Phencyclidine (PCP) is a drug that fell out of medical use decades ago and is now only used as an illicit recreational substance. It can cause addiction, psychosis, euphoria, and hallucinations, which has some wondering if it’s included in the psychedelic category alongside LSD, mushrooms, and peyote.
Find out if this substance that was at one time called “the peace drug” is related to one of the milder illicit drug categories of its nickname that has come to be ironic.
What Is PCP?
PCP is the abbreviation for a chemical compound called phencyclidine that also has the street name, angel dust. The drug is used for its psychoactive effects, physical euphoria, and hallucinations. A precursor to the drug called prothrombin complex concentrate was originally synthesized for medical use in 1926, and PCP developed shortly after. But it wasn’t marketed until 1950 when it was used as an anesthetic medication. Before long, however, its adverse effects became apparent and its legal use was discontinued in 1965 and by 1978, it was even outlawed for use on animals. It also fell out of use when ketamine was discovered to offer similar but safer effects.
PCP has several intended and adverse effects but its typically recognized pharmacological category is a dissociative anesthetic. This class of anesthetic is characterized by catatonia and memory loss but generally doesn’t cause the user to lose consciousness. In the 1960s, PCP began to be used as a recreational drug and many of the dissociative, euphoric, and hallucinogenic effects were sought after on the street level. Haight Ashbury, San Francisco was the epicenter of the hippie, counter-cultural movement in the 1960s and it’s largely attributed as being the origination spot for a number of recreational drugs, including PCP.
PCP is most often smoked but it can also be injected. It also has a relatively high bioavailability (the percentage of the drug that reaches the bloodstream) even when taken orally at 72 percent. It is also sprayed onto to cannabis and smoked, sometimes without the user’s knowledge.
How Does PCP Work?
Like most psychoactive drugs, dissociatives like PCP work by disrupting the chemical messaging processes throughout the nerve cells in your brain and body. PCP specifically disrupts communication involving the chemical glutamate at the specific receptor called N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). Glutamate is an important compound that’s instrumental in learning, memory, emotion, and the perception of pain. PCP can also affect dopamine, which is a chemical that elevates mood, make you feel energized, and give you a rush of excitement and a feeling of power when it’s influenced by drugs of abuse.
What Is a Psychedelic?
A psychedelic is a class of drug that alters thinking, cognition, and perspective to induce a “psychedelic experience” through visual, auditory, and olfactory changes. This can involve a heightened state of consciousness, hallucinations, and color and sound enhancement. Common drugs that are associated with psychedelic experiences include LSD, mescaline (peyote), psilocybin (mushrooms), and DMT.
Psychedelic drugs produce their effects by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain, which regulate excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. Many psychedelics are very close in their chemical structure to melatonin and serotonin, which allows them to bind to the receptors and agonize (activate) them. The result is altered emotion, senses, and a feeling of heightened self-attunement.
Psychedelic drugs are generally physiologically harmless and have very mild effects on the body, though, some may cause nausea and vomiting when ingested like peyote. Also, most psychedelics have a very low likelihood of causing addiction. However, some may cause dangerous psychological effects as a result of a bad trip, or a frightening psychedelic experience. While not extremely common, the development of PTSD and psychosis have been reported, especially in people with latent or existing mental health issues. Still, there is very little evidence to suggest that psychedelics lead to significant long-term mental health problems in otherwise healthy people.
What Are the Effects of PCP?
The effects of PCP share some similarities with the effects of the typical psychedelic drug. The most obvious comparisons are hallucinations. Deliriants like PCP commonly cause external hallucinations at moderate to heavy doses. These hallucinations are often reported to take on sinister tones like encountering insects, darkened visual distortions, and other nightmare-like experiences. Traditional psychedelic drugs often cause internal hallucinations (also called closed-eye hallucinations), which are imagined environments, images, and experiences. In PCP this kind of hallucination is usually brief and uncommon.
Other effects of PCP include:
- Analgesia (pain relief)
- Ego death (loss of any sense of self)
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Temporary psychotic state
- Convulsions (in high doses)
In some circumstances, PCP has been reported to cause violent actions like property destruction, self-harm, and assault. In one case, PCP appears to have played a role in a murder committed by former rapper Big Lurch.
PCP has also shown to have some addiction liability, which can vary from low to high. Conversely, other psychedelics very rarely cause addiction.
Does PCP Qualify as a Psychedelic?
While PCP shares some similarities with psychedelics, it has several glaring differences. It’s generally more volatile and users describe it as an unpleasant experience. It has more adverse physical effects like convulsions, nausea, and dizziness. Finally, it’s cognitive and psychotropic effects can be more dangerous, leading to psychosis or mania.
It also works differently in the brain. To be considered a true psychedelic, a substance has to act on serotonin receptors, but PCP interacts with NMDA receptors. Overall, PCP is not a psychedelic drug but rather a dissociative hallucinogen and it should be treated as in its own category.
Seeking Addiction Help
PCP is just one of many illicit street drugs that can lead to dangerous results in a person’s life. When drug use becomes a problem, it might qualify as substance use disorders, a serious diagnosis that includes substance abuse, dependence, and addiction. If you or someone you know might be struggling with a substance use disorder, call the addiction specialists at Ocean Breeze Recovery at 855-960-5341 to learn more about your addiction treatment options. Addiction may be a complicated disease that is difficult to overcome, but it is treatable and you don’t have to go through it alone.