PCP Basics

Phencyclidine (PCP) was first created in 1926. In the 1950s, it was used as an anesthetic, but problems arose with its side effects during clinical trials. It was approved for use as an animal anesthetic, however, and marketed for use in that realm. In the late 1960s, PCP gained popularity as a substance of abuse, which increased in the late 1970s and peaked in the 1980s, then died out somewhat rapidly, due to side effects that were both unpredictable and unpleasant. PCP has a sharp chemical taste and is easily dissolved in water or alcohol, two of its methods of ingestion. Other methods include using the powdered form of PCP sprinkled on a tobacco or marijuana cigarette. Other methods are to grind the pills into powder and snort the powder, swallowed in a drink or tablet form, to inject a dissolved liquid form of PCP, and use of the oil “base” of PCP as a “dip” for a cigarette or joint.

History of PCP

Discovered in 1926, PCP was first used as a surgical anesthetic during World War II. Use continued until the early 1950s, when sporadic use remained. In 1953, it was marketed under the name Sernyl for use as a human surgical anesthetic. It was remarketed in 1967 as an animal anesthesia, after its use for humans ended in 1965. It was shelved permanently shortly thereafter and is not used for any purpose at this time, nor is it legally produced. Use stopped when patients became delusional, detached from reality, violent, agitated and irrational. PCP has a long half-life in the body of both humans and animals, with unpredictable and sometimes horrific side effects. These include a psychotic disorder that mimics schizophrenia in both rats and humans. This can become a permanent factor for those who use PCP recreationally.

Drug Classification of PCP

PCP is classified in the United States as a Schedule II narcotic substance. In Canada, it is a Schedule I drug, and in the United Kingdom, PCP is a Class A substance. Several analogue drugs that are similar to PCP are also Schedule II narcotics and considered the same as PCP for all purposes in each of the countries listed.

How PCP Works

A NMDA receptor antagonist, PCP has a sedative effect on the brain. However, because it is also a dissociative sedative, it has other properties that make PCP both dangerous and unpredictable in action. Its effects may take time to be felt, and other times it will be fast-acting, which is one reason for its unpredictable reputation. Other reasons that this drug is considered unpleasant unreliable drug is because of the side effects from PCP that can occur. These can be violent outbursts, irrational behaviors, emotions and thoughts, delusions and/or hallucinations and paranoia. Lower doses of PCP create an effect of numbness and detachment for the user. Resembling alcohol intoxication, users may stumble and exhibit clumsy or unbalanced behaviors physically. Slurred speech and drowsiness, along with unsteadiness are common. As dosage increases, the anesthetic effects of PCP will occur. At higher doses, convulsions may occur for the user. Because PCP is only produced outside controlled environments, it is not possible to know the exact dose the user is taking. It is also common for users to be unaware of taking PCP when it is “dosed” in a joint, cigarette or a drink they may be having. Immediate effects of PCP will decrease emotional and mental boundaries for the user. They may not recognize their existence and may experience sensations of detachment or invisibility from others. There may be paranoia and aggression, even suicidal ideation as the detachment becomes more pronounced. Reports in the late 1970s included those of users who pulled their own teeth, broke through handcuffs, and one report of a user who murdered and ate his roommate in drug-induced stupor reportedly caused by PCP. Because there is such a wide range of responses to the drug, it has seen a decline in use since the 1980s. Because it acts on the brain in such a way that the user may become unaware of what they are doing, recreational use is often a nightmare of psychotic episodes and physical muscle contractions that have led to broken bones for users. Violent users have been restrained due to the inability to reason with them and their dissociated states. Coming down, users may find that they have been hospitalized for what appeared to be demented behaviors and violence that includes superhuman strength, requiring restraints to subdue and calm them. Other reports that are attributed to PCP include self-mutilation and even dismemberment of users. This is another feature that occurs because of the analgesic and anesthetic properties of PCP. Users have little or no experience of pain; allowing dissociative effects of PCP to allow them to believe they are no longer human.

What Makes PCP Addictive?

PCP becomes addictive through repeated use, which creates psychological dependence. The effects can last for many days or just a few hours--another side effect that cannot be predicted when use is initiated. Permanent damage with frequent, long-term PCP dangers use may include, but is not limited to mood disorders, memory loss and cognitive disabilities, and permanent psychosis. Physical damage may also include broken bones and muscles torn while under the influence of the drug, as well as other self-mutilating wounds that may have been inflicted. Psychotic episodes may recur for many months and years after use of PCP has ceased.
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