PCP drug

PCP: Effects, Withdrawal and Recovery

PCP and Drugs of Hallucinogenic Disassociation

A class of drugs known as ‘hallucinogenic disassociates’ possesses some very unique yet alarming characteristics.   One of the most dangerous and unpredictable drugs of our time, PCP, heads up this category of illegal narcotics.

Phencyclidine, otherwise known as PCP, is a mind-altering disassociative that can lead to hallucinations and superhuman strength. The use of this drug leads to the distortion of colors, shapes, sights, sounds, self and can elicit violent behavior.

Better known on the streets as angel dust, sherm, dip, love boat, and dust, PCP is particularly addictive and dangerous to abusers. What is the history of this deadly drug?

PCP Drug Origins and Historical Use

The origins of PCP can be traced back to 1956 at Parke Davis Laboratories in Detroit, where it was first developed as an anesthetic in veterinary medicine. It was even used for a short time as a general anesthetic in humans but was quickly eliminated due to the potential to cause unpredictable behavior.

PCP is very inexpensive to manufacture, which led to its widespread use as an illegal narcotic after being classified as illicit. The black market trade of the drug intensified in the 1960s, with many users suffering suicide and self-mutilation.

The illegal use of PCP grew into a problem of epic proportions in the 70s and 80s, with an estimated number of American users peaking at seven million by 1983. However, by the time the late 80s and early 90s rolled around, PCP use declined due to the rising popularity of crack cocaine.

PCP may be swallowed or snorted but is most commonly smoked as an additive to other substances such as marijuana or spearmint leaves. Dealers also sell “dipped cigarettes” that are laced with the substance.

Is PCP Really a Horse Tranquilizer?

Because of the first intended uses of the drug, PCP developed an affinity for being a horse, hog, or elephant tranquilizer on the streets. These are common sales tactics used to market the potency of PCP.

Although PCP was used as a horse tranquilizer, it was not solely developed for this purpose. The drug was also used as an anesthetic for other animal species during the time of use.

Another common item associated with PCP is embalming fluid. What is the relation between PCP and this fluid used at funeral homes?

PCP Drug Use and Embalming Fluid

When PCP drug use began to skyrocket, many dealers and users associated this illegal narcotic with embalming fluid. Many people to this day mistakenly make the assumption that these two substances are the same.

The truth is, PCP and embalming fluid are two completely separate substances, but they do produce similar effects. Additionally, embalming fluid is also used to deliver PCP in liquid form.

In many cases, PCP will be mixed with embalming fluid in order to deliver the drug in liquid form. This allows dealers to dip cigarettes into the deadly mixture and sell them for a substantial profit.

Many dealers began selling cigarettes dipped in embalming fluid alone with no traces of PCP involved. Side effects of the former may include the following:

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • High levels of adrenaline
  • Hallucinations
  • Disassociation
  • Delusions of superhuman strength

This list of potential side effects is not dissimilar to the same feelings produced by PCP. How exactly does PCP go to work on the brain?

How PCP Interacts With the Brain

PCP interacts with the brain in a very complex way. Upon ingestion, PCP enters from outside of the neurons and binds, blocking the influx of positive ions into certain cells.

The normal psychological function requires that positive ions are steadily pumped to our brain receptors. This blockage is what causes cognitive and behavioral issues, as well as significant effects on the central nervous system.

Additionally, PCP also increases the body temperature of a user. This highly elevated temperature level can easily cause brain damage, stroke, and other negative consequences in users who ingest moderate amounts of the drug.


What Does PCP Look Like?

PCP initially comes in the form of a white crystalline powder. However, the drug is soluble in water, thus making it easy for dealers to sell the drug in liquid form.

Many dealers will add dyes or colorings to their specific batch of PCP as a marketing tactic. Other street vendors will mix the liquid with things like marijuana or spearmint leaves and sell the product in this form to make it more smokeable.

Because of the varying forms in which PCP exists, it can be difficult to identify and can be very easy to lace into other substances. This is commonly done without the consent of individuals on the receiving end of the drug.

Because of its varying forms, PCP can be used in several different forms. Because of this, there is a high risk of negative interactions with other drugs. Let’s examine how PCP affects a user when other drugs are thrown into the mix.

PCP and Other Drugs

Mixing PCP with other drugs normally warrants results with more intensity than ingesting PCP on its own. The following list is a sample of the possible interactions with PCP and their potential results:

  • When mixed with LSD, the potential for increased psychoactive effects is intensified. The user may hallucinate for longer periods of time and in a more intense manner. The possibilities of a violent outbreak or self-harm are increased when PCP is mixed with LSD.


  • Cocaine can trigger psychosis on its own after a long period of intoxication. When mixed with PCP, this potential risk is only heightened. Users put themselves at high risk of developing short-term psychosis and running the risk of self-harm and harm to others. Additionally, the chances for heart attack or stroke are drastically increased as well due to heart rate levels and blood pressure.


  • Combined with benzos, the negative effects of PCP may be decreased. However, it’s important to note that large amounts of benzos may further throw the user into disassociation, leading to longer durations of violent outbursts.


  • Alcohol is one of the deadliest drugs a user can mix with PCP because both substances cause respiratory depression. The mix of these two greatly enhances the risk of a user entering a coma or experiencing respiratory arrest. Many cases of death from PCP use were combined with alcohol.


There are several ways users can mix PCP and other drugs, depending on how the PCP is ingested.

How is PCP Taken or Used

PCP drug use can be accomplished in a number of ways. Because of its ability to break down in the water, many users will inject the drug, leading to the most intense effects.

Alternatively, users will douse marijuana or other leafy substances with the liquid and smoke PCP. The drug received its nickname “wet” because of the ability to wet other substances with the chemical to prepare them for ingestion.

PCP may also be taken orally or snorted. Presently, the most common method of sale and ingestion is through dipped cigarettes mixed with embalming fluid.

There are many different effects manifested as a result of PCP use. Some of these effects can result in violent behavior, which is what makes the drug so unpredictable.

Effects of PCP Drug Use

Because PCP is a disassociative anesthetic, it gives users a disconnected feeling from reality. After the initial dose, the user may experience euphoric or happy feelings and changes in time. These effects normally kick in after 30 to 90 minutes of the initial dose.

When the drug is smoked or injected, effects are felt as fast as 2 to 5 minutes. The effects are much more intense when the user shifts from sniffing to smoking or injecting. During these times, users typically report out-of-body experiences, superhuman strength, or random acts of violence and self-harm.

PCP also produces psychedelic effects, with many users experiencing full visual or auditory hallucinations.  This psychedelic experience, mixed with a disconnection from reality, is what often fosters violent behavior and superhuman strength in users.

The high levels of anxiety and paranoia are what make PCP such an unpredictable drug. Mix these elements with superhuman strength, and you have a surefire recipe for violence, homicide, and suicide.

When a user experiences these effects, how long do they last?

Duration of PCP Drug Effects

The duration and intensity of the effects of PCP weigh heavily on the amount and means of ingestion. Users report that the effects can be as short-lived as 4 hours but last up to 48 in some cases.

Uses that result in long-acting effects are usually the most violent. Longer durations of PCP drug influence include reports of being detached from reality or one’s self or being divorced from the rest of the world.

The means of ingestion is also a huge contributor to the duration of the effects of this drug. Typically users that inject the drug will have the effects dissipate the fastest. This is because of the quicker route of metabolism by the drug in the body.

Users that snort and orally ingest PCP will most likely experience the longest-lasting effects. However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t always correlate with the strongest effects.

Rapid ingestion of a moderate amount will often send a user into violent behavior. With PCP, it’s normally the quick delivery that brings about unsavory results.

PCP is one of the only hallucinogenic drugs that include a clear risk for dependence and addiction. How long does it take users to develop a tolerance to PCP?

Developing a Tolerance to PCP

Like any other addictive drug, users will develop a tolerance over time to PCP. Smaller quantities that once produced a high no longer illicit the desired effects, so users turn to higher doses of the drug.

The problem with PCP is the fact that a user may develop a physical and mental tolerance for the drug. However, the exact length of time it takes to build up a tolerance is based on several factors.

  • The size and weight of a user will have a significant impact on the tolerance levels to the drug.


  • The average amount ingested and dosing frequency will also play a significant role in the user’s tolerance.


  • The potency and means of ingestion will also have a substantial effect on how fast a tolerance is built.


Typically users that inject the drug will develop a tolerance the fastest, followed by smoking, snorting, and oral ingestion. One of the problems with IV use of PCP is the fact that a user develops a habit of the drug and the needle.

After forming a tolerance, a user will fall into withdrawal if they do not maintain daily use. How severe are the withdrawal symptoms of PCP?


What are the Signs of PCP Withdrawal?

The long-term abuse of PCP will lead to withdrawal symptoms once a user begins abstaining from the drug. Besides engaging in drug-seeking behavior, the individual may also display the following symptoms during withdrawal:

Short Term Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Muscle breakdown
  • Hallucination
  • Seizures
  • Diarrhea
  • Elevated body temperature

PCP side effects and withdrawal infographic by Nicole R.

Halting the use of PCP may also trigger long-term withdrawal symptoms that are felt long after the initial symptoms dissipate.

Long Term Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Speech impairment
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty with cognitive functions


After discontinued use, these long-term symptoms may continue for months and even years. Many users seek the help of medical professionals to increase their odds during the battle for sobriety.

Aside from these common symptoms of PCP withdrawal, a user may also experience what is known as flashback symptoms. What do these flashbacks entail, and how do they affect the user?

PCP Drug Use and Flashback Episodes

PCP can cause what is known as HPPD, or hallucinogen persisting perception disorder. Experiencing this condition is also known as a flashback, which is common among abuse of hallucinogenic drugs.

There is no warning sign of this condition or a specific length of time a user must engage in PCP use before developing HPPD. However, these flashback episodes are known to occur even years after the last use of the drug.

Although the exact cause of these episodes isn’t known, the fact that PCP affects the central nervous system could be a significant factor. Other chronic conditions and areas affected by PCP include the following:

Learning or Memory Issues

Long-term users of PCP have recorded learning issues and problems with memory. Even short-term PCP use is known to cause symptoms of memory loss. This can severely affect the day-to-day functions of a PCP addict or individual in recovery.

Speech Issues

Chronic use of PCP can lead to significant speech impediment issues as well. The user may completely lose their ability to talk altogether. Although this is rare, these are some of the more common speech issues as a result of PCP use:

  • Developing a stutter
  • Trouble giving descriptions
  • Trouble speaking whole words


It is possible through the use of a specialist in speech or a speech therapist that a user can gain their ability to communicate back.

Chronic Depression

One of the most common long-term risks associated with PCP use is chronic depression. Even in users who ingested small doses of PCP, depression, and anxiety can present problems much later in life. Higher doses of PCP throughout an addict’s use may cause suicidal thoughts or tendencies.

Toxic Psychosis

Long-term PCP use can cause issues of toxic psychosis, especially if there are underlying mental conditions present. Toxic psychosis may warrant the following symptoms:

  • Violent tendencies
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions


Besides these issues, PCP is also linked to many cases of suicide and death. These cases involve things like jumping from high distances, drowning, and random, violent episodes.

Because of this high risk for severe symptoms and conditions, the need for treatment options for PCP addiction is incredibly vital.

Options for Treatment of PCP Drug Use

No single treatment option exists for the abuse of PCP, so it’s vital that users have a variety of options to choose from. Some of the more common treatments for PCP addiction include the following programs:

Medically Assisted Detox

Because of the mental effects of PCP drug addiction, medically assisted detox may be warranted in many cases. Patients displaying a severe level of anxiety and psychotic tendencies may need extensive medical assistance in order to detox from this drug.

Addicts that are under medically supervised detox may benefit from the following scenarios:

  • If the individual is still experiencing psychotic or violent outbursts, they may be placed under sedation for a certain period. This sedation will continue until the patient no longer exhibits violent tendencies. These tendencies can put the patient in danger and individuals around the patient. This is more of a safety measure than a means of detox or withdrawal assistance.
  • After this period, users may still be prescribed benzos or antidepressants to battle further negative symptoms. Short-term treatment with prescriptions such as valium may alleviate severe bouts of anxiety or depression during the treatment process.
  • The patient will also be monitored for vitals to ensure that the heart rate remains under control, blood pressure doesn’t spike, and the body temperature remains within the optimal range.

The alternative during this phase is at-home detox.

At-Home Detox

Detoxing at home is an option during the recovery process; however, it isn’t recommended. Individuals who detox at home may use relapse as an option to fight against the negative elements of withdrawal.

Additionally, the potential for a user to become violent or unpredictable poses a significant safety risk for anyone in the home. It’s also easier to transition to an inpatient rehab after medically assisted detox.

Inpatient Rehab

After the detox process, inpatient rehab may produce positive results when compared to the “cold turkey” option. PCP addicts will have options for counseling and the ability to interact with their peers in support groups. Success rates are much higher using inpatient rehab options because of the following characteristics:

  • The ability to participate in one on one counseling sessions with a licensed psychiatrist is a significant benefit of inpatient rehab facilities. Professional counseling will lead the addict to address the root of their addiction, leading to a higher rate of success in the end.


  • Medical supervision throughout the duration of the rehab process is also important. PCP withdrawal and detox can produce various negative symptoms and side effects. Having trained medical professionals onsite during the course of treatment increases the safety of the individual in recovery.


  • The removal from a familiar setting where drugs are readily available is another significant benefit of inpatient rehab. In their normal environment, users can contact old dealers and friends to obtain drugs rather quickly. This is nearly impossible in a quality rehab facility due to the remote location and tight security.


  • Engaging with peers during support meetings is another benefit of inpatient rehab facilities. These can provide additional benefits that counseling with a psychiatrist doesn’t warrant, like the feeling of being able to relate to someone in a similar situation.

Continued Primary Care and Counseling

Because of the long-term mental effects of PCP use, having the option for continued primary care and counseling is vital. Many users in recovery will need the assistance of professional psychiatry for the remainder of their lives due to the extensive damage PCP can do.

At the recommendation of their counselor or psychiatrist, many users may remain on certain medications in order to promote their overall mental health. These may include things like antidepressants, antianxiety medication, antipsychotics, and other drugs for mental conditions.

It’s possible that combined with behavioral modification therapy, an individual will return to a normal line of thinking and regain much of their cognitive abilities. However, it’s important to remember that treating conditions with medication should only exist as a short-term solution.

During the extended period of recovery, it’s important that a user doesn’t swap one addiction for another. Because of the likelihood of further substance abuse issues, users in recovery must be monitored closely by physicians and counselors for the duration of their recovery.

What are other important elements that contribute to lasting recovery from PCP?


Lasting Recovery from PCP is Possible

After a patient finishes inpatient rehab and continues outpatient therapy and continued treatment, the chances of remaining sober increase significantly. However, it’s important to remember that lasting recovery from PCP is a job that’s never finished.

The following list can provide additional benefits to promote lasting recovery from PCP drug addiction:

  • Continued peer and group therapy sessions are always popular in long-term recovery cases. This helps to continue the theme of abstinence and allows the user to engage and obtain support from their peers.
  • A strong support system made up of sober friends and family will go a long way as well. This is one of the most important dynamics when it comes to lasting recovery from any drug. Because these are the people that the user will contact the most, it’s vital that they understand the signs and symptoms of relapse and what to do in the event relapse happens.
  • Returning to normal life and schedule is always crucial in terms of recovery. In order for recovering addicts to feel normal again, they must return to activities such as a regular job, enjoying hobbies, and spending time with family and friends. The more a user is able to return to a normal life, the higher the chances of long-lasting recovery are.


It’s vital that the addict is able to engage and vent about their addiction openly. The existence of their addiction and completion of rehab and recovery should never be something that’s encouraged to be covered up. Users will take a great deal of pride in overcoming their dependence, and it’s important they are able to express their feelings regarding recovery and feelings of addiction from the past.


The following section contains the most pertinent questions regarding PCP use and addiction.


PCP shows up on most standard 12 to 15-panel drug tests. Normally, the abbreviation will be used on the panel, reading PCP where the indicator is.

An overdose of PCP will exhibit the following symptoms in a user:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extremely high body temperature
  • Constricted pupils
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure

In extreme cases, PCP overdose can result in death from the user’s negative physical effects or self-harm.

The length of time PCP stays in a user’s system based on drug testing are as follows:

  • Urine test: 1 to 10 days
  • Blood test: 24-hours
  • Saliva: 1 to 10 days

The half-life of a drug is the amount of time it takes for 50% of the substance to exit the user’s body. It’s estimated that the half-life of PCP is somewhere around 21-hours. This is also dependent on the following elements:

  • The user’s weight
  • The amount ingested
  • Frequency and method of ingestion
  • Hydration levels of the user
One of the most similar drugs to PCP is a substance known as ketamine. Ketamine is used as an anesthetic during surgery for animals and humans. Additionally, ketamine is also prescribed to alleviate symptoms of “phantom pain.” This condition is associated with individuals who lose their limbs due to illness or injury.

In fact, ketamine was formulated as an alternative to PCP after negative substance abuse issues were discovered regarding the former. However, ketamine is now also a widely used drug in the club and rave scene. Although it’s not known to cause the violent outbursts that PCP does, it can be just as addictive and harmful to a user’s health.

Ketamine normally comes in a liquid form when used for medical purposes. However, it comes in a white crystalline form on the black market, taking on a look similar to crystal meth. Users may inject, snort, or eat ketamine. The disassociative properties are not as intense as PCP; however, the psychedelic properties may be more prevalent. This may be one of the reasons that ketamine has surpassed PCP in popularity among illegal drug users.

No matter the reason for your look into PCP and disassociative drugs, if you are struggling with substances of any kind, please reach out to our team of compassionate professionals at Find Addiction Rehabs now for your full range of treatment options and other resources nationwide.

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