Phencyclidine, or PCP, is a drug developed as a safer alternative to barbiturates when used for anesthesia. This was because when given as anesthesia, barbiturates carried the risk of suppressing the patient’s breathing mechanism. Early studies of Phencyclidine showed that it didn’t carry the risk of this problem when used by itself or with smaller dosages of barbiturates. By the mid-1950s, it was approved for use as an anesthetic. Today, phencyclidine addiction is becoming much more prevalent.
Its Effects When Things Go Right
PCP affects a great variety of neurotransmitters in a person’s central nervous system. It primarily affects N-methyl-D-aspartic acid or NMDA glutamate receptors, but it also affects neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, endorphins and sigma receptors.
When used as an anesthetic, Phencyclidine allows the patient to remain awake and relaxed, but pain-free and immobile. This is called associative anesthesia, where the mind doesn’t receive or perceive the signals it’s getting from the body. Though increased dosages, when things went right, Phencyclidine made the patient unconscious, and the idea of a patient in a relaxed, conscious, pain-free state was considered ideal for some types of surgery as well as childbirth.
When Things Go Wrong
However, by the late 1950s, medical experts were beginning to see problems with the drug. Sometimes, when patients were made unconscious, they would suddenly wake up in the middle of an operation in states of great agitation. They would complain of delusions, hallucinations, and psychosis that could last for hours or even days. It became obvious that Phencyclidine couldn’t be used on human beings. Now, Phencyclidine is a Schedule II drug, which means it has a high abuse potential and can lead to dependence both physically and psychologically.
How It Became a Street Drug
In 1967, PCP began to be used as an anesthetic for animals. Interestingly, 1967 was the year that Phencyclidine also became a street drug.
Researchers believe that Phencyclidine was first used recreationally around the Haight/Ashbury area of San Francisco. Most people took it in pill form. The pill usually took effect within a half an hour, but the user could never be certain of the type of drug experience he or she would have. Other methods of administration include smoking, intravenous injection, snorting, added as eye drops, oral ingestion, and transdermal absorption.
While some people would have a pleasant or euphoric experience, others would be plunged into horrifying visions. Some people saw their bodies becoming grotesquely deformed. Others believed that they had died and experienced being pulled through a dark tunnel toward a light. Yet others endured the psychosis that the drug often produced. Other short-term effects of Phencyclidine include rapid breathing, tachycardia, vomiting, nausea, and sweating. Some users believed that they possessed the abnormal strength or could do things that are physically impossible, like flying from rooftops. Users can also become aggressive, unreasonable and paranoid, which makes it difficult and dangerous for law enforcement officials to deal with them. These experiences gave PCP a bad reputation, and by the end of the 1960s, it had disappeared from Haight/Ashbury.
A Clandestine, Fearsome Resurgence!
Still, the drug had a resurgence in the 1970s. Phencyclidine was not just taken in pill form but could now be injected, snorted and smoked. When it was taken in these ways it was often adulterated with other chemicals. People rarely got 100 percent PCP when they bought it off the street. Still, these methods allowed the drug to reach the brain faster than it would have in pill form. Instead of having to wait for a half an hour for the drug to take effect, the user only had to wait for three or four minutes.
People who used Phencyclidine also began to use the trick of taking it in small doses and waiting to see what happened. This also gave the user the impression that Phencyclidine could be controlled, even though it really couldn’t be. This impression could have boosted the drug’s sales. Still, PCP’s reputation was so fearsome that people who sought a high often turned to more reliable drugs like heroin or cocaine.
To counter this, drug dealers began to sell the drug under a different name. It was often sold as pure THC, which is the main chemical found in marijuana. Dealers used to impregnate marijuana leaves with PCP and then sell them. PCP was also sold as LSD or magic mushrooms. This tricked people who would otherwise not take the drug into using it.
Dealers went through all this trouble because Phencyclidine was easy to make and could bring them a profit. By the time it was withdrawn from the market, it was already being manufactured in clandestine ways.
Some of the street names for PCP include “angel dust”, “embalming fluid”, “killer weed”, “rocket fuel”, and “supergrass”.
Horrifying PCP Addiction Effects
Despite, or maybe because of PCP’s bad reputation, people became addicted to it. The drug’s popularity peaked in the 1980s and then declined throughout the 1990s. Clinical studies showed that the drug not only causes horrifying hallucinations but caused physiological and psychological effects such as:
- Poor memory
- Long-term psychosis
- Disordered thinking
- Illusions and hallucinations
- Feelings of strength of invulnerability
- Loss of coordination
- Increased blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Profuse sweating
- Grimacing facial expression
- Speech problems
- Numbness of the extremities
- Blurred vision
There are also signs of permanent brain damage. Horror stories in the media of people committing murder, suicide, other crimes of violence or maiming themselves while on the drug may have also contributed to PCP’s decline. Though sensational, these stories weren’t all made up. One of Phencyclidine’s effects was that it made the user unable to feel pain even while he or she was fully conscious. This is one reason that if a Phencyclidine user died while on the drug it was usually because of an accident that would have been avoided if the user had been in his or her right mind.
Statistics Reveal a Grim Truth
The last statistics on PCP seem to have been taken between 2007-2009. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2008, 99,000 Americans from age 12 and upwards had used PCP at least once during the past year. Over 37,000 of them had to be taken to the emergency room because of their usage. About six million people admitted to having used PCP during their lifetime.
It is difficult to obtain exact statistics on PCP related accidents and deaths because in many cases, PCP was not suspected or tested for. Many PCP related deaths were due to drowning or other accidents that could have been from other causes and were therefore not attributed to PCP use.
Rehab for Phencyclidine Addiction
People who are addicted to Phencyclidine can benefit from inpatient rehab. There, the person can be supported as they wean themselves from the drug. In an inpatient rehab, they can have easy access to counseling and education. This counseling can include both group and one-on-one therapy to help the person understand the addiction and how it has impacted his or her physical, mental and even spiritual health. The patient can also discuss how the addiction has affected his or her relationship with friends, family, and work. He or she can benefit from the experience of other Phencyclidine addicts and possibly help someone in return.
Family therapy may also be an option to help the person quit the addiction. Some people who are addicted need the additional benefit of their family’s love and support to help them become sober and stay that way.
The individual might also be given assignments like writing in a journal or workbook or taking up new, healthier behavior patterns. In inpatient rehab, he or she may also be provided vocational counseling that will help them find a job when they are released from rehab. Some may even be accepted back into his or her old position as long as they can show that they’re clean and responsible.
Rehabilitation centers also often have a medical staff that can also support the patient, especially if he or she feels in danger of relapsing. Phencyclidine addiction can be overcome with the right treatment program.