What is PCP?
Phencyclidine (PCP) was originally marketed as an anesthetic pharmaceutical. Parke, Davis and Company marketed it under the brand name Sernyl. It was used in clinical trials on humans as an anesthetic for surgeries. It was also used as an animal tranquilizer. At first, the medical industry thought of Phencyclidine was a miracle drug. It was an effective anesthesia that didn’t negatively affect the cardiovascular system.
The medical industry found that it caused disturbing adverse side effects in humans. They allowed it to be used as an animal tranquilizer when it was rejected from being used on humans. The risk of having PCP on hand became too great and it was classified as an illegal substance. Despite the fact it was discontinued by pharmaceutical companies by 1978, it is still used on the streets. It has seen times of popularity, such as use among hippies in the 1960’s for its hallucigen components. It declined for a while and made a comeback. In the 1970’s, a more potent “powdered” version of PCP showed up on the streets.
There was an epidemic of PCP use during the 1980’s and it was mixed with other streets drugs. Heroin or ecstasy may often be tainted with PCP. It is also smoked, snorted or taken via needle on its own. While it’s considered a hallucinogen, like LSD, it’s actually a part of a more complex class of drugs known as dissociatives. Regardless of how it’s taken, the variable psychiatric effects can cause great harm to someone abusing PCP.
PCP comes in a white crystalline powder known as angel dust. It also comes in tablet form which is called ‘Peace Pill’ on the streets. The liquid form is known as whack and there is also a crystal form. People will snort, smoke, ingest it, or take it intravenously.
Why Did They Discontinue Phencyclidine?
Due to the side effects patients experienced, the medical system stopped using PCP in 1965. In 1967, it was restricted to “veterinary use only.” By 1878, it had changed from a legal drug to an illegal substance.
Ketamine, being structurally similar to PCP, was developed to take its place. The DEA listed PCP as a Schedule II while Ketamine was listed as a Schedule III agent. The medical industry found that Ketamine produced very little hallucinogenic effects. It also lasted for less time with less psychosis causing side effects than PCP. It also replaced PCP within the veterinary field.
The side effects that had originally stopped human use as an anesthetic in surgeries included:
- Post-operative psychosis.
- Severe anxiety.
- A general feeling of dissatisfaction.
Risks of Taking PCP
Studies have found that people die from direct effects of a PCP high. They include:
- Hypothermia. A user won’t realize they are cold so they won’t do anything to warm themselves up.
- Acute kidney failure.
- Muscle cell death (breakdown products released into the bloodstream).
- Blood clotting proteins can become overactive. This can result in a blood clot which can cause serious problems in the lung, causing a heart attack of stroke.
Feeling No Pain Can Cause Serious Injury
PCP was once used as a veterinary anesthetic. When a person takes it, they don’t feel any pain. This inability to feel pain is what gave PCP a reputation for giving people superhuman strength. It’s not that the person is stronger, they just can’t feel the pain they’re causing themselves. They may overwork their muscles to the point of harming their muscles, They may even push themselves to the point of giving themselves a hernia. They may also put their bones under a lot of stress, potentially breaking them as they don’t feel the warning signs the body gives.
This is why police will often handcuff someone high on PCP two times. A PCP user is known to break out of handcuffs. Most of us can break out of handcuffs too but we wouldn’t be able to manage the painful process of it. PCP users have been known to fracture their wrists in an effort to break free. PCP users don’t feel pain until after the effects of the drug have worn off.
Common Names for Phencyclidine
PCP has plenty of street names and they vary from how they’re broken down or ingested. Fry or Killer Joints are street names for marijuana that have been dipped in PCP and dried. Here are some of the common names;
- Angel dust
- Elephant (due to the animal tranquilizer reference)
- Peace Pills
- Rocket fuel
- Embalming fluid
- Elephant flipping (PCP and MDMA)
What Classifies Dissociatives Drugs like PCP?
Dissociatives are a class of drugs that cause hallucinations. This implies that they distort a user’s perceptions of sight and sound. The person will detach and disassociate from themselves and what’s going on around them. They will experience hallucinations, delusions, and have an out-of-body experience.
Dissociatives reduce or altogether block signals to the conscious mind that are trying to be sent from other parts of the brain. Other classes of drugs are capable of the same action but they differ because they don’t produce hallucinogenic effects. This can include:
- Being deprived of sensory functions.
- Dream or trance-like states.
- Some drugs may be capable of euphoria if they also affect dopamine or opioid areas in the brain.
- Sedated feeling.
- Respiratory problems.
- Feeling of being under anesthesia.
- Brain and memory impairment.
PCP has often been labeled as a hallucinogen because its effects are similar to LSD. It is however, a part of the dissociative class. It not only produces symptoms like hallucinations but it gives the user an out of body experience.
Signs and Symptoms of PCP
Effects of PCP will be varied due to how the drug is ingested. Most people will smoke it which makes it difficult to determine the dosage. The effects are also unpredictable from one user or one trip to the next. It will be felt quickly after ingestion and last for a few hours. Some may feel the effects for days.
Users begin to feel detached and distant from reality. Some may feel invincible and stronger than they actually are. This is what can cause bodily danger to someone who is on a PCP high. They may experience sounds and sights that aren’t there. There may be severe mood swings or the inability to remember things due to temporary amnesia. Some users may become paranoid and/or violent. The temporary psychosis is similar to a patient with schizophrenia.
Low and Moderate Dose Signs and Symptoms
A low dose of phencyclidine (5 mg or less) will cause numbness in hands and toes. A moderate dose (10 mg or less) produces full anesthesia so the person can’t move their body at all. Speech becomes slurred and there is a loss of coordination in the body. There may be a slight increase in their breathing rate and a rise in blood pressure. Breathing may become shallow and profuse sweating can occur.
High Dose Signs and Symptoms
Higher doses of PCP will cause a drop in blood pressure, the heart rate and breathing. This can bring on vomiting, blurred vision, drooling, loss of balance, and dizziness.
High doses (10 mg or more) can potentially cause a seizure, coma, or death. Heart rate and blood pressure changes are far more dangerous. The user may not feel any pain whatsoever. Muscle contractions can cause strange postures and bazaar movements. It can result in bone fractures or kidney damage due to muscle cells breaking down. Death is more likely to occur from accidental injury. Also, people may commit suicide intentionally while they’re high on PCP. Due to these side effects, PCP has a reputation of being one of the most dangerous drugs one can abuse.
Why PCP is Called the Drop-Out Drug
In the 1970’s, studies had found that people chronically using PCP risked never being normal again. By trying PCP just one time, they became different people. They were losing their memory and personality changes occurred. People experienced severe depression and suicidal thoughts. Users were like the living dead, and PCP was classified as the ultimate drop-out drug.
Why does this happen? Symptoms of using PCP such as psychosis and memory loss can persist for up to a year. A person may have difficulty speaking or learning. It’s highly addictive and will often lead to psychological dependence quite quickly. Some may combine it with alcohol or benzodiazepines which can lead to overdose. They will often become violent or feel a desire to commit suicide.
If PCP is snorted or smoked, it rapidly goes to the brain and disturbs brain functions. The receptors that are disrupted are glutamate receptors. They play a role in how you perceive pain. The drug also alters dopamine actions so the user may experience euphoria. It can become very addictive and someone will lose everything quickly without really caring.
Users can build up a tolerance of the drug which can lead to PCP addiction. They’ll take more to achieve the high they got when they first started using the drug. This becomes increasingly hard for the body and mind to manage due to the damage PCP can cause. Damage to the brain such as permanent psychosis and a deeper risk of bodily harm.
When a user regularly uses PCP, it will result in addiction. Research has shown that there are withdrawal symptoms when someone tries to abstain after prolonged use. Symptoms that may occur include memory loss and depression. These symptoms can last for up to a year after the person has stopped using PCP. This makes it challenging for someone to get through recovery.
Constant use of PCP can cause a person to completely downward spiral. They may become violent and cause harm to themselves as they become more detached from reality. Getting treatment for phencyclidine dependence will become imperative to protect them. Once the person is unable to make their own decisions, they won’t admit themselves. It may be up to loved ones or the legal system to have them admitted into rehab.
Signs that Someone is High on PCP
Signs of PCP use are usually quite obvious. A PCP user may exhibit a euphoric mood which can turn to violent bouts. They have little feeling when it comes to pain which can cause them to do things they wouldn’t normally try. For example, they may try to lift up a car. They feel invincible and may often believe they’re in the company of the famous. This can cause many bazaar behaviors and strange slurred talking that makes little sense.
Phencyclidine abuse is extremely dangerous and can cause death on its own or when combined with other substances. It can take away a person’s identity until there’s nothing but a shell of a human. There are many dangerous risks involved with taking PCP even just one time. Chronic use can lead to death or serious injury that is irreversible. Not only does the person experience psychosis but they may also cause themselves bodily harm without realizing it. Someone on PCP becomes completely irrational and unable to manage life in the moment. This can be terrifying for those around the user. If you know someone who is experimenting with this drug, you may want to seek out abuse and addiction treatment for them.
NCBI, West Jem, (February, 2007) Phencyclidine Intoxication and Adverse Effects: A Clinical and Pharmacological Review of an Illicit Drug. Retrieved from,
NCBI, J Psychedelic Drugs (Dec. 1979) PCP (phencyclidine): an update. Retrieved from,
NCBI, BR J Pharmacol (Sept. 2015) Ketamine and phencyclidine: the good, the bad and the unexpected. Retrieved from,
NCBI, PLOS (2016) Pharmacological Investigations of the Dissociative ‘Legal Highs’ Diphenidine, Methoxphenidine and Analogues. Retrieved from,