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Phencyclidine (PCP)

Phencyclidine (PCP) was initially developed as an anaesthetic but was taken off the market because of the agitation, confusion and hallucinations that it caused. It continues to be used illicitly because of its ability to produce altered states of consciousness.

How PCP works

PCP can be obtained as a crystalline powder, paste, liquid, or soaked into a paper, and can be ingested, inhaled, smoked, or injected intravenously. It is commonly included as an additive in cannabis cigarettes. Due to the fact that it is manufactured illicitly, it can contain many impurities when sold and doses can be unpredictable. When smoked the effects are usually felt within a few minutes and can last a few hours. PCP can be detected in the urine up to a week after use.

PCP's main mechanism of action is in blocking NMDA glutamate receptors in the brain. It also stimulates the dopaminergic reward pathway.

PCP Intoxication

PCP can cause varying and unpredictable reactions. Users can experience distortions in how they perceive time, space and their own bodies, they can become withdrawn and absorbed by active fantasies, and can also have dissociative symptoms like depersonalization and derealization. Hallucinations, delusions and states of confusion can occur. Emotions can become intense and unpredictable, where one moment the person is feeling very sociable and talkative, the next very needy and dependent, and the next hostile and aggressive. Users can sometimes act in very disorganized and potentially dangerous ways, such as performing sexually inappropriate acts in public or becoming violent, and they will often have no recollection of these events after the fact.

Physical symptoms of PCP intoxication include vertical or horizontal nystagmus, increased blood pressure and heart rate, numbness and increased pain tolerance, slurred speech, unsteadiness, muscle rigidity, and an over-sensitivity to sounds. Overdose can result in seizures and coma.

PCP Withdrawal

PCP use does not seem to cause any significant withdrawal symptoms.

Treating PCP Abuse and Dependence

Treating PCP use disorders follows the general treatment principles as outlined here. There are no medications that have been shown to be effective for this purpose.


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