PCP (Phencyclidine): Effects, Addiction, & Treatment

PCP is a dissociative substance with hallucinogenic properties that people may use for different reasons, such as to experience euphoria or increase sociability.1 PCP use is most prevalent among younger people, with the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health finding 0.1% of children and  teens between the ages of 12 and 17 and 0.2% of young adults between the ages of 18 to 25 reporting past year use.2 Additionally, the 2021 Monitoring the Future study, which collected data on PCP use in 12th graders, reported that around 0.7% of those surveyed had used PCP in the past year.3

This article will explore what PCP is, including some of its drug effects, dangers, and potential signs of overdose. It will also discuss whether PCP is addictive, how PCP addiction is diagnosed, what some PCP withdrawal symptoms are, and will provide resources to help you find PCP addiction treatment.

What is PCP?

Phencyclidine, also known as PCP, is a dissociative anesthetic drug that is sometimes included in the hallucinogens category of substances.4,5 Dissociatives like PCP cause individuals to feel disconnected from both their body and environment.4

PCP is sometimes found as a white crystalline powder (i.e., angel dust) but may also be encountered on the illicit market in other of forms, including tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids.1,5 People may smoke, swallow, inject, or snort PCP, depending on the form it is in.1,5

Additionally, some people smoke PCP-laced marijuana sticks or cigarettes that are combined with embalming fluid (formaldehyde and methyl alcohol).6 This is referred to as “fry” or “wet;” use of this combination has been reported to be on the rise among people who also smoke crack cocaine.6

PCP (Phencyclidine) Effects

Misuse of this substance can have a variety of adverse PCP health effects, which can vary as doses increase.1 Effects become more severe with increasing amounts, which can be broken down into three stages of intoxication:1

Stage 1 (between 2 and 5 milligrams):1

  • Unpredictability
  • Feeling drunk
  • Disorientation
  • Combativeness or rage
  • Alternating between feeling lethargic and fearful agitation
  • Reduced pain perception
  • Uncontrolled eye movements (nystagmus)

Stage 2 (between 5 and 25 milligrams):1

  • Stupor
  • A mild coma
  • Still being able to respond to deep pain
  • Muscle contractions
  • Bizarre postures

Stage 3 (25 milligrams or more):1

  • Being comatose and unresponsive to deep pain
  • Abnormally high body temperature (hyperthermia)
  • Convulsions
  • Death

Orally consuming doses of PCP in the 5 to 10 mg range in particular can reportedly result in the onset of an acute psychosis, with audiovisual hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and even catatonic features (a condition characterized by abnormal movements and behaviors).1

Is PCP Dangerous?

Yes, PCP is dangerous. The use of it can lead to severe health risks, some of which can be potentially fatal.1 Some of these dangers of PCP use include:1

  • Prolonged psychosis. Individuals who have used PCP long-term can experience prolonged psychosis.1 Unfortunately, those who do develop this condition are at greater risk for developing schizophrenia.1
  • Dependence. The chronic use of PCP can cause a person to develop physiological dependence, a condition where the body has made adaptations as a result of substance misuse, which could result in an associated withdrawal syndrome when use is discontinued.7,8
  • Violent behavior. The majority of deaths in individuals intoxicated with PCP occur as a result of the violent behavior they can develop.1 For example, there are case reports of people on PCP jumping from buildings, walking into traffic, or even inflicting severe physical injury on themselves.1
  • Cardiovascular problems. PCP has been proven to be a cardiac irritant and can cause serious problems including arrhythmias and vasospasms (narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain, blocking blood flow).1

Another potentially dangerous and deadly effect of PCP use is overdose, or PCP toxicity, which can result in various PCP overdose signs.9

Signs of a PCP Overdose

People can overdose on PCP, which can sometimes be fatal.9 And while the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that fatal overdoses from PCP are uncommon, they do still occur.4 Further adding to these risks, increasing amounts of fentanyl are being found in PCP-related overdoses in some parts of the country, particularly in the Northeast.10 This presents the potential for increased risk for PCP overdose, especially for those unsuspecting of fentanyl contamination or with low opioid tolerance.10

Someone who is experiencing an overdose on this substance can exhibit the following PCP overdose signs and symptoms:9

  • Uncontrolled eye movements (i.e., nystagmus)
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Violent behavior
  • Severe agitation
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Muscular incoordination
  • Hyperthermia
  • Rapid heartbeat and elevated blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Coma

A PCP overdose is a medical emergency that requires treatment.9 Call 911 right away if you suspect that you or someone you know are suffering from a PCP overdose.

Is PCP Addictive?

Though the question is not as easily answered as it is for certain other substances such as alcohol and opioids, there is evidence that PCP can lead to the development of a substance use disorder.5 Due to its pharmacological properties, PCP can influence the activity of several different neurotransmitter systems, including that of dopamine—a signaling molecule in the brain associated with the rewarding effects of certain drugs and the reinforcement of certain behaviors associated with addiction.1,5 Reports indicate that long-term use of PCP can be associated with other addiction-associated phenomena, including tolerance, meaning a person needs increasing doses to experience prior effects.5,11

PCP Addiction Symptoms

Medical professionals diagnose PCP addiction as phencyclidine use disorder, based on the presence of certain diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V).11 As diagnostic criteria, some (but not all) of the signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes characteristic of a phencyclidine use disorder include:11

  • Using PCP in larger amounts or over a longer period than originally intended.
  • Being unable to cut down or stop PCP use.
  • Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, home, or school due to PCP use.
  • Reducing or giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities due to PCP use.
  • Recurrent PCP use in situations where it is physically dangerous to do so (such as while driving or operating machinery).

Are There PCP Withdrawal Symptoms?

As with other hallucinogens, though it isn’t currently included in the diagnosis for phencyclidine use disorder in the DSM-V, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is some research evidence of a PCP withdrawal syndrome developing after repeated use.5

Possible PCP withdrawal symptoms may include:5, 12

  • Headache.
  • Drug craving.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Irritability.
  • Hypersomnolence (excessive need for sleep).
  • Diaphoresis (excessive sweating).
  • Tremor.

If you or someone you loved are experiencing symptoms of addiction or are struggling with PCP misuse, help is available.

PCP Addiction Treatment Near Tampa

Seeking help for PCP addiction is the first step on the path to recovery, allowing you or someone you know who is struggling with substance misuse to regain control of life. River Oaks, a leading provider of addiction treatment, offers a variety of rehab levels of care to meet your changing needs as you progress in your recovery journey, including medical detox, inpatient rehab near Tampa, intensive outpatient programs, and aftercare.

Please call to speak to a kind, compassionate admissions navigator and learn more about rehab admissions, insurance coverage for rehab, and handling the cost of rehab. They can also guide you regarding rehab options that best suit your needs.




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