The 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary categorized PCP as a relatively non-threatening substance because it’s not widely used. The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that 90,000 people age twelve and older used PCP within the past month and 6,388,000 used it in their lifetime. Compared to the figures for marijuana (130,332,000 and 44,157,000, respectively), you might be inclined to agree with the 2015 summary.

However, any substance use or abuse is not something to be taken lightly, especially when the substance is PCP. With this in mind, we have compiled some information about the drug, its side effects, how long it remains in your body, and what kind of treatment options are available for a PCP use disorder.

What Is PCP?

PCP is named for the synthetic ingredients it is derived from 1-phenylcyclohexylpiperidine hydrochloride.

All PCP in the United States is made in-country in illegal labs, but the drug was originally made in 1956 by Parke Davis and Company to be used as a surgical anesthetic. At first, it seemed to be a better option than existing options, but 30% of patients became agitated and disoriented during recovery. They would become aggressive and violent, had hallucinations that would last over 12 hours, and some symptoms would resemble that of schizophrenia.

As a result, PCP was discontinued as part of the medical community in the 1960s but gained popularity as a street drug shortly after. The effects of PCP take place within 1-5 minutes after smoking it and peak and plateau in 15-30 minutes. A user will generally remain high for 4-6 hours, but won’t feel ‘normal’ for another 24-48 hours.

Why Do People Use PCP?

While many of the reasons that doctors stopped using PCP are frightening, the hippie culture of the 1960s and ’70s embraced PCP. It was popular then —and can be tempting today— because it induces:

  • Euphoria.
  • A feeling of unlimited power.
  • Seemingly ‘super-human’ strength.
  • Feelings of social and sexual skill.
  • Excitement.
  • Hallucinations.
  • The inability to feel pain.
  • A feeling of detachment or distance from your surroundings.
  • Extreme adrenaline highs.
  • A feeling of “time expansion.”

Low doses tend to mimic the feelings of alcohol consumption. Higher doses increase the feelings of numbness and lead to more agitated behavior.

What Problems Can PCP Cause?

Since PCP dissolves in water, it can be absorbed by other substances (marijuana, cigarettes, etc.) and smoked, so that users don’t always know what they’re buying. The same is true in its solid form; since it’s a white to yellowish powder, it can be sold to people who think they’re buying mescaline, psychedelic mushrooms, LSD, amphetamines, or cocaine.

There is also a prominent myth that PCP is made from formaldehyde, which has caused people to break into funeral homes to steal and ingest the embalming fluid. This can cause an instant coma, seizures, brain damage, and death.

These deceptions and misconceptions aside, PCP on its own can cause:

  • Aggression toward yourself or others. Men tend to be aggressive while high whereas women tend to be aggressive between instances of using.
  • Amnesia.
  • Anxiety/panic.
  • Brain damage.
  • Coma.
  • Confusion.
  • Depression.
  • Difficulty speaking, including slurred speech.
  • Disorientation.
  • Drooling.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Irregular breathing.
  • Muscle rigidity.
  • Paranoia.
  • Psychosis.
  • Seizures.
  • Sweating.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Tremors.

Some studies have also shown a correlation between PCP use and impulsive, violent crimes against others. This is most likely due to the disorientation and aggression users feel while on the drug. Since the effects of PCP can vary wildly based on the dose and the user, taking it can be dangerous regardless of circumstance since the outcome is unknown.

Related Topic: PCP overdose

How And Why Do People Test For PCP?

Testing can take place in several venues, including:

  • Hospitals, doctor’s offices, or Emergency Departments, as part of diagnostic testing.
  • Workplaces, sports-related organizations, or through insurance, to determine eligibility for a job, etc.

Various things may be tested, such as urine, blood, saliva, and hair.

Related Topic: How long does it take for weed to leave your system

How Long Can PCP Be Detected Through Testing?

Most scientists believe that the half-life of PCP is three days, through effects on the central nervous system can last from seven hours to a week in chronic users. Detecting PCP in your system relies heavily on the type of test.

  • Urine tests can detect PCP after 4-6 hours and for up to 7-14 days.
  • Blood tests are best done within 1-4 hours since plasma levels peak during that time. Blood tests are often done in an emergency room setting.
  • Hair tests can detect PCP within 5-10 days after use and for up to 90 days.
  • Saliva tests can detect PCP within 5-10 minutes of use and for up to three days.

What Are The Signs Of A PCP Use Disorder?

Symptoms of a substance use disorder (SUD) include:

  • The inability to consistently abstain from use.
  • Impairment in behavioral control.
  • Craving the substance in question.
  • The inability to recognize significant problems as a result of use.
  • Cycles of remission and relapse.

PCP is an addictive substance. Chronic users have reported that after regular use, they tend to double their consumption, showing that tolerance can be built. Repeated use also results in cravings, compulsive substance-seeking behavior, and lack of care for consequences.

What Are The Available Treatment Options?

The first step when treating a PCP use disorder is combatting withdrawal. Symptoms can often involve days to weeks of psychosis, depression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and troubled sleep. Benzodiazepines can be used to help manage these symptoms. Haldol can also be used to treat symptoms of psychosis.

After the initial withdrawal period, a long-term stay in an inpatient setting with access to counseling can help someone with a PCP use disorder learn how to flourish in sobriety with a lessened chance of relapse. Life without PCP is possible, as well as beneficial to your physical and mental health. Keeping these facts in mind, reach out for help and begin to build a new life for yourself.


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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.