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The drug PCP – which stands for phencyclidine – was developed in the 1950s to be an intravenous anesthetic drug, but the side effects patients experienced after using the substance led to the discontinuation of its use for medical purposes. However, it has been introduced as an illicit hallucinogen. It is sometimes called angel dust, embalming fluid, or rocket fuel. As a nonmedical, dangerous drug, PCP is found in powdered form, and it is typically smoked, although it can also be mixed with water and injected, drank, or eaten. It is also sometimes found as a pill or gel capsule.
As a hallucinogen, PCP affects people very differently. In the best potential circumstances, the person who takes PCP receives a sense of euphoria and some perceptual changes; unfortunately, this drug is very dangerous and can cause serious mental and physical side effects.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in 2010, there were 53,542 emergency room visits associated with PCP abuse. The drug is primarily ingested by teenagers and young adults, which can lead to long-term health problems in addition to short-term side effects.
When a person ingests PCP, they expect to feel a pleasant high and hallucinate. Initially, the individual might feel happy, and perception changes may not be extreme hallucinations but changes to light, color, sound, and touch. The individual may experience changes in time, either slowing down or speeding up, or they can feel out of or above their bodies. Any effects of PCP begin within 30-60 minutes after it has been ingested orally, or a few minutes if smoked or injected. Depending on the size and potency of the dose, effects can last for 4-6 hours or as long as 24 hours.
Because PCP causes hallucinations, for many people, this can become dangerous. Anxiety, delirium, paranoia, and an inability to distinguish reality from fantasy are hallmark symptoms of PCP intoxication. The individual could become aggressive because of their paranoia or panic attacks, and lash out at themselves or the people around them. They could believe things that are not true, called delusions; these could be delusions of grandeur, including the ability to fly, or paranoid delusions, including the sensation that everyone is trying to harm them. They could experience amnesia or memory loss.
If a person is intoxicated after ingesting PCP, they may display symptoms like:
A person who is intoxicated in PCP may experience several side effects, which can be alarming or physically dangerous. These include:
PCP is extremely addictive, so people who abuse this drug do experience withdrawal symptoms after the dose wears off. Some of these symptoms include:
If a person abuses PCP regularly, they will experience serious physical and mental side effects. They could suffer psychosis during one episode of intoxication, and that could become permanent. This and other serious mental health problems can be triggered during an episode called a “run,” in which a person takes PCP over 2-3 days and does not sleep or eat. The individual can experience “flashbacks” to hallucinations they had while high on PCP. They could develop persistent speech pathologies, including stuttering, an inability to find words or articulate thoughts, persistent disordered thoughts, and in some rare cases, the person may lose the ability to speak at all. Serious anxiety and depression are common among people who chronically abuse PCP. These mental health issues could be accompanied by social isolation and suicidal ideation. Organ damage to the liver, kidneys, and lungs can also occur.
The short-term and long-term effects of PCP abuse and addiction are very serious. It is important to get help as soon as possible to overcome abuse of this drug. Detox will end the body’s physical dependence on PCP, and it should be overseen by medical professionals. It should be followed by a complete rehabilitation program that provides individual and group therapy, and other social support, to overcome addiction. It is possible to overcome PCP addiction, with the right help from professionals.
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