PCP Symptoms & Side Effects

PCP is the shortened name of the drug phencyclidine. This drug was originally formulated in the 1950s for use as a general anesthetic during surgery. However, it was discontinued when doctors realized it was making patients irrational, delusional, and agitated.1 PCP is considered a dissociative hallucinogenic drug that makes people feel detached from reality.

Today, PCP is formulated in illegal, secret labs and is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance.1 Schedule II controlled substances have a high likelihood of abuse. It is illegal to produce, distribute, and use PCP.

PCP goes by many street names including angel dust, ozone, rocket fuel, and wack. It is typically sold as a loose, white powder that is easily dissolved in alcohol or other liquids. PCP is also available as a tablet, a liquid, or a capsule. Some people add PCP liquid to other things like cigarettes or marijuana. Any use of PCP can lead to serious and even life-threatening side effects.

Many people use PCP by combining it with smokeable substances, like marijuana joints or cigarettes. The PCP is either dissolved in liquid and then sprayed onto the joint or the loose powder sprinkled on the marijuana before it is rolled. This combination is known as wacko tobacco, superweed, or killer joints. Some people also combine PCP with mint or parsley and then smoke that.

Short-Term Effects of PCP Use

PCP is generally used by snorting the powder, swallowing the tablets, injecting the liquid, or smoking the powder after adding it to something else.

PCP has numerous negative side effects. Some of the most common effects include:2, 3

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Feeling separated from reality
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Lessened sensitivity to pain
  • Body numbness

Higher doses can have more serious side effects:4

  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Violence
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Irrational behavior
  • Coma
  • Death

One of the most dangerous and potentially deadly side effects of PCP is the loss of inhibitions and feeling of power. While high on PCP, some people feel invincible or that they have superhuman strength. This can cause people to do extremely dangerous activities that they would not normally do. Many of the deaths attributed to PCP are caused by the dangerous activities as opposed to the side effects of PCP.

How Long Do the Effects Last?

The length of the effects of PCP will vary based on how a person took the drug. When smoked, the effects are felt within 2-5 minutes and peak after 15 to 30 minutes.3 When injected into a vein, the effects of PCP start within a few minutes. In pill form, or when taken with foods or drinks, the PCP effects start around 30 minutes and usually peak after 2-5 hours.3

PCP has lingering effects within the body that can last days, depending on the dose taken.2 Because PCP is taken in uncontrolled environments, there is no way to know how much PCP you are taking. This greatly increases the risk of dangerous side effects.

Overdose Signs and Symptoms

It is possible to overdose on PCP. If someone has overdosed on PCP, they might exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Rapid uncontrolled eye movements
  • Psychosis
  • Loss of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Catatonia
  • Unconsciousness
  • Agitation
  • Coma

The risk of overdose increases when PCP is taken with other drugs, especially alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and can amplify PCP’s effects on the nervous system.5

If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of a PCP overdose, it is important to call 911. Stay with the person until medical help arrives to make sure they stay safe. If the person is acting violently or irrationally and you are afraid for your safety, find a safe place away from them. Stay in contact with emergency authorities so they understand your situation.

PCP Symptoms of Long-Term Use

PCP has some serious long-term effects regardless of the method of administration. With prolonged use, PCP may cause the following:1

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulties with speech or thoughts
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping problems

Some PCP administration methods come with additional long-term effects. If you smoke PCP combined with tobacco, marijuana, or some other smoking apparatus, you may experience:6

  • Inflamed lungs
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing

Injecting liquid PCP into your veins is one of the most dangerous methods to use PCP. For people who “shoot up” PCP, they may also experience the negative side effects of any needle-injected drugs. These may include:7

  • Skin infections
  • Scarring and needle tracks
  • Inflammation of the heart
  • Increased risk of HIV/AIDS
  • Collapsed veins
  • Higher risk of hepatitis

One side-effect of PCP that can happen days, weeks, or even months after you stop taking it is something called a PCP flashback. This is where you suddenly experience the effects of your PCP experience, whether that is hallucinations or some other impairment.8

Dependence, Withdrawal, & Addiction

It is possible to become dependent on or addicted to PCP. Someone has become dependent on PCP when they feel they need the drug to feel comfortable throughout the day. The more PCP a person uses, the more they might need to achieve the same high. This is called tolerance. As they increase the dosage, they are more likely to become addicted or overdose.

Addiction to PCP is seen as someone being unable to control their use of PCP, despite negative effects on their life.

If someone tries to stop using PCP after becoming dependent on it or addicted to it, they may experience signs of withdrawal. These include:3

  • Feeling anxious or afraid
  • Hallucinating
  • Feeling tense or confused
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasms

If you or someone you know is trying to stop using PCP, there are treatment options available that can make your efforts more successful. Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step toward recovery.

Treatment Options for PCP Addiction

Addiction to PCP is something anyone can overcome. While you or someone you know might be struggling to live without PCP, it is possible.

Many people choose an in-patient treatment facility where they can receive 24-hour care. This is especially important during the early withdrawal stage where symptoms can be intense and uncomfortable. While there are no medications available to inhibit the effects of PCP, there are medications that can alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Most PCP treatment programs will use various forms of therapy and counseling. This may include one-on-one counseling, group therapy, and even counseling sessions with your family and friends. This is important to help establish a support system for when your treatment program has ended. A good group of supportive family members and friends can help prevent a relapse.

Another way to improve your recovery outcome is to avoid the people and places that remind you of your PCP addiction. If you still know people who use PCP, you may want to stop associating with them as this could trigger a relapse. You can also encourage healing by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.

How to Find the Best PCP Treatment Program

Choosing a treatment program can feel overwhelming. With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to know if you are making the right choice. By calling us and speaking with a treatment support specialist, we can help you narrow down your options and find the program that best meets your needs and addiction.

At California Behavioral Health, we offer a variety of services including medication-assisted treatment, a customized treatment plan, a holistic healing perspective, and addiction therapy.

Contact us today to get started on your path to recovery. We are available at 855-404-2172.

Frequently Asked Questions about PCP

Can You Die While Using PCP?

While overdose deaths caused by the effects of PCP are rare, they can happen. However, most PCP-related deaths are caused by violent behavior as opposed to the drug’s effects.4

What Does PCP Look Like?

PCP is available as a white powder, colorful pills, a clear or colored liquid, and an oil. PCP oil is typically yellow, while the color of PCP powder depends on its purity. The darker it is, the less pure it is.

What Happens When You Mix PCP with Other Drugs?

Mixing PCP with alcohol or other drugs can exacerbate the negative side effects of PCP. This could make your breathing shallower and increase the risk of an overdose.

How Do People Take PCP?

PCP can be swallowed as a pill or dissolved into food or drink. In powder form, it is snorted. PCP is also smoked by sprinkling or spraying it onto smokeable things like marijuana or tobacco. Sometimes PCP is also injected intravenously, which carries even more risks.

What Are the Effects of PCP?

PCP can make a person feel disconnected from their body or surroundings. It also has a strong painkilling effect, which can cause people to not realize they are hurt while doing dangerous activities.

Is PCP Addictive?

PCP is an addictive drug. If someone is addicted to PCP, they will constantly be thinking about their next high and will sacrifice many aspects of their normal life to get the drugs they need.

Resources

1National Drug Intelligence Center. (2006, January 1). PCP Fast Facts.

2Neuroscience for Kids. (n.d.). PCP – Phencyclidine.

3U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2022, March 21). Substance use – phencyclidine (PCP). MedlinePlus.

4Bey, T., & Patel, A. (2007, February). Phencyclidine Intoxication and Adverse Effects: A clinical and Pharmacological Review of an Illicit Drug. The California Journal of Emergency Medicine.

5Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (2021, November 10). Psychedelics.

6U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019, December). Cannabis (Marijuana) DrugFacts. National Institutes of Health.

7Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. (n.d.). Potential Complications of IV Drug Use.

8Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Addiction & Treatment: PCP, LSD, Psilocybin, Peyote.

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