Title: PCP: Facts About Phencyclidine
Author: Lisa Turney
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: October 2002
Catalog Number: 123

..Dirty Dealing

It’s hard to
keep a bad drug down.

Because no sooner
has word gotten out about the last dangerous, crazy, or rip-off
drug than someone’s scraped the crud off the bottoms of their
shoes, wrapped it in plastic and foil, and pawned it off as the
latest thing in chemical high cuisine.

And by the time
people have all gotten the word about green shoe scrapings (or
whatever), a brand-new drug turns up or a forgotten old one returns
and a new Drug Abuse Phenomenon is born.

Take PCP, for

Over the years,
it’s made more names for itself on the street more often than
any other drug.

PCP scams are
legendary, too, including switches for nearly every substance
that’s ever been dropped, shot, or snorted in the name of chemical
consciousness and artificial good times.

Also legendary
is PCP’s reputation as a bummer drug, one that can shake up even
veteran users.

Since PCP is
so high in bummer potential and since it gets shuffled around
under so many names (from “angel dust” to “zoot”),
you might think that dealers think they have something to hide
when it comes to this drug.

And you might
be right.

..Early Years

The name PCP
comes from the drug’s chemical name 1-(1-phencyclohexyl) piperidine.
It was developed in 1926 as a surgical anesthetic and became
widely known as phencyclidine.

Its developers
hoped it would prove safe and effective, but early researchers
decided it wasn’t much of either and it sat on a shelf until

That’s when pharmaceutical
researchers dusted it off, named it Sernyl®, and began testing
it again.

And PCP did look
promising for a while. In fact, the drug carried only one serious
drawback: After surgery, patients went a little crazy, with jumbled
speech, delirium, and hallucinations.

The drawbacks
proved serious enough that, in 1965, its manufacturer removed
Sernyl from testing.

If you’re wondering
what a drug company does with a discredited drug, sometimes they
do the same thing that dealers do on the street: Rename it, re-package
it, and re-release it. And in the case of Sernyl, the “new”
product was dubbed Sernylan®, and it was quickly marketed
as a veterinary anesthetic.

That same year,
in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, a new tablet dubbed
the “PeaCe Pill” appeared. Hailed, as most new drugs
are, as the best thing yet, the PeaCe Pill failed spectacularly
at living up to its name.

And in a wave
of bad press — and bad user reactions — PCP disappeared into
the oblivion it so richly deserved.

..The Big Switch

But in the early
1970s, the drug re-emerged, this time as a liquid and a crystalline
powder and in tablet form. But the word was out on PCP and experienced
users stayed away in droves.

Almost unable
to give phencyclidine away under its own name, street dealers
decided that PCP is the stuff dreams — or, at least, big bucks
— are made of. As a result, PCP became the raw material in numerous
street drug swindles.

And it has been
in a lot of them — in batches of marijuana, heroin, and LSD,
and in filler like parsley and talc.

On the street,
it travels under a long list of names — from “hog”
and “squeeze” to “wack” and “space base”
(when mixed with crack). The possibilities are limited only by
a dealer’s imagination — or deviousness.

In other words,
they’re virtually infinite.

..Angel Dust & ‘THC’

Still, the two
most common aliases for PCP over the years have been “angel
dust” and “THC.”

Angel dust, which
originally referred to a combination of heroin and cocaine, was
one of PCP’s earliest assumed identities.

Always on the
lookout for a way to save a buck while making a buck, dealers
simply swapped PCP for one drug, then the other, until the original
blend was forgotten altogether and angel dust itself became just
one more name for PCP.

Similarly, PCP
is sometimes sold as “THC,” the main ingredient in
marijuana. The problem is that PCP’s similarity to pot starts
and stops at very light dosages.

..Inner Workings

Although PCP
can be used in a number of ways, today it’s most often smoked
— either in drug-laced cigarettes or in marijuana or parsley
“joints” containing the drug.

No matter how
it’s used, PCP produces a tangle of powerful drug effects —
acting as an anesthetic, stimulant, depressant, and hallucinogen
at the same time.

Often misclassified
as a hallucinogen, PCP really is in a class of its own. Medically
it’s often described as a deliriant or a dissociative
(which means it causes psychological detachment
and blocks pain).

But whatever
it’s called, the most distinctive feature of PCP is the unpredictability
and sheer weirdness of its effects. And those vary with dosage:

  • Low doses (3-8
    mg) cause mild intoxication. Users show impaired coordination,
    slurred speech, and erratic eye movement.
  • Bigger doses
    (8 to 12 mg) pump the low-dose effects up higher, and add increased
    heart rate and blood pressure, fever, sweating, nausea, a blank
    stare, and a shuffling, disjointed gait that some users call
    “zombie walking.”
  • Higher doses
    can unleash a range of serious problems, from a sharp drop in
    blood pressure to muscular rigidity, convulsions, even coma and
    death. And while lower-dose effects may only last a few hours,
    higher-dose effects can continue for several days.

The difference
between low- and high-dose effects points up a real danger for

Because low-dose
effects are like those produced by marijuana, users can smoke
more and more to sustain the high. But the resemblance to pot
can end with a few more dusted joints, as a full-blown PCP trip
kicks in. And that can lead to a full-blown PCP bummer.

Bad PCP trips
are unpredictable and often frightening. They can involve rapid,
uncontrollable shifts in mood combined with bizarre delusions
and hallucinations. Violent, aggressive outbursts are also common.

there aren’t many ways to ease a PCP bummer outside a medical
facility. Time-honored LSD talk-down techniques are often useless:
PCP users can be so detached they don’t “hear” support,
and so paranoid they may not accept it anyway.

That’s why the
best advice to follow in an emergency is to get help fast.

..PCP Problems

We could fill
volumes describing the long-term effects of PCP. But perhaps
the most critical information can be boiled down to a simple
statement: The body stores PCP in muscle and fatty tissues at
full psychoactive potential, which can mean all sorts of problems
for users — even after they stop using.

Since PCP builds
up in the body, regular use causes tolerance, so that larger
doses are needed to achieve desired effects. Increased doses,
in turn, increase the risks of overdose.

And because PCP
ultimately acts as a depressant, slowing breathing and heart
beat, alcohol or other downers taken with PCP can also trigger
an overdose.

For many users,
a more immediate danger involves the “behavioral toxicity”
of the drug.

What’s that?

Simply the dumb,
crazy, and dangerous things that people do when they’re wasted.
Car crashes and drowning rank high on the list of PCP-related
accidents and, in fact, account for most user deaths.

A final group
of risks includes flashbacks and long-term emotional problems.

Unlike LSD flashbacks,
which are psychological in origin, PCP aftershocks are physically-based
and involve actual drug effects. Post-high bummers brought on
by drugs, stress, or fatigue have been known to occur weeks or
months after last use.

..Last Words

So what’s the
last word about PCP?

Just this: It’s
a bummer drug, one that usually turns up on the street disguised
as something else, and when it does, it’s usually bad news.

Because no matter
what it’s called and how well it’s packaged, PCP is PCP.

And that means
it’s always going to be causing problems for somebody somewhere.

Don’t let that
somebody be you.

Because if you
think about all the rip-offs and freak-outs that have gone around
and come down throughout the drug’s history, you might just come
to the conclusion that PCP dealers were right all along: They
really do have to be pretty creative to sell PCP.

Because nobody
ever wants what it really is.

..Sidebar | Dusting Yourself Off: How to Get Off PCP

Need help —
or know someone who does — in coming back from PCP?

Good. Because
the fact is that PCP can trigger a range of problems, and users
can try a range of solutions to bring themselves back from a
PCP binge or habit. And the sooner, the better.

Here are some
key areas to focus on:

  • Exercise. Regular exercise can
    work wonders in defusing the tension and depression that can
    follow in PCP’s wake. Jogging, especially, is great for undoing
    anxiety or panic. And exercise increases body metabolism, which
    can speed the elimination of PCP breakdown products from the
  • Diet. A few small changes here
    can make a big difference in the way you think and feel. Go heavy
    on the complex carbohydrates, lighten up on junk; skip caffeine
    and simple sugars; and drink lots of water (at least 8 glasses
    a day).
  • R & R.
    rest and relaxation, not rock & roll — unless they’re the
    same thing to you.) Take it easy for a while. Realize that you’ve
    been through a tough time, and give yourself space to adjust
    and get your life back into an even flow. Make up your mind about
    who you intend to be from here on out, then get busy making it

It may not be
fast or easy, but we guarantee that it’s a lot more fun than
the alternative.

This is one in a series of publications
on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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