PCP Addiction and Abuse

What Is It?

PCP, commonly known as Angel Dust, is a drug that produces a trance-like effect and causes its user to experience an ‘out-of-body’ feeling. It was used in the 1950s as an anaesthetic and was administered intravenously. However, doctors discontinued it when the patients in surgery became irrational, restless and delusional. These effects are one of the causes for PCP addiction and abuse, but not only.

Today, people still abuse PCP for its hallucinogenic sensations. Abuse can lead to psychological addiction, which means the user may experience mental disturbances if they don’t take the drug. Withdrawal is extremely unpleasant, especially if there is no physician present. It’s important to recognise the signs and symptoms early, so you can provide professional help for an affected family member or friend.

PCP is an illicit, Class A drug under the Misuse of Drug act (1971). It is a controlled substance, normally synthesised in illegal, underground labs. Because of the poor conditions of production, there is a high chance of toxicity.

It can come in a pill, tablet, liquid or powder form. PCP is naturally bitter, so it is sprayed on leafy items such as mint, parsley or marijuana to improve its taste. Users take it by snorting, injecting or smoking it, depending on its form. In some cases, it’s drunk as a liquid.

A PCP ‘trip’ can last from four to six hours, depending on the concentration or quantity ingested. However, nobody is really sure of the concentration, as most underground labs don’t have a standard calibration. This increases the potential for abuse or overdose. Before long, a frequent abuser will develop tolerance and psychological dependence on the drug.

A psychological (or physical) dependence is when someone cannot function ‘normally’ without taking a particular drug every few hours or so. The discomfort and cravings can be so severe, they look to use the drug immediately.

Types: Main PCP and Other Types

PCP (an acronym for Phencyclidine) exists in various forms. Between the 1970s and 1980s, there were about 30 different analogues on the street.

Today, the most common are rolicyclidine, eticyclidine and tenocyclidine. Only a few other variations are ever used.

All the different derivatives of PCP are likely to display similar psychoactive effects to PCP itself. Even though a range of potencies and different mixtures of anaesthetic, stimulant and dissociative effects are evident, it usually depends on the specific drug and its components.

In countries like Australia, USA and New Zealand, these compounds are categorised as controlled substance analogues of PC, and are thereby illicit drugs if produced for human consumption. Other PCP analogues include 3-HO-PCP, 3-MeO-PCMo and 3-MeO-PCMo.

PCP and Its Potential for Abuse

While most hallucinogens are not generally considered addictive, PCP tends to cause tolerance, which is a critical factor in establishing the addictive property of a drug. Many users take PCP for its psychoactive effects and it’s believed by some to be ‘out of this world’. For this reason, the potential for abuse is high.

Taking PCP repeatedly causes the brain cells to become used to its effects. It inhibits the reuptake of neurotransmitters such as nor epinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, as well as prevents glutamate action by blocking the NMDA receptors. Over time, the brain recognises this feeling and adjusts its chemistry accordingly.

This ‘recognition’ causes tolerance because the abuser can now take more doses of the drug than they used to. Eventually, the brain develops an attachment to PCP and a psychological addiction is formed.

Causes of PCP Abuse

As with most addictions, there are many reasons for PCP abuse.

The following are the most common:

Genetic: People who have a history of addiction in their family have a higher predisposition to become addicted than those who don’t. Scientists are currently studying the potential for the existence of an ‘addiction’ gene.

Biological: It is also believed that a defect in the brain can make it more vulnerable to addictive behaviour. For example, a brain injury that affected certain centres in the pleasure pathway may cause the patient to develop pleasure-seeking behaviours.

Environmental: Where a person lives can influence their habits. If you live in an area with a high production or distribution of illicit drugs, the tendency to use it will, in turn, be greater. For example, many Afghans smoke opium because of the geographical prevalence of poppy plants.

Social: Social factors such as peer pressure or late-night partying habits can cause drug abuse. Your age group, employment status, hanging out with PCP users or regularly attending clubs where PCP is sold all increase the risk of abuse.

PCP Addiction: Does the UK Have a Problem?

As an illicit drug, PCP is not a major problem in the UK. Its prevalence has waned over the years. In the 70s and 80s, it was identified as a harmful, illicit drug and usage dipped in the 90s. However, PCP made a comeback following the popularity of discreet internet sales.

It is now a drug that is abused at music concerts and nightclubs. PCP is mostly used by people between the ages of 16 – 24 years. In 2008, over 37,000 people required medical emergency for PCP-related cases in the US; in comparison, the drug is less common in the UK. However, there is still potential for abuse in specific parts of the country.

Addictive Disorders and Addiction Therapy

Addictive disorders are classified into two major groups:

  • Substance abuse/dependence
  • Behavioural abuse

Behavioural abuse includes cases such as gambling, sex addiction and compulsive buying, and hence do not fall within the scope of this subject.

Some substance abuse disorders are believed to be caused by certain influences in a person’s life. For example, a mental health condition (such as depression) may increase a person’s risk of addiction to antidepressants. Another example is alcoholism; alcohol dependence may pave the way to other disorders such as benzodiazepine addiction.

Physicians often use a patient’s inherent disorders to diagnose their addictions and provide the right therapy for treatment. PCP addiction could be indicative of alcoholism, which allows a doctor to treat both problems separately with medication or behavioural therapy.

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Signs and Symptoms of PCP Abuse and Addiction: Physical, Psychological

One of the best ways to prevent the ruinous consequences of addiction is by recognising the signs early and acting quickly. Early detection could mean immediate treatment. You can save the life of a friend or loved one by knowing when they are under the influence of an addictive drug.

The signs and symptoms of PCP addiction manifest in two ways; physically and psychologically. Unless you’re diagnosing yourself, some symptoms may not be evident, because they are felt only by the abuser. In this case, it is helpful to look out for the more visible signs:

  • Sudden changes in behaviour
  • Restlessness, mood swings
  • ‘Euphoria’
  • Sedation; being unusually calm

Symptoms are mainly physiological and health-related:

Physical symptoms:

  • Cravings
  • Increased tolerance
  • Blank, wall-eyed stare (PCP is a dissociative drug and disconnects the user from their surroundings)
  • Incoherent speech
  • Numbness
  • Hypertension
  • Muscle spasms

Psychological symptoms:

  • Amnesia
  • Indecisive behaviour
  • Lack of motivation
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Altered perception of reality
  • Psychosis

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Inability to quit (when you try)
  • Spending more money and time using PCP
  • Inability to keep jobs
  • Difficulty in maintaining relationships, managing family responsibilities
  • Abusing other substances

Major Effects, Consequences and Treatment

Abusing PCP eventually takes its toll on the body and produces severe adverse effects in some cases. The major effects bore down to health complications, both mentally and physically.

One of the most visible effects is significant weight loss. PCP abusers lack much-needed nutrients to sustain their health and tend to look malnourished as a result. The social effects of addiction include self-ostracisation from family and friends and withdrawal from public gatherings, because of perceived stigma.

Short-term side effects of PCP usage

The severity and longevity of the side-effects of PCP are dependent on the quantity used. When the euphoria wears off, you may start feeling the unpleasant effects.

The immediate side-effects of using PCP:

  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Thoughts of self-harm and suicide
  • Possible coma or death from overdose

Chronic long-term side effects of PCP usage

Unfortunately, the side-effects of PCP can last several years, with some of them becoming untreatable. This can be prevented by acting quickly while abuse is in the early stages.

Typical long-term effects are:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Heart conditions
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired speech
  • Insomnia
  • Analgesia (numbness to pain)
  • Sensory distortion
  • Stroke
  • Death

Besides the mental and physical issues caused by PCP abuse, the relational aspects of your life will suffer too. Family and friends will be affected, as will their career and interactions with society as a whole.

Withdrawal symptoms

The primary concern in relation to PCP withdrawal is a psychological addiction. PCP is labelled a Class A drug, because of its highly addictive properties. People who use the drug tend to want more of the psychoactive experience and end up abusing it.

Repeated usage causes the brain cells to become tolerant to the effects. Some researchers believe that this is caused by severely fatigued neurons unable to function as usual. Tolerance makes it impossible for users to experience that ‘first-time’ effect, so they end up taking more doses of PCP until an addiction is formed.

If you think you are PCP-dependent, you maybe are exhibiting psychological symptoms when you suddenly discontinue the drug. This is known as ‘withdrawal’ and is usually uncomfortable.

Withdrawal symptoms of PCP dependence include:

  • High body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Muscle breakdown
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination

Memory loss and depression are long-term withdrawal symptoms that may last months after detoxification. For treatment to occur, a PCP-dependent patient must undergo withdrawal. It is a major process of detoxification, and although unpleasant, it is a necessary step that must be taken.

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PCP Addiction: Facts and Stats

The previous year showed that, for people 12 years and above, an estimated 0.10% prevalence was reported, while for lifetime use, the estimated figure was 2.5%. However, there is a major age difference amongst users of PCP.

In adolescents, individuals between 12 – 17 years had an estimated prevalence rate of 0.20% in the previous year, and a 0.40% estimated lifetime rate. Young adults aged 18 – 25 years were estimated to have a 0.2% prevalence rate in the past month and a lifetime estimate of 1%.

Older adults 26 years and above had an estimated previous year prevalence rate and a lifetime rate of 0.00% and 3.00% respectively.

Co-occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders are those problems that occur because of substance addiction. PCP abuse may cause its users to develop other disorders or mental health problems. Sometimes, diagnosis may be based on these co-occurring disorders.

Common examples are:

  • Alcoholism
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Other substance abuse (heroin, benzodiazepine and more)
  • Schizophrenia

List of addictions to substances

People who abuse PCP tend to develop tolerance quickly. This makes it difficult to achieve the sought-after ‘high’ they require. Unfortunately, it is not always enough to use PCP alone, so some people mix the drug with other substances.

The combination produces new sensations, as desired, but it also brings a new set of problems that make treatment more complicated.

Examples of addiction to other substances:

  • Heroin addiction
  • Alcohol addiction
  • Inhalants addiction
  • Benzodiazepine addiction
  • Cocaine addiction

Production countries

Although PCP is used worldwide, its major place of production is the US, particularly Southern California. Distribution channels extend from this state to regions such as New York, Maryland, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. The commercial manufacture of PCP stopped officially in the 1960swhen it was declared too dangerous for medical use. Its usage is currently limited to veterinary medicine.

Today, due to poor demand, manufacturers are often involved in the production of other illicit substances like crystal meth. In addition to the US, Australia and New Zealand also produce PCP illicitly.

Street names for PCP

Almost every illicit drug has its own moniker. This is mainly to facilitate discreet trade interactions on and off the streets. PCP’s street names include:

  • Peace pill
  • Angel dust
  • Ozone
  • Rocket fuel
  • Happy Sticks
  • Cliffhanger
  • Hog
  • Trank
  • Peter Pan
  • Goon Dust

The price of the drug may range anywhere from £15 – £25 per gram of powder to £150 – £250 per ounce of liquid.

PCP Treatment and Therapy Options

Treatment should be carried out quickly to prevent further damage. It begins with a self-commitment toward complete recovery. It is important to choose the right rehabilitation clinic for treatment, as this is a key factor in how well you recover.

There are two types of treatment facilities:

  • Inpatient rehab centre (24-hour live-in care)
  • Outpatient rehab centre (based on convenience/schedule)

Detoxification is the first step and is carried out to ensure that all toxic traces of the drug are expelled from the abuser. After detox, rehabilitation therapy is the next stage of treatment. Depending on the addiction counsellor, therapy may be orthodox; behavioural, motivational interviewing or contingency management for instance. Conversely, it may be alternative; acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation and so on.

When to seek help

If you use PCP and recognise certain symptoms such as cravings or increased tolerance, it is important to seek professional help. If you’re finding it hard to quit, this is also a sign of dependence. Recognising these symptoms in someone you know is also an indication that they need help.

Getting PCP addiction treatment

Before checking into rehab, you’ll be required to detox. This means going through withdrawal first. Although it is usually an unpleasant process, the physicians will administer medication to make you feel better. Detox shouldn’t be undertaken without the supervision of a qualified doctor.

After detox, you’ll be expected to check in to a rehabilitation centre (some rehabs also have detox facilities). It is advisable to book a place in advance because most centres don’t guarantee a room for every walk-in patient.

Best rehabilitation

Treatment is best performed in an accredited rehab facility. This means it has been inspected and endorsed to provide rehabilitation services by the necessary authorities.

Other features to look out for include: the qualification of physicians/counsellors, type of rehab programme, condition and location of the facility, personal comfort and so on.

What next after rehab?

Treatment does not end when you leave rehab. To maintain sobriety, it is important to maintain contact with the support groups you established in rehab, as well as practice the therapeutic techniques you learned.

Building a strong support network outside rehab is key. It will help you through difficult times and prevent relapse. Examples of good support networks include your addiction counsellor, family, trusted friends, recovery group, sponsors, and so on.

Sobriety and abstinence

There are abstinence groups aimed at helping former PCP abusers overcome their challenges through shared experiences and moral support. These groups meet weekly to teach abstinence methods and offer support.

How to get a loved one into rehab

This can be easy or complicated, depending on the willingness and commitment of the individual. If they are willing, discuss the options of meeting a professional and support them all the way.

For abusers who are in denial, a well-planned, non-confrontational intervention can help. You can request the help of an intervention specialist via a reliable helpline.


How difficult is it to stay sober?

Ease of sobriety is relative. If you have the right support, it will be easier to overcome temptations and cravings. However, going through sobriety on your own increases the risk of relapse. It is always advisable to maintain a h4 support network when you leave rehab.

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