PCP: A Lesser Known Addiction

PCP – or to give its chemical name, phencyclidine – is one of the lesser-used drugs in the UK, but is still very common in the United States. It was originally developed as an anaesthetic and first approved for use in 1950, but the licence was revoked in 1965 due to its adverse side effects and the development of the safer drug ketamine. PCP was a very popular drug in America in the 1970s and 1980s, then its use declined due to the bad press the drug, rightfully, received. Unfortunately, people forget the bad stories, and in recent years there has been an increase in its use again. In 2015, it was rated as the eleventh most commonly used illegal drug worldwide.

Why Do People Take PCP?

PCP, like the closely related ketamine, is a dissociative anaesthetic. Dissociative anaesthetics, as well as their numbing and anaesthetic effects, also have hallucinogenic effects. In PCP, these effects are very pronounced, which led to it being discontinued as a medical drug. It creates a feeling of euphoria and calmness because it reduces the levels of dopamine reabsorption in the brain, so more dopamine remains available. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for feeling ‘happy’.

PCP is also a hallucinogen, so it causes the person taking it to hallucinate – seeing things that are not really there. These hallucinations can often be very pleasant, but they can also be extremely distressing, and there is no way of ‘deciding’ which type of hallucination one would experience.

What Negative Effects Does PCP Have?

PCP has some very harmful effects, and these were the reason that its use in medicine was stopped. In addition to the unpredictable hallucinations, users can also experience loss of their sense of who they are, paranoia, changes in their perception of their own body, and feelings of detachment from themselves. It alters mood, but in a very unpredictable way, so one person may feel euphoric while someone else (or the same person the next time they take the drug) might feel completely detached from reality. Like the other hallucinogenic drug LSD, PCP remains in the body for a long time, and users can experience ‘flashbacks’ days, weeks, months or even years after taking the drug. The mental effects of this drug are such that users can appear as if they have schizophrenia. The behaviour of users of PCP has often been seen as irrational, unpredictable, and violent, making treatment very difficult for medical staff as they can be a danger to those around them.

The physical effects of PCP use can also be extreme, potentially including a loss of co-ordination, muscle spasms and loss of balance; these can combine to cause users of the drug to stagger, fall, twitch and, if a high dose was taken, they might have convulsions or seizures. It also affects the heart, causing increased blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat, both increasing the risk of heart attack. PCP also causes an increase in body temperature, resulting in excessive sweating, while there have been reports of users of PCP removing their clothing in public places because they were too hot – the mental effects of the drug meant that they did not know where they were. Other effects are numbness in the limbs and shallow breathing.

Long-term use has the potential for serious and permanent harm – there is the possibility of permanent memory loss, impaired speech, and permanent schizophrenic symptoms.

There have been news reports of individuals behaving erratically and violently while under the influence of PCP. One particularly well-known case from 2002 was an American rapper who, while under the influence of PCP, violently murdered his twenty-one-year-old female roommate, going on to eat part of her body. When arrested by the police, he was apparently ‘naked, covered in blood, standing in the middle of the street, and staring at the sky’. In court, he tried to plead insanity due to his drug use, but PCP addiction was deemed insufficient ground for an insanity plea.

Is PCP Addictive?

The short answer to that question is yes, it is. The effects of PCP on the brain, like many other drugs, trigger the reward pathways leading to addiction. How quickly a user becomes addicted depends very much on the individual.

Long-term use of PCP leads to dependence, and serious withdrawal symptoms will be experienced when users stop taking the drug. These can include cravings for the drug, depression, anxiety, confusion, loss of memory, weight loss, loss of reflexes, and thoughts of suicide. The longer a person has been using PCP, the more severe the side effects will be, and the greater the risk of having permanent damage to the central nervous system.

Treatment for PCP addiction is complicated by the drug being stored in fatty body tissues. This stored drug can be released at any time, and it is this that leads to the flashbacks sometimes experienced. Getting rid of the stored PCP is tricky, and during removal, patients can experience that same effects as if they had taken the drug. Medical staff, therefore, need to be suitably prepared to deal with a patient who could potentially have a psychotic and violent episode.

Getting Help with PCP Addiction

Recovery from PCP addiction needs the right medical care to ensure a safe and effective detox. Addiction Helper can give you the advice you need to find the right treatment option for your situation. Our experienced advisors are available twenty-four hours a day, so please call us now and start your road to recovery.



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