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PCP Overdose Signs and Symptoms


PCP – otherwise known as Angel Dust – is one of the scariest street drugs on the market, and has been for some time. PCP gives users a heavily psychotic effect, making them hallucinate, and in many cases, become extremely violent. There is no shortage of stories out there about violent episodes of people on PCP, each one scarier than the next. There have been multiple cases of gruesome murders and self-mutilation that are attributed to PCP overdose. Since the drug is so strong, overdoses happen regularly. They can include seizures, heart failure, psychosis and even death. To understand what PCP overdose is, you first must understand what PCP is.

What is PCP?

PCP is short for Phencyclidine, a drug developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic or tranquilizer. The drug was used to tranquilize horses, who needed something stronger due to their physical size. The drug was soon abandoned for clinical use, however, due to its incredibly strong psychoactive effects. The drug caused hallucinations and extreme agitation in patients. PCP later emerged as a powerful street drug and remains a threat to public health today.

Pure PCP is a white crystalline with a distinctive chemical taste. It can be easily dissolved in alcohol or water. Street PCP contains contaminants that cause its color to range from a light to darker brown. Street PCP is more powdery than pure PCP. On the street, PCP can take the form of tablets, capsules, and colored powders. These forms of PCP make it easier to ingest – and easier to sell on the illicit market. PCP is ingested in a variety of methods, including smoking, snorting and swallowing.

PCP pills or tablets are the simplest way to ingest the drug, but not the most popular. Powered PCP can be easily snorted, making the drug have an immediate effect on the user. The most common form of ingesting PCP, though, is smoking it. The drug is dissolved in ether – a very flammable substance – and sprayed onto leafy material, most commonly marijuana. If marijuana is not available, it can be smoked on mint, parsley, oregano or any other leafy herb or vegetable.

Street Names

Like most illicit street drugs, PCP has a variety of different monikers, including Angel Dust, Peace Pill, Hog, Lovely, Wack, Ozone, Dust, Embalming Fluid and Rocket Fuel. When combined with marijuana, PCP has been called Supergrass and Killer Joints. Drug names can also be regional or even local. It can be difficult to tell which drugs are actually PCP. Those who take the drug and those who sell it usually have no idea of the exact ingredients.


Created in the 1950s, PCP was originally sold under the name Sernyl and was used as a surgical anesthetic, because it didn’t have the side effects on the lungs and heart that other anesthetics did. However, it quickly became clear the side effects of PCP, including hallucination and even psychosis, made it unfit for this use. It was then marketed as an animal tranquilizer and gained popularity very quickly.  Eventually, PCP made its way to the street drug market. The drug first appeared in the 1960s in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, otherwise known as ground zero for the hippie movement and counterculture.

Its psychedelic powers were a draw to those who were already experimenting with LSD. Despite the harsh side effects of PCP, the drug went virtually unnoticed by federal authorities for more than a decade. In 1978, the sale of PCP as an animal tranquilizer was banned, and the drug was classified as a Schedule II substance – this means it has a high probability of abuse and the possibility that users may become physically or psychologically dependent. This classification is similar to that of cocaine.

How PCP is Made Illegally

Since the drug is no longer made legally, all PCP on the black market today is made at home by mixing and baking dangerous chemicals. The chemical Pepperdine reacts with niacinamide and phylloquinone to make the drug, which is then mixed with food dyes and baked for 30 minutes. Once the baking is finished, the drug is cooled, then later smashed into a powder. Making PCP is extremely dangerous.

How Heavy is PCP Use in the United States?

National Household Survey on Drug Abuse shows that an estimated 6 million U.S. residents aged 12 and older have used PCP at least once in their lifetime. That’s roughly the population of large cities like Philadelphia and Phoenix. The same survey revealed that many teenagers and young adults are the most likely users, with 225,000 individuals aged 12 to 17 and 777,000 individuals aged 18 to 25 using the drug at least one time. More than 3 percent of high school seniors in the United States used the drug at least once in their lifetime, and more than 1 percent used the drug in the past year, according to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future Survey. While PCP use has not reached epidemic levels like the ones seen in the country’s current opioid crisis, use is still significant.

How Does PCP Affect the Brain?

PCP works by halting the actions normally caused when a neurotransmitter attaches to its receptor in the brain. It distorts sights, sound, and other senses, creating a hallucinogenic effect where the user experiences sensations including feeling like they are “floating” with strange impressions of space and time. Users may also imagine things that are not real. For some, euphoria and invulnerability are present while others experience drowsiness and calming sensations.

The effects of PCP intensify with larger doses, and different methods of consumption can also affect the experience as can certain biological or psychological factors of the user. The effects of PCP normally last between 4-6 hours. Long after the effects have worn off, user and abusers may experience ongoing disruptions in neuronal activities, causing them to feel symptoms of PCP withdrawal like depression, anxiety and mood swings.  In fact, 50 percent of people who went to the emergency room because of PCP symptoms report significant elevations in anxiety.

What are the Symptoms of PCP Overdose?

Since PCP is an incredibly powerful drug, overdoses happen fairly often to users. There are a variety of signs and symptoms of PCP overdose, some more serious than others. These include:

Agitation: Many PCP users experience over excitement and even violent behavior. Agitation is an unpleasant state of extreme arousal. An agitated person may feel stirred up, excited, tense, confused, or irritable.

Altered State of Consciousness: People who have taken too much PCP often lose their ability to function on a normal level, become confused and even imagine things that are not real to be present. When an individual is experiencing this altered state of consciousness, he or she can become a danger to both themselves and those around them.

Catatonic State: In more severe cases of PCP overdose, users may enter into a catatonic state where they do not talk, move or react to anything, as their brain and normal functioning shut down.

Coma: The most severe of PCP overdose effects is a coma, in which a person has no alertness and cannot be awakened. Those who remain in a coma over the long term are considered to be in a vegetative state.

Convulsions: On occasion, an overdose of PCP can cause the user to experience convulsions, or a seizure. Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, which can be tripped by the drug.

Hallucinations: Many people ingest PCP because they want to hallucinate. However, hallucinations can go very wrong as people may see something that does not exist, yet that they believe causes a threat to them. This may cause the user to act out and injure themselves or others.

High Blood Pressure: Abnormally high blood pressure – where the heart is pumping extra hard to move blood through the veins – is one of the symptoms of PCP overdose. For those with chronic high blood pressure, this can do major damage to the arteries and lead to a heart attack.

Rapid Eye Movement: Those suffering from an overdose of PCP may demonstrate rapid, side to side eye movements. These involuntary eye movements of nystagmus are caused by abnormal function in the areas of the brain.

Lack of Coordination: Those suffering from a PCP overdose are likely to stumble around fall down and generally display uncoordinated behavior, which can be dangerous if the person falls and hits their head.

Psychosis: PCP overdose, in more severe cases, can lead to psychosis. Psychosis is a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.

Remember, if you see someone suffering from a PCP overdose, do not approach them. There have been many instances of violent events stemming from PCP use. The user can be a danger to both you and themselves.

What Are the Risk Factors for PCP Overdose?

It’s nearly impossible to tell when someone will experience an overdose of PCP, but there are certain factors that may come into play. They include: Age and gender (young men ages 18-34 are most susceptible), a history of abuse or addiction (that may have contributed to a weakened heart), geographic location (the drug is most common in the Northeast and on the West coast), tolerance levels, mixing PCP with alcohol and other drugs, suffering from mental health issues and chronic use of the drug.


How is PCP Overdose Treated?

If you see or suspect someone overdosing from PCP, your best course of action is to call 911 and get them to a hospital. PCP overdose can lead to death, so it’s important that victims seek treatment immediately. There are no tried and true treatments for PCP overdose. Treatment will depend on the individual case. Treatment for PCP overdose may include:

Stabilization: The medical team will first work on stabilizing the victim’s vital signs, including heartbeat, blood pressure, and breathing. If necessary, CPR may be performed. Stabilization is crucial to ensure that the victim lives through the ordeal.

Diagnosis: After the victim is stabilized, doctors will attempt to diagnose what happened. The victim could have taken more than just PCP, or may have preexisting conditions that led to the toxicology. Doctors will need to diagnose the reasons behind the overdose before setting up a treatment plan.

Sedation: PCP can make people turn violent and can cause seizures. For this reason, doctors may elect to sedate the patient so he or she does not do any more harm to themselves. Sedation can be tricky, however, as it normally involves giving the patient another drug, like Valium.

Charcoal: A doctor may administer activated charcoal, which prevents the body from absorbing any more of the drug. This will not cure the PCP overdose symptoms, but it may prevent them from getting worse.

What Does the PCP Overdose Recovery Look Like?

Though death from a PCP overdose is entirely possible, most people do survive. However, PCP has long-term effects that are still prevalent after overdose, so continued medical monitoring should be included in any recovery plan. In the immediate aftermath of an overdose, a doctor may prescribe certain medications to help ease the symptoms of overdose – especially seizures.

Many people who suffer from PCP overdose are not first time users and are likely to use the drug again. For these cases, entering a rehab program – whether inpatient or outpatient – is a good idea. PCP and other drugs are not easy to ween off of if addiction is present. Illicit drug abuse treatment requires a combination of strict sobriety, physical care, and mental care. Rehab facilities combine all of these under one roof, with 24/7 monitoring to ensure that the patient does not have a relapse.

Rehab facilities, however, can be very expensive. Some insurance plans may offer rehab as a part of their benefits, but it is best to check with your carrier first before committing to a facility. If your insurance company does offer rehab, it is important to strongly consider this opportunity if you or a loved one has an addiction. Luminance Recovery, a rehab center in Orange County, is committed to giving you the best care for your needs. Get in touch today to figure out the most suitable plan tailored to you.

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