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PCP (phencyclidine) was originally developed in the 1950's by Parke, Davis & Company. It was tested on animals and humans, and found to be medically useful as an anesthetic for surgery. Parke Davis marketed it for a short amount of time as a surgical anesthetic for humans under the trade name Sernyl, but it caused agitation, delusions, and terrifying hallucinations in patients after surgery. Because of these side effects, it was removed from the human market and sold to veterinarians for surgery on animals under the trade name Sernylan. PCP became more and more known as a recreational drug, and legitimate veterinary supplies were increasingly diverted for illicit sale. The commercial product Sernylan(R) was withdrawn from the market in 1978. PCP is still made in clandestine 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 eaten. For smoking, PCP is often applied to a leafy material such as mint, parsley, oregano, or marijuana.

What are its short-term effects?

picture of pcp

At low to moderate doses, physiological effects include a slight increase in breathing rate and a more pronounced rise in blood pressure and pulse rate. Respiration becomes shallow, and flushing and profuse sweating occurs. Generalized numbness of the extremities and muscular incoordination may also occur. Psychological effects include distinct changes in body awareness, similar to those associated with alcohol intoxication. At high doses, there is a drop in blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration. 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). Psychological effects at high doses include illusions and hallucinations. PCP may have effects that mimic certain primary symptoms of schizophrenia, such as delusions, mental turmoil, and a sensation of distance from one's environment. Sometimes, speech is sparse and mangled. Other effects include inability to feel physical pain, anxiety, disorientation, fear, panic and paranoia, aggressive behavior and violence.

What are its long-term effects?

People who use PCP for long periods of time report memory loss, speech difficulties, depression, and weight loss. When given psychomotor tests, PCP users tend to have lost their fine motor skills and short-term memory. Mood disorders have also been reported. PCP has sedative effectives, and interactions with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol and benzodiazepines can lead to coma or death.

Health Hazards

PCP is addicting; that is, its use often leads to psychological dependence, craving, and compulsive PCP-seeking behavior. It was first introduced as a street drug in the 1960s and quickly gained a reputation as a drug that could cause bad reactions and was not worth the risk. Many people, after using the drug once, will not knowingly use it again. Yet others use it consistently and regularly. Some persist in using PCP because of its addicting properties. Others cite feelings of strength, power, invulnerability and a numbing effect on the mind as reasons for their continued PCP use.

Many PCP users are brought to emergency rooms because of PCP's unpleasant psychological effects or because of overdoses. In a hospital or detention setting, they often become violent or suicidal, and are very dangerous to themselves and to others. They should be kept in a calm setting and should not be left alone.

Use of PCP among adolescents may interfere with hormones related to normal growth and development as well as with the learning process. red ribbon icon

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
NIDA Infofax 13554

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