There are those who believe that hallucinogenic drugs do not require long-term detox or withdrawal support. Because these drugs stay in the body a relatively short amount of time, some believe that detox is relatively easy and doesn’t require medical support. Nevertheless, there can be some major challenges in the detox and withdrawal process regarding hallucinogens.
Phencyclidine, or PCP, is one of these drugs that is often dismissed as having no real detox issues. On the contrary, PCP stays in the body longer than some other hallucinogens. Because it can be bound into brain tissue, it can have long-lasting withdrawal effects that often make it difficult to stop using the drug once abuse has begun.
PCP – also known as angel dust, among other names – is a hallucinogen and dissociative drug that makes the user feel separated from the body. The drug was originally created in the early 20th century and used as an anesthetic for surgery. Veterinarians still use it for this purpose, and the sources of the street drug are often veterinary supply chains.
While many people consider hallucinogens to not be addictive, long-term use of PCP can result in dependence, tolerance, and addiction. This results from shifts in brain chemistry caused by the drug’s effects on the dopamine and GABA systems, among others. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, the drug works specifically by disrupting glutamate in the brain, which affects memory, learning, perception, and emotional experience.
PCP in the Body: Effects and Metabolism
PCP is usually either ingested, smoked, injected, or snorted. Depending on the method of use, it can take about 5-30 minutes for the effects to be felt.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, along with the hallucinogenic, dissociative, and euphoric experiences, the effects of using the drug include:
- Increased heart rate and breathing
- Intense sensory and emotional experiences
- Alteration in perception of time
Some people who use these types of drugs experience “bad trips,” during which the sensory experience is negative or frightening. This can make a person want to quit using the drug; however, in the case of addiction, this may not be possible. Once a person is addicted to a substance, it can be difficult to decrease or stop use, even if it is desired.
Detox from PCP
While some people believe that PCP passes through the body very quickly – within a couple of days – this is not true of everyone. The half-life of PCP can range from 7 to 46 hours, according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. This means that it can take anywhere from 2-10 days for the drug to clear from the body. This is due to the fact that the substance binds to brain and fat tissue, keeping it in the body longer than might otherwise occur with a similar substance.
According to Mental Health Daily, factors that determine how quickly the detox process is completed include:
- Personal health and constitution, such as age, fitness, and weight
- Individual health conditions, such as kidney or liver function, or existing illnesses
- How long the person has been taking the drug and the dosage taken
- The person’s metabolic rate and food or water intake
- Urinary pH
PCP Withdrawal Timeline
Withdrawal from PCP can bring some disturbing symptoms; the most prevalent and difficult one to deal with is anhedonia – a lack of ability to feel pleasure. According to research from Neuropsychopharmacology, this is based on suppression of the reward systems in the brain, including the dopamine and GABA systems that are involved in the euphoric response to taking recreational drugs. This long-term, systemic suppression of pleasure responses can make it challenging to avoid relapse and can draw out the withdrawal timeline a great deal.
An average PCP withdrawal timeline looks like this:
- 2-10 days after last dose: The body begins to clear the drug. The individual may note a decrease in the ability to feel pleasure, as well as the occurrence of flashbacks or visual disturbances based on the hallucinations experienced while using the drug. Rarely, there may be issues with nausea, insomnia, or other mild withdrawal symptoms.
- 2-6 weeks after last dose: Psychosis may arise or worsen, and visual disturbances may continue to occur. The person can experience anhedonia and depressed reward system function for a month or longer.
- 2-12 months after last dose: the individual can continue to experience cravings, as well as visual disturbances and psychotic effects. For some, these may worsen as time goes by.
Helping PCP Withdrawal
Because PCP binds to brain and fat tissue, a major support to PCP detox and withdrawal is to get good exercise (in other words, burn fat) and drink a healthy amount of water. There are also medications that can help with the depression that might be brought on by anhedonia. If these and other mild withdrawal symptoms appear, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says that benzodiazepines can help.
Some of the treatments to help with these withdrawal symptoms can cause other issues or even transferred addiction. While benzodiazepines can be used to deal with depression or other emotional issues in the short-term, using them for too long can risk further neurochemical damage and result in a different addiction. For this reason, research-based substance abuse treatment depends on more than simply detox and medical support to achieve recovery.
Substance abuse treatment following detox can help the person continue to avoid relapse by teaching methods of managing triggers and cravings. The therapies and knowledge provided through rehab can help the person engage in behaviors other than drug use to deal with the triggers that could lead to relapse.
These therapies and sessions include:
- Cognitive therapy
- Motivational therapy
- Nutritional and exercise programs
- Social support through 12-Step programs and family therapy
- Follow-up support after treatment ends
These programs can be found through certified, research-based treatment centers that create individualized plans to deal with the person’s specific issues and challenges, including co-occurring mental health or physical disorders and family or other circumstances that may contribute to the substance abuse. With this support, the person is more likely to stay motivated after detox to continue on the path to abstinence and recovery from PCP abuse.