Tox Tuesday: PCP

Courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

A drug that was a major concern decades ago and can cause violent behavior is making a comeback.

Phencyclidine, also known as PCP or angel dust, is a dissociative anesthetic that causes users to feel as though they are detached from the world around them, and can cause agitation and delusions. Other side effects include impaired coordination, sweating, hallucinations, speech impairment and, in the worst cases, death (often through accidents that occur while under the influence of the drug). People on PCP can have symptoms that mimic schizophrenia, and may become violent or even suicidal, according to the Partnership at It currently is listed as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high likelihood for abuse and is dangerous.

In recent years, there has been a surge in hospitalizations associated with PCP usage, from 14,825 in 2005 to 75,538 in 2011, according to the latest Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports. Almost 52,000 of those hospitalized for PCP usage in 2011 were male with 18,736 of total cases being people between the ages of 25 to 29. Likewise, illicit drugs used in conjunction with each other, such as marijuana laced with PCP and speedballs (cocaine and heroin), rose 116 percent from 2009 to 2011 with more than 10,000 hospitals visits associated with the combinations in 2011. Last year, authorities in Los Angeles shut down the biggest PCP lab ever documented in the U.S.

As new synthetic compounds continue to penetrate the market, it has become more difficult to ascertain if a person is on PCP or another newer psychoactive substance, such as bath salts or synthetic cannabinoids, NBC News reports. Sometimes the chemicals used in these new substances are related to or derived from phencyclidine and activate the same receptors in the brain as PCP. People who use other types of drugs, such as marijuana or LSD, may unknowingly ingest PCP , which may be used to lace these drugs.

A report released last year found that 12 percent of men arrested in Washington, D.C., had PCP in their systems – much higher than the five other major cities cited by the report. Chicago, which had the highest rate after D.C. only had 0.8 percent of people arrested test positive for PCP.

PCP was originally developed in the 1950s as an anesthetic but by 1965, it was no longer used because of its side effects. PCP can be found as a powder, tablet or capsule and can be used a multitude of ways, including swallowing, smoking, snorting or injecting. Regardless of the form it takes or the way it’s used, PCP’s long-term effects can be devastating and include memory loss and difficulty speaking. Even after ceasing use, these effects can last for up to a year.

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