PCP was used in veterinary medicine but was never approved for human use because of problems that arose during clinical studies, including delirium and extreme agitation experienced by patients emerging from anesthesia.
During the 1960s, PCP in pill form became widely abused, but the surge in illicit use receded rapidly as users became dissatisfied with the long delay between taking the drug and feeling its effects, and with the unpredictable and often violent behavior associated with its use.
Powdered PCP - known as "ozone," "rocket fuel," "love boat," "hog," "embalming fluid," or "superweed" - appeared in the 1970s. In powdered form, the drug is sprinkled on marijuana, tobacco, or parsley, then smoked, and the onset of effects is rapid. Users sometimes ingest PCP by snorting the powder or by swallowing it in tablet form. Normally a white crystalline powder, PCP is sometimes colored with water-soluble or alcohol-soluble dyes.
When snorted or smoked, PCP rapidly passes to the brain to disrupt the functioning of sites known as NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor complexes, which are receptors for the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate receptors play a major role in the perception of pain, in cognition - including learning and memory - and in emotion. In the brain, PCP also alters the actions of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for the euphoria and "rush" associated with many abused drugs.
At low PCP doses (5 mg or less), physical effects include shallow, rapid breathing, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and elevated temperature. Doses of 10 mg or more cause dangerous changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, often accompanied by nausea, blurred vision, dizziness, and decreased awareness of pain.
Muscle contractions may cause uncoordinated movements and bizarre postures. When severe, the muscle contractions can result in bone fracture or in kidney damage or failure as a consequence of muscle cells breaking down. Very high doses of PCP can cause convulsions, coma, hyperthermia, and death.
PCP's effects are unpredictable. Typically, they are felt within minutes of ingestion and last for several hours. Some users report feeling the drug's effects for days. One drug-taking episode may produce feelings of detachment from reality, including distortions of space, time, and body image; another may produce hallucinations, panic, and fear. Some users report feelings of invulnerability and exaggerated strength. PCP users may become severely disoriented, violent, or suicidal.
Repeated use of PCP can result in addiction, and recent research suggests that repeated or prolonged use of PCP can cause withdrawal syndrome when drug use is stopped. Symptoms such as memory loss and depression may persist for as long as a year after a chronic user stops taking PCP.
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