Phencyclidine (PCP) is a mind-altering drug that may lead to hallucinations (a profound distortion in a person’s perception of reality). It is considered a dissociative drug, leading to a distortion of sights, colors, sounds, self, and one’s environment. PCP was developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic, but due to the serious neurotoxic side effects, its development for human medical use was discontinued. Ketamine (Ketalar), an anesthetic used for surgery and painful procedures was developed instead and is structurally similar to PCP.
In its purest form, PCP is a white crystalline powder that readily dissolves in water or alcohol and has a distinctive bitter chemical taste. On the illicit drug market, PCP contains a number of contaminants causing the color to range from a light to darker brown with a powdery to a gummy mass consistency.
Pharmacologically, PCP is a noncompetitive NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor antagonist and glutamate receptor antagonist, but also interacts with other receptor sites, and may have effects with dopamine, opioid and nicotinic receptors.
PCP is available in a variety of tablets, capsules, and colored powders, which are either smoked, taken orally or by the intranasal route (“snorted”).
Smoking is the most common route when used recreationally. The liquid form of PCP is actually PCP base often dissolved in ether, a highly flammable solvent. For smoking, PCP is typically sprayed onto leafy material such as mint, parsley, oregano, or marijuana. PCP may also be injected. The effects of PCP can last for 4 to 6 hours.
Many believe PCP to be one of the most dangerous drugs of abuse. A moderate amount of PCP often causes users to feel detached, distant, and estranged from their surroundings.
- Numbness of the extremities, slurred speech, and loss of coordination may be accompanied by a sense of strength and invulnerability.
- A blank stare, rapid and involuntary eye movements, and an exaggerated gait are among the more observable effects.
- Auditory hallucinations, image distortion, severe mood disorders, and amnesia may also occur.
- Acute anxiety and a feeling of impending doom, paranoia, violent hostility, a psychoses indistinguishable from schizophrenia.