What is Phencyclidine?

The problem began in the 1950s when phencyclidine or PCP or Angel Dust was used as an anesthetic. Its dissociative properties meant that patients could be disassociated from an operation, that is not feeling pain, but still conscious.

However, its agitative properties made patients so aggressive that the drug was discontinued as an anesthetic. Ketamine is along the same lines but hasn’t the disruptive properties PCP has. In the 1960s and 70s, the drug was used recreationally, and some still use it today, although largely in cities.

Seventy-two percent of PCP’s users are men aged 20 to 40. Women of that age don’t seem to be as dedicated users as the men. The drug can be taken orally, smoked or given through injection. It dissolves in water and can be sprayed on marijuana or tobacco cigarettes. The drug actually changes the central nervous system, which is why a sensory deprivation is felt upon using the drug.

The brain is literally changed through manipulating the dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Changes in judgment, aggressiveness, a tendency to assault and agitated movements are a few of the brain changes the drug causes. In the body, uncontrollable muscular movements, changes in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as supernatural hearing, are marked signals of phencyclidine use.

Symptoms of Phencyclidine Disorder

Because the brain is literally physically changed by PCP, the body manifests these changes in many ways:


  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Amnesia
  • Can’t focus
  • Can’t make good decisions
  • Isolation from surroundings
  • Behavioral
  • Irritable and agitated
  • Manic mood shifts
  • Aggression
  • Violence
  • Acting erratically
  • Unwise behaviors
  • Psychoses reminiscent of schizophrenia
  • Isolation from or withdrawal from social contacts
  • Unable to work or deal with familial or social responsibilities


  • Rapid resting heartbeat
  • Muscle spasms
  • Uncontrollable strange and rapid eye movements
  • Sound sensitivity
  • Seizures
  • Shallow breathing
  • Blurry vision
  • Flushed and sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Drooling
  • High blood pressure
  • Coma and death

Drug Use

The symptoms described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, or DSM-5 spring from the use of the drug over a year or so time frame. The symptoms of drug abuse have a lot in common, and PCP disorder requires some of them to be present.

Drug use symptoms include:

  • Taking more of the drug than the person intended or knew he was taking
  • Unable to control its use or stop taking it
  • An uncontrollable driving need to obtain the drug, take it or recover from taking it
  • A deep craving for it
  • The drug takes over the person’s life until all they do is the drug

Co-Occurring Mental or Emotional Disorders

Symptoms of phencyclidine disorder might be caught in the treatment of another disorder.

Mental or Emotional Disorders include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Other drug abuse disorders

Hallucinations are one of the symptoms of the disorder. However, they can be caused by something the sufferer was already enduring before taking PCP. For example, severe illness can cause hallucinations, as well as fevers. We’ve already discussed how the body temperature can shoot up in the phencyclidine disorder, so fevers could reasonably be expected. Should the person have a sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or a disorder making the sufferer fall into a deep sleep for periods of time, then hallucinations could coexist with the condition.

Anxiety and stress are also symptoms of PCP disorder. These things can cause all kinds of problems for the body and mind, such as ulcers for the body and hallucinations for the mind. Anxiety can and will cause the sufferer to feel like he’s losing touch with reality and losing his mind. Now take that a step further and smoke some PCP. People take it to make the problems a little more bearable, but they end up with double the trouble. In a worst case scenario, the sufferer might end up with a severe case of psychosis.

Violent and uncontrollable mood swings are also a symptom of PCP disorder. Those enduring a psychiatric disorder, though, might pick up a bottle or take a pill to escape the seemingly endless sadness and depression for a while. Little do they know that the pill or the bottle makes it worse, and even has a punch of its own. The sufferer is getting a double whammy of mood swings and depression.

Causes of Phencyclidine Disorder

Phencyclidine binds to neurotransmitters in the brain, changing the ways in which the mind perceives pleasure. The neurotransmitters governing the reward pathways along the brain’s notification system are kept constantly stimulated, so the user feels euphoric and rewarded. Serotonin regulates things in the body like sleep, body temperature, mood, and pain. PCP messes with this neural pathway, making the user feel as if he feels no pain at all, ever. Despite knowing these things, the American Psychological Association or APA has so far been unable to ascertain a specific cause for phencyclidine disorder, but do agree that certain aspects contribute to its adoption.

Contributions of adoption include:


Should someone suffering from PCP disorder have an immediate family member who suffers from addiction, then it stands to reason the person has a greater chance of becoming addicted than otherwise.


Stressors at school, work, within a family or within a relationship all have something to do with persons becoming addicted to drugs. Exposure to others doing this drug is also involved in causing an addiction. Moreover, if someone has been victimized, endured trauma or violence, then it stands to reason that an addiction could possibly be in the cards for that person.


PCP or Angel Dust is popular on the West Coast as well as the Eastern Seaboard, especially in New England. Should a person be exposed to the drug (and it is easily soaked into the skin, whether accidentally or purposefully), then it stands to reason that an addiction could happen.

Treatment of Phencyclidine Disorder

Physically, there is no addiction to PCP. Unfortunately, there is no way of ridding the body of PCP quickly. Only if it was eaten may the stomach be pumped to get rid of it. Detoxing from PCP use can be dangerous physically, though, manifesting in lack of energy, depression, physical agitation, uncontrollable body movements and erratic thinking. These manifestations can last almost a year after cessation of use and should be monitored closely by a medical team with the proper medications.

Psychologically, though, the addiction is so great that there is no fooling around with it. However, because the bodily symptoms are so dangerous, they need to be treated first. Controlling high temperature and high blood pressure in addition to calming any seizures, agitation or violence needs to happen first. Then the detox can begin. The detox can occur in a few different environments.

Detox brings its own kind of hell to the body with sweating, convulsions and so forth. It usually takes between five days to a week to fully detox the body of the PCP. If there’s a danger of the patient harming themselves or others through delusions or hallucinations, then hospitalization, often with restraints, is prescribed. There, the proper antipsychotics in addition to antidepressants can do their job in calming and regulating the patient’s mind.

After detox and its resultant medical treatments, counseling follows. This allows the patient to get out of a drug user frame of mind and into a frame of mind with no room whatsoever for drug use. They will be taught how to recognize triggers and cravings and how to fight them. These are formulated to alter the patient’s thinking, reactions to stressors, and to add coping skills. Training in relaxation, assertiveness, stress management, how to cope, family and interpersonal therapies all benefit the patient by giving him something with which to fight the need for the drug.

To that end, sober living homes and rehab centers are where people go to lose a drug abuse problem. Programs come in three types. Intensive outpatient programs offer patients more psychological than medical (detox) help. The patient can go to work but then has to be back for intensive individual or group therapy. Outpatient care isn’t so restrictive. The patient can go about his daily life and then show up for individual or group therapy sessions. Support groups are useful for keeping patients accountable and for providing ways to prevent relapse into PCP use.

While in counseling, the patient will encounter many different types of therapy. For example, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is just a fancy word for mindfulness, but it helps the patient readjust their minds in a more aware fashion. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is more recognizable to most people, and it helps the patient adjust the mind to more positive thinking. It also helps to replace negative thinking with positive coping skills.

Interpersonal Therapy is just what it says, and perhaps the most difficult for anyone, patient or no. It deals with social and personal relationships. It helps patients find ways of dealing with their present relationship problems using four categories: role adjustments, relationship flaws, role conflicts and ongoing grief. Supportive programs include 12-step programs, group and individual therapy and family therapy. Lastly, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy involves expanding mental and emotional adaptability using mindfulness and acceptance in conjunction with change of behaviors and commitment plans.

The types of therapy aren’t all there is to consider in outpatient counseling. This is, after all, all about the patient. The counseling or rehab facility should perform other things for the patient in order to surround him with options to keep him off drugs or keep him from using PCP again. Some things to think about when searching for a rehab facility:

One size does not fit all. The patient is an individual, just as unique as any other patient. He should be treated as such, and any counseling tailored to his specific needs.

PCP and many other substances alter the brain. Brain function and behavior are altered my PCP and many other drugs. Relapse is the danger after detoxing and counseling. Any rehab facility must have a program recognizing this, and work with the patient to prevent relapse.

Varied areas of life got the patient into using PCP. Rehab facilities should treat all areas of the patient’s life, because one or a combination of them got him into using PCP. Working with all of them gives him a better chance of not relapsing.

When the time is right. The patient should be ready for rehab and vice versa. If a facility has no room when the patient is ready for rehab, then the patient stands a chance of relapse. Some patients aren’t too sure about counseling being able to help them, so a facility ready when he is is a good thing.

Preventing Phencyclidine Disorder

There is no prevention of PCP disorder, except to not take the drug in the first place. Patients should follow the guidelines in counseling in order to prevent a relapse.

Last Reviewed:
September 16, 2017
Last Updated:
September 16, 2017
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