Phencyclidine, PCP, angel dust — all different names given to the same highly dangerous hallucinogenic drug. At its inception, PCP was once used as an anesthetic, but the likelihood for misuse and dangerous side effects quickly overshadowed any initial medical applications. PCP is strictly considered an illicit compound in today’s world — and for good reason.
Despite its innocent name, angel dust is anything but angelic. Recreational users consume copious amounts of the drug in any manner of ways: inhaling, injecting, smoking and more. Once ingested, the hallucinogen binds to the nervous system and blocks neurological impulses and pathways. This is why it earns its title as a ‘dissociative’ drug. When PCP antagonizes receptors in the brain, known specifically as NMDA receptors, it leads to a user developing a detachment with reality.
Such a disconnect can be vast, with recreational misuse leading to mania and advanced stages of paranoia. It is in this way that PCP differs from other hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD. While a person using LSD may experience visions and dissociation, they are often not at the risk of losing their identity in the process. Users believe that their environment is no longer real, that even the world they occupy is no longer real.
The outlook isn’t wholly miserable. If anything positive can be garnered, it’s that PCP use is at its lowest number in years. Still, the drug is so inherently destructive that we must understand its correlated risks to keep these use and overdose statistics trending downward.
PCP effects can begin within five minutes after first use. It can take a bit longer, but its impact will take hold within just an hour or so. While the effects may have a rapid onset, they are known to last for several hours. And, if the dose is high enough, the results can last upwards of two days.
A typical recreational dose of angel dust is around 1 mg. But this amount can be as high as 5–10 mg for users with a built-up tolerance. At this quantity, effects include euphoria, increased energy and hyperactivity, hallucinations, and a general sense of wellbeing. These are the sought-after feelings associated with such an illegal high.
But as the doses grow, so to do the dangerous side effects — and potential for an overdose. At 15 mg, PCP use veers into treacherous territory. Here, users teeter on the precipice of overdosing. Anything above this amount has fatal intent, whether the person intended it or not.
Large PCP doses bring powerful dissociation along with them. These can range from mood swings to suicidal behavior, or paranoia to outright insanity. Not only does the person no longer act like themselves, but they no longer have a concept of self. As frightening or unbelievable as it sounds, the idea of consciousness is an abstract concept on certain doses of PCP. There is simply nothingness.
Before such menacing levels are reached, users are often described as having inflated feelings of vigor or even immortality. Many PCP deaths are because users attempt death-defying actions to fatal ends. Though impulses of invulnerability are common, this isn’t to be mistaken with a prevalent misrepresentation of PCP highs. There is a general perception that PCP turns otherwise docile people into hulking, rage-filled berserkers. This just isn’t the case. Though PCP is undeniably dangerous, this stereotype has long been perpetuated as a scare tactic. The isolated instances of such behavior were almost exclusively due to previous or underlying mental health problems of the user. PCP is scary enough on its own — falsified accounts don’t enhance this narrative.
An overdose on PCP is characterized by a number of symptoms. Unlike sedatives, painkillers and other classes of drugs with often more muted symptoms, hallucinogens produce overt signs of overdose which are difficult to overlook. Such PCP symptoms include:
- Decreased or non-existent motor functions
- Debilitated muscle activity
- Painful or unusual breathing
- Harmful delusions
- Erratic, paranoid thoughts or actions
- Slowed response time to pain or stimuli
- Catatonic behavior
- Heightened body temperature
- Blank expression
- Eye twitching
Drug overdose can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.
Overdose victims may be unable to express their problems. This is completely understandable, considering they may be unable to recognize they even exist, let alone that something may or may not be amiss. It will often take an observant friend or loved one to recognize symptoms for what they are and get the appropriate medical assistance to intervene.
Upon arrival to a healthcare facility, PCP overdose victims may require sedation and stabilization before full treatment can get underway. Any potential harm to the central nervous system must be mitigated immediately. Without proper care, permanent damage to areas of the brain responsible for problem-solving, memory formation, and information retention can occur. Physicians will closely monitor a patient until the drug is flushed from the system and PCP’s potentially life-threatening symptoms subside.
Substances like PCP can be addictive and deadly. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder related to drugs or alcohol, there are many resources to help, including rehabilitation facilities like The Recovery Village. Call today to learn more about comprehensive care.
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.