PCP (phencyclidine) was developed in the 1950s as an intravenous
anesthetic. Use of PCP in humans was discontinued in 1965, because it was found that
patients often became agitated, delusional, and irrational while recovering from its
anesthetic effects. PCP is illegally manufactured in laboratories and is sold on the
street by such names as "angel dust," "ozone," "wack," and
"rocket fuel." "Killer joints"and "crystal supergrass" are
names that refer to PCP combined with marijuana. The variety of street names for PCP
reflects its bizarre and volatile effects.
PCP is a white crystalline powder that is readily soluble in water or alcohol. It has a
distinctive bitter chemical taste. PCP can be mixed easily with dyes and turns up on the
illicit drug market in a variety of tablets, capsules, and colored powders. It is normally
used in one of three ways: snorted, smoked, or eaten. For smoking, PCP is often applied to
a leafy material such as mint, parsley, oregano, or marijuana.
PCP is addicting; that is, its use often leads to psychological dependence, craving, and
compulsive PCP-seeking behavior. It was first introduced as a street drug in the 1960s and
quickly gained a reputation as a drug that could cause bad reactions and was not worth the
risk. Many people, after using the drug once, will not knowingly use it again. Yet others
use it consistently and regularly. Some persist in using PCP because of its addicting
properties. Others cite feelings of strength, power, invulnerability and a numbing effect
on the mind as reasons for their continued PCP use.
Many PCP users are brought to emergency rooms because of PCP's unpleasant psychological
effects or because of overdoses. In a hospital or detention setting, they often become
violent or suicidal, and are very dangerous to themselves and to others. They should be
kept in a calm setting and should not be left alone.
At low to moderate doses, physiological effects of PCP include a slight increase in
breathing rate and a more pronounced rise in blood pressure and pulse rate. Respiration
becomes shallow, and flushing and profuse sweating occur. Generalized numbness of the
extremities and muscular incoordination also may occur. Psychological effects include
distinct changes in body awareness, similar to those associated with alcohol intoxication.
Use of PCP among adolescents may interfere with hormones related to normal growth and
development as well as with the learning process.
At high doses of PCP, there is a drop in blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration. This
may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, flicking up and down of the eyes,
drooling, loss of balance, and dizziness. High doses of PCP can also cause seizures, coma,
and death (though death more often results from accidental injury or suicide during PCP
intoxication). Psychological effects at high doses include illusions and hallucinations.
PCP can cause effects that mimic the full range of symptoms of schizophrenia, such as
delusions, paranoia, disordered thinking, a sensation of
distance from one's environment, and catatonia. Speech is often sparse and garbled.
People who use PCP for long periods report memory loss, difficulties with speech and
thinking, depression, and weight loss. These symptoms can persist up to a year after
cessation of PCP use. Mood disorders also have been reported. PCP has sedative effects,
and interactions with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol and
benzodiazepines, can lead to coma or accidental overdose.
Extent of Use
Monitoring the Future Study (MTF)*
NIDA's 1997 MTF shows that use of PCP by high school seniors has declined steadily since
1979, when 7.0 percent of seniors had used PCP in the year preceding the survey. In
1997, however, 2.3 percent of seniors used PCP at least once in the past year, up from a
low of 1.2 percent in 1990. Past month use among seniors decreased from 1.3 percent in
1996 to 0.7 percent in 1997.
Percentage of 12th-graders who have used PCP:
Monitoring the Future Study
|Used in Past Year
|Used in Past Month
National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA)**
According to the 1996 NHSDA, 3.2 percent of the population aged 12 and older have used PCP
at least once.
Lifetime use of PCP was higher among those aged 26 through 34 (4.2 percent) than for those
18 through 25 (2.3 percent) and those 12 through 17 (1.2 percent).