PCP (phencyclidine) was developed
in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic. Its use in
humans was discontinued in 1965, because 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 ingested. For smoking, PCP is
often applied to a leafy material such as mint,
parsley, oregano, or marijuana.
PCP is addictive—its repeated use
can lead to craving and compulsive PCP-seeking
behavior. First introduced as a street drug in the
1960s, PCP quickly gained a reputation as a drug that
could cause bad reactions and was not worth the risk.
After using PCP once, many people will not knowingly
use it again. Others attribute their continued use to
feelings of strength, power, invulnerability, and a
numbing effect on the mind.
Many PCP users are brought to
emergency rooms because of PCP overdose or because of
the drug’s unpleasant psychological effects. In a
hospital or detention setting, these people often
become violent or suicidal and are very dangerous to
themselves and others. They should be kept in a calm
setting and not be left alone.
At low to moderate doses,
physiological effects of PCP include a slight increase
in breathing rate and a pronounced rise in blood
pressure and pulse rate. Breathing becomes shallow,
and flushing and profuse sweating occur. Generalized
numbness of the extremities and loss of muscular
coordination also may occur.
At high doses of PCP, blood
pressure, pulse rate, and respiration drop. 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). High doses can cause symptoms that
mimic schizophrenia, such as delusions,
hallucinations, 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 stopping 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.
Extent of Use
2004 Monitoring the Future (MTF)
MTF data show that in 2004, 1.6
percent of high school seniors reported lifetime** use
of PCP; annual use was reported by 0.7 percent of
seniors, and 30-day use was reported by 0.4 percent.
Data on PCP use by 8th- and 10th-graders are not
2002 Drug Abuse Warning Network
PCP mentions in emergency
departments increased 28 percent from 1995 to 2002.
There was a 42 percent increase from the 5,404
mentions in 2000 to 7,648 in 2002. There were
significant increases in PCP mentions in Washington
DC, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Dallas.
Chicago had a decrease in mentions of PCP, declining
48 percent from 874 in 2001 to 459 in 2002.
2003 National Survey on Drug Use
and Health (NSDUH)****
According to the 2003 NSDUH, 3.0
percent of the population aged 12 and older have used
PCP at least once. Lifetime use of PCP was highest
among those aged 35 or older (3.6 percent), compared
with people 26 or older (3.3 percent), 18 to 25 (3.0
percent) and those aged 12 to 17 (0.8 percent).
Rates of lifetime use among 12-
or 13-year-olds decreased significantly from 2002 to
2003. Past month use decreased among 14- or
15-year-olds, but increased among 16- or 17-year-olds.
* These data are from the 2004
Monitoring the Future Survey, funded by the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of
Health, DHHS, and conducted by the University of
Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. The survey
has tracked 12th-graders’ illicit drug use and related
attitudes since 1975; in 1991, 8th- and 10th-graders
were added to the study. The latest data are online at
** "Lifetime" refers to use at
least once during a respondent’s lifetime. "Annual"
refers to use at least once during the year preceding
an individual’s response to the survey. "30-day"
refers to use at least once during the 30 days
preceding an individual's response to the survey.
*** The latest data on drug
abuse-related hospital emergency department (ED)
visits are from the 2002 DAWN report, from HHS's
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration. These data are from a national
probability survey of 437 hospital EDs in 21
metropolitan areas in the U.S. during the year. For
detailed information from DAWN, visit http://DAWNinfo.samhsa.gov/,
or call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and
Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686.
**** The 2003 NSDUH, produced by
HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration, creates a new baseline for future
national drug use trends. The survey is based on
interviews with 67,784 respondents who were
interviewed in their homes. The interviews represent
98 percent of the U.S. population age 12 and older.
Not included in the survey are persons in the active
military, in prisons, or other institutionalized
populations, or who are homeless. Findings from the
2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health are
available online at www.DrugAbuseStatistics.samhsa.gov.
The National Institute on
Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Image Source: Indiana State
Police; Drug Enforcement Agency