain and the auditory or visual hallucinations caused by PCP use, it’s a very dangerous drug at any dosage. Unfortunately, some of the factors that make it so dangerous are also what makes it so attractive to substance abusers.
What is PCP Made of?
The main active ingredient in pure PCP that’s created under laboratory controls is phencyclidine. However, when mixed in underground labs with other substances, there could be any number of other drugs and substances added. It’s often pressed into tablets and passed off as ecstasy, mixed with water or alcohol and consumed, snorted with meth, cocaine, or heroin, or sprinkled on cigarettes made with marijuana or other leafy substances and smoked. It’s also common to dip cigarettes or joints in a liquefied form of the drug.
How Does Phencyclidine Work?
This drug alters brain chemistry by blocking the messaging mechanisms between the brain and the nervous system. It specifically affects the glutamate receptor N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), which is responsible for regulating emotions, memory, and learning ability; dopamine receptors that control mood; and serotonin levels. Long-term use can lead to psychosis that resembles symptoms of schizophrenia, but this is thought to be reversible with treatment and abstinence from the drug.
It numbs users to pain, causes feelings of disassociation from the immediate environment, and leads to hallucinations in high doses. Users often have a blank stare that’s punctuated by occasional bouts of rapid eye movement. Physical reactions are sometimes just as volatile. Users often appear sedated as they sit staring into space, and then they’ll have a sudden burst of energy that can lead to life-threatening actions like trying to “fly” off the top of buildings. Exaggerated leg movements while walking are caused by numbness in the extremities.
PCP Use in the 2000s
This destructive chemical compound is mostly added to water and passed around at clubs and concerts, smoked, injected, or passed off as other drugs by low-level street dealers. This makes it nearly as dangerous as when use was at its peak in the 1970s. However, the stereotype of an out of control suspect who’s tripping on Angel Dust is rarely seen outside of old TV dramas. Inability to react rationally while under the influence of this drug and the resulting behaviors led to the false impression that taking it causes violent behavior.
The most common mode of ingestion is snorting or smoking leafy substances laced with the drug. In fact, PCP was found in 24 percent of marijuana samples confiscated on the streets and tested. PCP street names like Angel Dust and the former reputation as a “peace drug” on the counter-culture scene in the 60s are almost ironic considering the volatility of people who abuse PCP. Users are known for exhibiting almost superhuman strength and an ability to tolerate high levels of pain. This leads to injuries, hospitalizations, and even deaths of both users and innocent bystanders.
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Is PCP Addictive?
It’s classified as a Schedule II substance by the federal government. That means there is a high risk of abuse as well as psychological or physical dependence. Although it was originally manufactured by Parke, Davis, and Company and used for general anesthesia under the brand Sernyl, it has no clinical or medicinal value.
The effects of the drug can become addictive, leading those who use it long-term to compulsively seek the drug. Withdrawal causes sleepiness, depression, and increased appetite once the main effects of the drug wear off. In extreme cases of habitual use, if there are consistent toxic levels in the system, kidney failure, seizures, and muscle deterioration through rhabdomyolysis can occur.
Is Treatment Necessary for PCP Abuse?
Any substance that runs the risk of abuse or threatens life and health requires treatment to overcome. PCP is no different. It is rare that this drug is the sole source of intoxication, and that increases the risk of addiction and death due to overdose or injury. Long-term or severe use that disrupts brain chemistry requires time and rehabilitation to restore normal function. The majority of PCP-related emergency room admissions are due to self-inflicted injuries or accidents resulting from risky behavior.