PCP: What is Angel Dust?

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PCP or phencyclidine is a Schedule II controlled substance commonly referred to as angel dust.

First developed as a general anesthetic, PCP became a common drug of abuse in the United States in the 1960s. In recent decades, PCP has become popular as a club drug for the dissociative effects it delivers similar to ketamine.

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As well as angel dust, slang terms for PCP tend to emphasize the strength of this controlled substance:

  • Horse tranquilizer
  • Elephant tranquilizer
  • Lethal weapon
  • Embalming fluid
  • DOA (dead on arrival)
  • Rocket fuel
  • Sherm

What is PCP, then?

What is the PCP Drug?

Phencyclidine was first used as an intravenous anesthetic in the 1950s as Sernyl. The medication was only used briefly in this capacity as researchers quickly established that PCP brough on various neurotoxic side effects, including: 

  • Hallucinations
  • Mania
  • Agitation
  • Irrational thoughts

PCP was no longer legally manufactured for human medical applications in the United States after 1967. Phencyclidine was replaced by Ketalar (ketamine). This substance shares structural similarities with PCP, but it does not trigger the same presentation of adverse outcomes. 

Ingesting PCP in any form can cause hallucinations. Hallucinations are profound distortions to your perception of reality. PCP is also a dissociative drug. This class of substances can provoke distortions of: 

  • Self
  • Sounds
  • Sights
  • Environment
  • Colors

The purest form of PCP is a white crystalline powder that is easily dissolvable in water or alcohol. PCP powder has a bitter chemical taste. 

Illicitly manufactured PCP often contains adulterants and contaminants means that black market phencyclidine powder comes in various shades of brown with a gummy consistency. 

People use PCP in various ways, including: 

  • Snorting
  • Swallowing
  • Smoking (sherm)
  • Injecting intravenously

Classified by the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) as a Schedule II controlled substance, PCP carries the risk of abuse and addiction, even though there are medical uses for the drug. Dependence to PCP can develop rapidly, both physically and psychologically. 

The manufacturing and distribution of PCP is illegal in the United States. It is also illegal to possess PCP. 

Most illicitly manufactured PCP is made in clandestine labs. Many of these illegal laboratories are located in Southern California. 

An  image of a man who has in distress, symbolizing side effects of the drug pcp, or angel dust

What Does PCP Do?

PCP works on the brain and CNS (central nervous system). The drug will alter your mood and your behavior and will also impact the way in which you relate to your environment and your surroundings. The magnitude of these effects depends on the dose of PCP. 

The physical and psychological effects triggered by PCP can be unpredictable, particularly in higher doses. 

At lower doses, taking PCP induces feelings of euphoria and a sense of floating. You may also feel a sense of disconnection, both from your body and the surrounding environment. At increased doses, these effects become much more intense, leading to the presentation of erratic behaviors and hallucinations. 

How Long Does PCP Stay in Your System?

PCP is detectable with a urine test for five days if used once. If you use PCP regularly, the drug may be detected in the urine for one month. 

The half-life of PCP is three days. This is the length of time it takes for blood concentration levels of the drug to be reduced by 50%. It takes up to five half-lives before PCP is completely eliminated from the system. This lengthy elimination time is the result of PCP being stored in fat tissues and then gradually released. 

Effects of PCP

Ingesting PCP disrupts the functioning of the following brain chemicals: 

  • Norepinephrine
  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin

PCP also slows the action of a neurotransmitter – chemical messenger – called  glutamate, and disrupts NMDRs (NMDA receptors). NMDRs govern: 

  • Pain sensation
  • Emotions
  • Memory
  • Learning

As the functioning of these brain receptors is disrupted, so the person using PCP experiences a disconnection from reality. 

When you take larger doses of PCP, this can excite brain receptors, bringing about a variety of effects, such as:

  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Stupor
  • Ataxia (impaired coordination)
  • Nystagmus (repetitive eye movements)
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Seizures

The onset of PCP’s effects is contingent on the delivery method: 

  • Injecting: 5 minutes.
  • Smoking: 5 minutes, peaking after 15 minutes.
  • Swallowing: 30 minutes, peaking after 3 or 4 hours.

While PCP can induce calming and euphoric effects, it can also cause a variety of unwanted side effects to manifest. 

After taking a small dose of PCP, you will experience an increase in: 

  • Heart rate
  • Body temperature
  • Blood pressure levels

Taking a larger dose of PCP causes the opposite to occur, with the above levels all falling. 

These are the most reported effects of phencyclidine: 

  • Euphoria
  • Depersonalization
  • Distorted sights or sounds
  • Loss of balance
  • Impaired coordination
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Agitation
  • Acute anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to feel pain

Ingesting PCP can also trigger: 

  • Memory loss
  • Delusions
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Stiff muscles
  • Dizziness

Taking large doses of PCP can cause seizures and coma and can be life-threatening. 

The chronic use of PCP can also trigger these adverse long-term outcomes: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Impaired reasoning
  • Amnesia
  • Stuttering
  • Flashbacks
  • Social withdrawal
  • Toxic psychosis
  • Substance use disorder (addiction)

PCP Addiction and Treatment

PCP is among the most dangerous drugs of abuse. Chronic PCP often leads prompts tolerance, cravings, psychological dependence, and compulsive PCP use. 

Long-term users of PCP often experience these symptoms: 

  • Speech problems
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Depression
  • Weight loss

Using PCP causes tolerance to form. When this occurs, the effects of the drug diminish. Taking more of the drug to achieve the same effects will accelerate the development of dependence. Physical drug dependence means you will require the substance to function normally, with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms manifesting in its absence. 

Those who become dependent on PCP often but not always develop addiction, a chronic and relapsing condition characterized by compulsive substance use regardless of negative consequences. We can help you combat PCP addiction here at California Detox.

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PCP Rehab at California Detox

If you have developed an addiction to PCP, we can help you address both the physical and psychological components of substance use disorder here at our California drug rehab in Orange County. 

Choose from a treatment program at the following levels of intensity: 

  • OPs (outpatient programs)
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)
  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs)
  • Inpatient programs (residential rehab)
  • Remote rehab via video conferencing
  • Supervised medical detoxification
  • Dual diagnosis (for addictions with co-occurring mental health disorders)

Addiction is a brain condition that can be treated with a combination of pharmacological and behavioral interventions, such as: 

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Psychotherapies (talk therapies such as CBT and DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapy

When you’re ready to commit to sustained abstinence from the potentially deadly PCP, we can help you from detox to discharge and beyond. Call 949.390.5377 today.


PCP was originally used as a general anesthetic.
Sherm is a slang term for either tobacco or marijuana cigarettes dipped in PCP and/or embalming fluid.


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