PCP side effects

Dear Alice,

I just realized you have no entries on PCP, and am wondering if you could give me some information on it. I have experimented with it a few times, and since then have become very nervous on occasion and I find that I think more "out of the box." Is this common? Could you give me any other information?

— Georg

Dear Georg,  

Thanks for the heads up, and kudos to you for asking about how your experimenting may be impacting you! PCP, or phencyclidine, is a drug that goes by many names — angel dust, peace pill, rocket fuel, horse tranq, hog, killer weed, love boat, and wack. PCP falls into the dissociative drug category, known for producing hallucinatory and other “out of body” experiences. Typically in the form of a white powder, PCP can be snorted, injected, smoked (by rolling the powder into a cigarette or blunt), or even swallowed. PCP often gives those who use it a sense of euphoria and numbness; however, it’s also accompanied by less desirable side effects such as anxiety, memory problems, and hallucinations that persist after using. Potential long-term effects of PCP use include changes in brain chemistry and organ damage. Although your experiences sound common for people who use PCP, if you’re particularly concerned about any of the effects you’ve experienced while taking PCP, you may want to consider talking with a health care provider or mental health professional to help address specific concerns and alleviate your nervousness. For more of the nitty gritty on PCP use, read on.  

First, a bit of history: PCP was first used as an anesthetic (or numbing agent) in medical settings. It was eventually taken off the medical market when patients who were put on higher doses for operations experienced uneasiness, anxiety, and hallucinations. Now, PCP is listed as a Schedule II drug in the United States because it’s considered at high potential for abuse and risk of developing dependence. That being said, it’s illegal to possess or use PCP in the US, which may feel stigmatizing for those who need help after taking the drug.  

To better understand the drug and the side effects, it might be helpful to understand how PCP operates in the body. It’s considered a dissociative drug (meaning it distorts the body's senses) that blocks a neurotransmitter called glutamate from reaching nerve receptors, which is responsible for thinking and memory, emotions, and pain regulation. PCP also impacts dopamine receptors, which gives that sense of euphoria. This is why some people who use PCP report having relaxing, numbing experiences similar to getting drunk from alcohol. Some adverse reactions at low doses include effects such as slurred speech, twitches or seizures, and nystagmus (a jittering back and forth of the eyes, which is characteristic of PCP). The psychological effects that accompany lower doses of PCP can wear off in as little as a few hours, but depending on your method of taking the drug, your experience could vary. Some people report feeling depressed, anxious, and a loss of reality after the drug high wears off. At higher doses (five to ten milligrams), PCP can make you feel euphoric and invincible, but it may also lead to side effects that mimic schizophrenia, such as nausea, blurred vision, agitation, auditory or visual hallucinations, breaks from reality, aggressive or violent outbursts, and catatonia (being immobile or in a stupor). Used with other drugs that impact the nervous system such as alcohol, high doses of PCP may lead to difficulty breathing and death.  

Although there isn’t much research on the long-term effects of using PCP, some research has indicated its effects can last even after terminating usage. Some people who use PCP develop dependence on the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, hallucinations, or muscle twitching. Frequent PCP usage may also impact brain chemistry, resulting in mood disorders, psychosis, memory problems, flashbacks of usage, and speech disorders. These effects can even last up to a year after stopping usage.  

Georg, this may be a good time to reflect on what inspired you to ask your question. Have your experiences made you uneasy or worried about your use? Have you noticed any changes in how you’ve been feeling when you’re not using PCP? Do you find yourself thinking more about when you’ll get your next fix? If you do feel concerned about your habits, it may be a good idea to reach out to a health care provider or mental health professional about how you’ve been feeling. They may be able to determine the impacts of your use and recommend a treatment plan for you, which may include detox or rehabilitation centers and talk therapy. For more information on PCP and other drugs, you can check out the LSD, PCP, & Other Hallucinogens category in the Go Ask Alice! Alcohol and Other Drugs archives.   

Last updated Jul 02, 2021
Originally published Feb 08, 2008

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