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Phencyclidine (PCP) Fact Sheet

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Phencyclidine (PCP) Fact Sheet

Statewide, PCP admissions to OASAS programs have shown a steady rise from approximately 1500 in 2006 to almost 2700 in 2011.

PCP is in the Arylcyclohexylamine group of dissociative anesthetics called “angel dust” - because it is sprinkled on other drugs. First synthesized in 1926, it was eventually patented in 1952 by the Parke-Davis pharmaceutical company and marketed under the brand name Sernyl®, Sernylan®. Formerly used as an anesthetic agent, PCP exhibits both hallucinogenic and neurotoxic effects.

Methods of administration
  • In its pure (freebase) form, PCP is a yellow oil. Upon treatment with hydrogen chloride gas, or isopropyl alcohol, this oil precipitates into white-tan crystals or powder (PCP hydrochloride). In this form, PCP can be snorted, depending upon the purity. However, most PCP on the illicit market often contains a number of contaminants, as a result of makeshift manufacturing. The term "embalming fluid" is often used to refer to the liquid PCP in which a cigarette is dipped, to be ingested through smoking, commonly known as "boat" or "water." The name most likely originated from the somatic "numbing" effect and feelings of dissociation induced by PCP.

Desired effects of use include:

  • Visual illusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Distortion of body image
  • Feelings of strength
  • Special insight
Common problems include:
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of doom
  • Outbursts of hostility
  • Violence (#1 cause of death in users)
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nystagmus (involuntary eye movement)
  • Auditory hallucinations (most other drugs cause visual hallucinations)
  • Paranoia
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

PCP Health Hazards

  • PCP is addictive and its use often leads to psychological dependence, craving, and compulsive PCP-seeking behavior. Users of PCP report memory loss, difficulties with speech and learning, depression, and weight loss. These symptoms can persist up to a year after cessation of PCP use. PCP has sedative effects, and interactions with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, can lead to coma or accidental overdose. Use of PCP among adolescents may interfere with hormones related to normal growth and development. 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.

PCP levels of intoxication are:

  • Low dose: Dreamy; Mood elevation; Panic; Impaired judgment
  • Moderate dose: Inebriated; Dissociated; Ataxia (failure of muscular coordination); Confused; Decrease in pain
  • High dose: All of the previous plus Hallucinations; Catatonia; Blank stare; Drooling; Delirium; Psychotic behavior; Hypertensive crisis; Amnesia
  • Easy to remember (RED DANES)
    • Rage
    • Erythema
    • Dilated pupils
    • Delirium
    • Amnesia
    • Nystagmus
    • Excitation
    • Skin dry
  • Depression
  • Craving
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased sleep
  • Similar to cocaine withdrawal


  • Disruption of sensory input by PCP causes unpredictable, exaggerated, distorted and violent reactions to environmental stimuli. The cornerstone of treatment is therefore minimization of sensory input for the PCP intoxicated patient. Treat in as quiet and isolated an environment as possible with precautionary physical restraints recommended by some authorities, knowing the risk of rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle fibers) and hyperthermia.
    • Acidify the urine to increase excretion
    • Narcan (Naloxone) can treat the decrease in respiratory rate
    • Valium can treat the muscle rigidity