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Signs & Symptoms of PCP Abuse

Signs and symptoms of PCP abuse include hostile behavior, anger, paranoia, hallucinations, dizziness, and mood swings, among others.

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Since PCP is illegal in the United States, any use of this drug is abuse.

Why Is PCP Abused?

People abuse PCP in an attempt to experience euphoria and other effects, such as increased self-confidence and sensations of physical strength.[1] While users seek these desirable effects in the short term, they are accompanied by various negative effects in both the short and long term.

The drug is known on the street as angel dust, and it’s available as a powder, tablet, liquid, and crystal.

Who Abuses PCP?

PCP is primarily abused by younger demographics, including high school students and young adults.[8] 

In 2020, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 52,000 people in the U.S. (ages 12 and older) reported first-time use of PCP within the prior year.[8] In 2021, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 438 PCP exposure case mentions.[8]

What Are Common Signs & Symptoms of PCP Abuse?

The higher the level of use, the more intense and varied the symptoms tend to be. Common signs and symptoms of PCP abuse can be broken down into physical, emotional, and behavioral categories.[1-3] 

Physical Signs of PCP Abuse

These are some of the physical signs of PCP abuse:[1,2]

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of motor coordination
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing or very shallow and abnormal respiratory patterns
  • Excessive sweating
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Feeling of numbness, particularly in the limbs
  • Seizure

Mental & Emotional Signs of PCP Abuse

These are some of the mental or emotional signs of PCP abuse:[1,2]

  • Dissociation (feeling detached from yourself or your surroundings)
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Strong feelings of fear and anxiety 
  • Confusion
  • Problems with mood regulation 
  • Feeling that things are not real
  • Aggression and hostility

Behavioral Signs of PCP Abuse

PCP abuse often includes changes in behaviors, such as these:[1,2]

  • Increased risk-taking actions, impulsivity, and sensation-seeking behaviors
  • Decline in self-care practices
  • Withdrawal from social situations 
  • Changes in social circles
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Decline in performance at school or work
  • Increased secrecy
  • Financial problems

What Are the Dangers of PCP?

There are many risks associated with the use of PCP. While most problems compound with longer periods of use and higher doses, risks are present even if you only take the drug once.

Short-Term Risks

Here are some of the short-term dangers associated with PCP: 

  • Heart issues: PCP can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure. These conditions can increase the likelihood of a cardiovascular event.[4]
  • Seizures: Seizures and loss of consciousness are possible with even one-time PCP use.[4] 
  • Overdose: PCP overdose can occur, which can be fatal.[9]
  • Psychological risks: PCP can cause severe cognitive impairment, resulting in significantly decreased judgment and decision-making ability. Since the use of the drug can lead to a distorted sense of reality, it can be very dangerous as users engage in unsafe activities.
  • Violence and aggression: PCP can increase the risk of violence and other aggressive behaviors. This creates safety risks for the user and surrounding individuals. The direct link between PCP use and violence is not fully clear, but PCP users are more likely to engage in partner violence.[5,6]

Long-Term Risks

The short-term risks of PCP are significant, many of which can result in serious harm or even death. Long-term use compounds all of these risks, as each instance of use comes with the potential for devastating results. 

Here are some additional long-term risks associated with PCP use:

  • Organ damage: If consumed chronically, PCP can cause severe damage to many bodily systems and organs, especially the liver and kidneys.[1] 
  • Injection-related issues: PCP is often injected, and long-term use is associated with transmission of various blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis.[10] Skin issues, including necrosis, can occur at injection sites.
  • Cognitive issues: Memory loss, decrease in thinking abilities, speech dysfunction, and psychosis have all been linked to long-term use.[11]
  • Significant harm to all areas of life: With continued abuse and addiction, all areas of life begin to suffer, including one’s career, health, relationships, finances, and overall well-being. 

PCP Overdose

High doses of PCP can lead to severe symptoms, such as seizures and loss of consciousness, potentially leading to coma.[7] Death from PCP overdose is rare, but it can occur.

Most often, PCP overdose is treated with supportive care. In severe cases, sedation may be required if the patient is very agitated.[7]

Here are some steps to take if a PCP overdose is suspected:

  1. Call 911. Give the operator all known information about the person, including any substances taken.
  2. Follow the operator’s instructions. They may instruct you to check if the person is breathing or for a pulse. 
  3. Begin CPR if no pulse is detected. If you don’t know CPR, ask loudly if anyone nearby does. 
  4. Stay with the person until professional help arrives. If the operator advises, place the person in the recovery position (on their side) to ensure they don’t choke if they vomit.

When emergency professionals arrive, they may offer further supportive care, such as airway protection, circulation assistance, fluids, and other forms of support.[9] 

Following PCP overdose, it’s important to enter treatment to address the underlying abuse issue. Without therapy, another overdose is likely to occur in the future, and this could lead to more substantial consequences the next time.

Updated May 7, 2024
  1. Bey T, Patel A. Phencyclidine intoxication and adverse effects: a clinical and pharmacological review of an illicit drug. Cal J Emerg Med. 2007;8(1):9-14.
  2. Dominici P, Kopec K, Manur R, Khalid A, Damiron K, Rowden A. Phencyclidine intoxication case series study. J Med Toxicol. 2015;11(3):321-325. doi:10.1007/s13181-014-0453-9
  3. LaSpada N, Delker E, East P, et al. Risk taking, sensation seeking and personality as related to changes in substance use from adolescence to young adulthood. J Adolesc. 2020;82:23-31. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2020.04.011
  4. Dominici P, Kopec K, Manur R, Khalid A, Damiron K, Rowden A. Phencyclidine intoxication case series study. J Med Toxicol. 2015;11(3):321-325. doi:10.1007/s13181-014-0453-9
  5. Crane CA, Easton CJ, Devine S. The association between phencyclidine use and partner violence: an initial examination. J Addict Dis. 2013;32(2):150-157. doi:10.1080/10550887.2013.797279
  6. Violence associated with phencyclidine abuse. The American Journal of Psychiatry. Published August 2006. Accessed August 31, 2023.
  7. Journey JD, Bentley TP. Phencyclidine toxicity. StatPearls. Published September 5, 2022. Accessed August 31, 2023.
  8. PHENCYCLIDINE (Street Names: PCP, Angel Dust, Supergrass, Boat, Tic Tac, Zoom, Shermans) DEA Office of Diversion Control; 2013.
  9. Phencyclidine (PCP) Toxicity. Journey JD, Bentley TP. StatPearls. Published September 4, 2023. Accessed April 23, 2024.
  10. Substance use disorder, intravenous injection, and HIV infection: A review. Wang SC, Maher B. Cell Transplantation. 2019;28(12):1465-1471.
  11. PCP (phencyclidine). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Office of Surgeon General, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published November 2016. Accessed April 21, 2024.
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