Phencyclidine

Overview

Phencyclidine or PCP is a synthetic hallucinogenic or dissociative drug that is considered one of the most dangerous illicit substances in the current list of drugs of abuse. Developed as a general anesthetic drug, its usage was discontinued due to its addictive nature and negative side effects.

PCP, in its pure form, is a crystalline, white powder that easily dissolves in water and alcohol. Like bath salts and spice (K2), abuse of PCP also results in detached, aggressive behavior and a feeling of invincibility and invulnerability.

Phencyclidine has been sold guised as methamphetamine, THC, mescaline, LSD MDMA and even formaldehyde. Based on a 2000 report of DEA, ecstasy (MDMA) sold in the streets contain PCP.1

Screening Cut-off and Detection Time

There are two cut-off levels in drug testing to show positive detection. The initial drug testing is deemed negative if the drug detected is below cut-off level. A negative reading does not necessarily means there is no drug in the system. It may indicate that there is drug in the system but its level is below cut-off point. If the initial result is positive a confirmatory test is required to support the initial test.

In urine drug testing, cut-off levels are measured in Nano gram per milliliter (ng/ml). The cut-off level for oxycodone is from 100-500 ng/ml within a detection period of 1-3 days.3 Confirmatory cut-off level for said drug is 100-300ng/ml.

DEA Drug Class

DEA or the Drug Enforcement Administration is the federal agency that is in-charge of all drug-related concerns. This includes the use, abuse, trade, manufacture and other illegal activities relating to illicit substances use and abuse. The 1970 Controlled Substance Act or CSA is the set of laws and by-laws relating to prohibited drugs.

Based on CSA, PCP is schedule II drug.5 This drug has a high potential for abuse and currently has an accepted medical use in treatment or medical use with strict restrictions. Abuse of PCP may lead to physical or psychological dependence.

Drug Type

Phencyclidine is a synthetic drug classed under the diverse group of hallucinogens. These are drugs that alter feelings, thoughts and perception. They cause images and sensations that seem reel even if they are not. Natural hallucinogens are also found in some mushrooms and plants. Some hallucinogens are synthetic and are therefore man-made.

PCP is also classified as a dissociative drug.6 This type of drug disrupts the actions of glutamate on the brain’s nerve cells. Glutamate is the chemical that plays a major role in a person’s perception, cognition and emotion. PCP also changes the actions of dopamine which is the neurotransmitter associated with the feeling of euphoria.

Forms and Routes of Administration

Phencyclidine or PCP is sold on the street in crystal, white powder, tablets, capsules and liquid forms. Most PCP bought on the illicit drug market are contaminated as they are manufactured in makeshift laboratories. PCP with contaminants color range is from tan to brown: consistency range is from powder to gelatinous mass. PCP can be snorted, swallowed, or smoked alone or in combination with other substances such as MDMA, marijuana or tobacco.

  • Powder –It is most commonly sold in tablets of multiple colors and in varying doses. Powdered PCP can be taken orally, snorted or sprinkled onto leaves for smoking. When snorted or smoked, the effect is felt in 2 to 5 minutes, and last for four to six hours. When ingested, the effect is felt after 30 to 60 minutes, lasting from 6 to 24 hours.
  • Liquid – This is phencyclidine which is often dissolved in ether. As this drug is water soluble, PCP tablet is crushed and dissolved in water and sometimes taken as injectable. When smoked, liquid PCP is sprayed onto leaves such as marijuana, parsley, oregano or mint then rolled into a cigarette. Injection of PCP is not very common.

Uses of Amphetamines

PCP was used as a surgical anesthetic for humans during its early years. Its use with humans was discontinued when its effects became evident. Subsequently, the drug was used in veterinary medicine as animal tranquilizer. Currently, use of PCP for veterinary purposes is quite rare. The drug is illicit and is being used recreationally.

Street Names

Straight PCP

  • Angel Dust
  • Amp
  • Animal Trank
  • Zoom
  • Peace Pills
  • Sherm Sticks
  • Embalming Fluid
  • Boat
  • Amoeba
  • Belladonna
  • Super Grass
  • STP

PCP/Marijuana Combination

  • Dust Blunt
  • Fry Sticks
  • Love Boat
  • Illy
  • Happy Stick
  • Wet
  • Dippers

PCP/MDMA

  • Pikachu
  • Elephant Flipping

Effects and Symptoms

Phencyclidine affects the functioning of the brain receptors which plays a part in one’s perception of pain, emotion, memory as well as learning abilities. It also triggers the neurotransmitter dopamine which is responsible for the euphoria experienced with drug use.7

The effects of Phencyclidine depend on the dosage, personality of the user, his expectations and experience with the drug. Dosage of 5mg or less results to milder effects, while 10mg or more of PCP could lead to erratic and intense behavior.8

Levels of Intoxication

  • Low dosage: impaired judgment; mood elevation; dreamy
  • Moderate dosage: failure of muscular coordination; dissociated; confused; inebriated; decrease in pain sensation
  • High dosage: all of the symptoms mentioned; blank stare, catatonia; hallucinations; delirium; drooling; amnesia; psychosis; hypertensive crisis

Short Term Effects (Psychological)

  • Relaxation or drowsiness
  • Mild to intense euphoria
  • Distorted sense of one’s body; a feeling of weightlessness
  • Feelings of dissociation and unreality with the surrounding
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations; sensory distortions
  • Anxiety
  • Sense of time and space is distorted
  • Trouble concentrating and thinking
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Intense feelings of alienation
  • Depression
  • Hostile or bizarre behavior
  • Obsession with trivial matters
  • Delusions
  • Terror, panic and the overwhelming fear of imminent death

Short Term Effects (Physiological)

  • Blurred vision and constricted pupils
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Dizziness
  • Blank staring
  • Speech problems
  • Rigid muscles
  • Less sensitivity to pain, touch
  • Coma or stupor
  • Abnormally low/high blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Salivation
  • Sweating, chills

Long-Term Effects

  • Chronic users have the tendency to binge on PCP for up to 3 days straight
  • Flashbacks
  • Stuttering, inability to speak, or inability to express
  • Severe and chronic depression and anxiety which could lead to suicide
  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Psychosis, paranoia, hostile or aggressive behavior
  • Delusional
  • Drug dependence or addiction

Tolerance, Dependence and Withdrawal

PCP abusers will quickly develop tolerance to the drug more so if they practice “runs” or binge on this drug for days without stop. The danger of binging is overdose which could ultimately lead to death. PCP is highly addictive. Psychological dependence to this drug is a step away from physical dependence or addiction. The user becomes an abuser and an addict as this is the progression. At this stage the addict craves for the drug not only psychologically but physically. Withdrawal symptoms will manifest if he fails to take the drug.

Memory loss, depression, speech impairment, cognitive problems, and weight loss are some of the withdrawal symptoms that may last a year after initial detoxification of the abuser. Other withdrawal symptoms include increased sleep and increased appetite.

Health Conditions that Make Taking PCP more Dangerous

A study regarding pregnant PCP users indicated that they gave birth to babies who showed withdrawal symptoms. It was assumed that succumbing these babies to cold turkey will basically overcome diarrhea, vomiting and other physical indications of withdrawal.

The long-term effects of PCP-abuser mothers on newborns such as physical and mental problems became evident before they reached the age of 2 years.9

  • The muscle tone of the head is similar to children with cerebral palsy
  • At six months, the babies continue to display irritability, tremors and jitteriness
  • By nine months, the babies still cannot figure out what to do with their hands
  • By 12 months, their IQs start to drop
  • At 20-24 months, they still cannot coordinate their tongues to form words

Illegal drugs and breastfeeding do not go together. Illicit substances and drugs pass from the mother’s bloodstream into the breast milk and are therefore harmful to the baby’s health. PCP is one these illegal drugs.

History

Phencyclidine (PCP), first synthesized in 1926, was developed and sold as Sernyl by Parke, Davis and Company in the 1950s. The term PCP is attributed to its chemical name Phenylcylohexyl Piperdine and the drug’s abbreviated street name of PeaCePill.

PCP was initially used as an effective anesthetic drug for surgical procedures as it did not show negative effects to the lungs and heart. However, its adverse side effects such as dysphoria, severe anxiety and post-operative psychosis led to the discontinuance of its production in 1965.
PCP use was restricted for veterinary use as an efficient animal tranquilizer.

PCP hit the street scene in Haight Ashbury, San Francisco, center of the hippie movement in the 1960s.2 It was manufactured in underground laboratories, and this mind-altering drug peaked in the 1970’s. The drug was snorted, smoked or swallowed. It was easily available on the street, thanks to those clandestine laboratories.

In 1978, PCP became an illegal substance in the United States. It is a controlled substance and is classified as drug with high probability for abuse, or physical or psychological dependence.

The use of PCP declined in the 1980’s and 1990’s. However, PCP’s use as a recreational drug recently increased as it is now grouped as a club drug together with ketamine, Ecstasy, rohypnol and LSD.3