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Basic Facts About PCP

An Especially Dangerous Drug


Updated May 21, 2014

close-up of a young woman snorting drugs
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Phencyclidine (PCP) was developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic, but its use was discontinued in 1965, after patients who were given the drug experienced psychotic reactions. PCP is now only manufactured illegally and comes in liquid, powder or pill form.

Street Names

Angel Dust, Hog, Rocket Fuel, DOA, Peace Pill

What Is PCP?

PCP is known as a dissociative anesthetic, because users of the drug seem to be "disconnected" from the environment around them. It distorts perceptions of sight and sound and produces feelings of detachment. Rather than visual hallucinations, PCP causes the user to experience distortions of reality.

What Does PCP Look Like?

PCP is a white crystalline powder that is easily soluble in water or alcohol. Therefore it can appear in liquid form. Since PCP can easily be mixed with dyes, it can appear in a variety of colors in powder, tablet and capsule form. Sometimes it is sold on the street wrapped in metallic foil (see photo) in powder form.

How Is PCP Taken?

PCP can be eaten, snorted, injected or smoked. The effects of the drug can be felt within two to five minutes if it is smoked (usually applied to a leafy material, such as mint, parsley, oregano or marijuana). The method used to take PCP in to the body can change the effects that it has on the user and how long its effects last.

Who Takes PCP?

Soon after PCP was introduced as a street drug in the 1960s, it gained a reputation of causing bad reactions and never became very popular with illicit drug users. Some users, though, like the feelings of strength, power and invulnerability the drug produces. Others enjoying the numbing effect PCP can have on the mind. Therefore, some continue to use the drug despite the negative risks.

What Are the Effects of PCP

PCP can have different effects on different people. The way the drug is taken and the amount used can also change how PCP affects the user. Depending upon the dosage, PCP can have the following effects:

  • Low Dosage - Feelings of euphoria, relaxation, numbness, sensory distortions, feelings of detachment from one's own body, anxiety, confusion, amnesia, illogical speech, blurred vision, blank stare.

  • Medium Dosage - Confusion, agitation, analgesia, fever, excessive salivation, delusions, schizophrenic-type behavior, paranoia, disordered thinking.

  • High Dosage - Seizures, respiratory failure, coma, fever, stroke and possible death.

Since PCP is only made illegally, there is no way to know exactly how much PCP is actually being taken, making the use of this drug particularly dangerous.

What Are the Health Effects of PCP?

Low doses of PCP can produce an increase in blood pressure and heartbeat and a slight increase in breathing rate. Users can experience shallow breathing, numbness of the extremities, flushing, sweating and loss of muscular coordination.

High doses of PCP can produce a severe drop in blood pressure, pulse rate and breathing rate. Users can experience nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, drooling, loss of balance, dizziness and the up and down flicking of the eyes.

Due to the possible sedative effects of PCP, if the drug is taken with other depressants, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, it can cause a coma.

PCP abusers can become violent or suicidal while taking the drug. Although there is some research that disputes that PCP induces violence or aggression in users, more PCP users die from suicide while taking the drug than die from the effects of the drug on the central nervous system.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of PCP?

Memory loss, depression, difficulty speaking, difficulty thinking and weight loss have been reported by people who abused PCP for long periods of time. These symptoms can last up to one year after ending PCP use.

Is PCP Addictive?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the repeated abuse of PCP can lead to craving and compulsive PCP-seeking behavior, despite severe adverse consequences. Therefore, by definition, it is addictive.

What Treatment Is Available?

Users who are having a "bad trip" on PCP are usually placed in a quiet area or room with little sensory stimulation. Sometimes the user is given benzodiazepines to control seizures or extremely agitated behavior.

There is no known treatment for PCP addiction specifically, other than residential treatment and behavioral therapy used to treat any addiction.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. "InfoFacts: Hallucinogens - LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, and PCP." July 2008.

University of Washington - Neuroscience For Kids. "PCP - Phencyclidine." Accessed December 2008.

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