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PCP (phencyclidine) was developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic. Its use in humans was discontinued in 1965, because patients often became agitated, delusional, and irrational while recovering from its anesthetic effects. PCP is illegally manufactured in laboratories and is sold on the street by such names as angel dust, ozone, wack, and rocket fuel. Killer joints and crystal supergrass are names that refer to PCP combined with marijuana. The variety of street names for PCP reflects its bizarre and volatile effects.
PCP is a "dissociative drug," meaning that it distorts perceptions of sight and sound and produces feelings of detachment (dissociation) from the environment and self. Dissociative drugs act by altering distribution of the neurotransmitter glutamate throughout the brain. Glutamate is involved in a person's perception of pain, responses to the environment, and memory.
PCP is a white crystalline powder that is readily soluble in water or alcohol. It has a distinctive bitter chemical taste. PCP can be mixed easily with dyes and turns up on the illicit drug market in a variety of tablets, capsules, and colored powders. It is normally abused in one of three ways: snorted, smoked, or ingested. For smoking, PCP is often applied to a leafy material such as mint, parsley, oregano, or marijuana.
PCP is addictive, and its repeated abuse can lead to craving and compulsive PCP-seeking behavior. First introduced as a street drug in the 1960s, PCP quickly gained a reputation as a drug that could cause bad reactions and was not worth the risk. After using PCP once, many people will not knowingly use it again. Others attribute their continued abuse to feelings of strength, power, invulnerability, and a numbing effect on the mind.
Many PCP abusers are brought to emergency rooms because of PCP overdose or because of the drug's unpleasant psychological effects. In a hospital or detention setting, these people often become violent or suicidal and are very dangerous to themselves and others. They should be kept in a calm setting and not be left alone.
At low to moderate doses, physiological effects of PCP include a slight increase in breathing rate and a pronounced rise in blood pressure and pulse rate. Breathing becomes shallow, and flushing and profuse sweating occur. Generalized numbness of the extremities and loss of muscular coordination also may occur.
At high doses of PCP, blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration drop. This may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, flicking up and down of the eyes, drooling, loss of balance, and dizziness. High doses of PCP can also cause seizures, coma, and death (though death more often results from accidental injury or suicide during PCP intoxication). High doses can cause symptoms that mimic schizophrenia, such as delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, disordered thinking, a sensation of distance from one's environment, and catatonia. Speech is often sparse and garbled.
People who abuse PCP for long periods report memory loss, difficulties with speech and thinking, depression, and weight loss. These symptoms can persist up to a year after stopping PCP abuse. Mood disorders also have been reported. PCP has sedative effects, and interactions with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, can lead to coma.
Extent of Use
Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey
MTF data show that in 2005, 2.4 percent of high school seniors reported having used PCP; annual use was reported by 1.3 percent of seniors, and 30-day use was reported by 0.7 percent. By 2008 over 100,000 students have reported using PCP.
Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN)
PCP mentions in emergency departments for the third and fourth quarters of 2003 were estimated at 4,581; most of these mentions involved males. Approximately 51 percent were Black, 31 percent were White, and 12 percent were Hispanic.
National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)
According to the 2004 NSDUH study, lifetime use of PCP went down for those aged 18 to 25. Males in this age group showed significant decreases in lifetime use from 2003. Females in this age group showed significant declines in past year use. Lifetime use among 12- or 13-year-olds, however, was up significantly in 2004, from 0.1 percent in 2003 to 0.3 percent.