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PCP Addiction Treatment & Rehab Explained

PCP addiction is an incredibly dangerous and challenging condition that causes many people to suffer and do damage to their lives. Understanding what PCP is, how it affects your body and mind, and how it can be treated will help you to gain control over this terrible addiction.

While no addiction is easy to overcome, with the right steps, PCP addiction can be managed like any other. To start, let’s look at what PCP is.

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What is phencyclidine (PCP), or angel dust?

Phencyclidine (PCP), or ‘angel dust’ is a complex and powerful drug that is incredibly dangerous. Known as a dissociative anaesthetic, PCP reduces pain and causes you to become “disconnected” from the world around you. It does this by producing powerful hallucinations/distortions of perception (sight, sound, and feeling) thereby creating an overall sense of a highly distorted reality. It was for this exact reason that soon after its development in the 1950s, PCP use as an intravenous drug was quickly discontinued.

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Today, PCP, or ‘angel dust’ can be found in many forms. You can find it in an oil, liquid, powder, or crystal form. Depending on the form, it can be sniffed, swallowed, or injected, and varies in colour from yellow, to light brown, to white, depending on purity. All forms of it are classed as a Class: A drug, so it is highly illegal to even have on your person, let alone give away or sell.[1][2]

PCP is highly addictive due to its pain relieving qualities, and the intense hallucinogenic state it creates. Aside from altering your perception of reality and seemingly slowing down time, PCP can make you behave in a severely psychotic and dangerous fashion. Because it temporarily stops you thinking clearly and differentiating between what is real and what is imagined, it is easy for PCP to cause you to become a danger to yourself and others.[3][4]

Understanding what PCP is, how it appears, and the risks involved with it can greatly help you begin to manage your addiction and reduce your suffering.

PCP Trade Names

PCP goes by many names, which can sometimes make it hard to spot. This problem is only compounded by the fact that PCP comes in many different forms. However, when struggling with an addiction to PCP, it’s helpful to know the exact names of the drug as it may appear in your life.
PCP was first patented in 1952 by the Park-Davis pharmaceutical company under the brand names Sernyl® and Sernylan®. However, because of its extreme side effects and the suffering it caused, it was eventually removed from the market completely in 1965, and restricted only for use with animals.

With this in mind, it’s unlikely you’ll come across PCP under its historical trade names, and far more likely you’ll encounter it under a street name or synonym. These will be explored in the next part of this article. For now, these are the two trade names to be aware of:

  • Sernyl
  • Sernylan

Synonyms and Street Names for PCP

You are far more likely to encounter PCP under a street name or synonym than you are any other name, including ‘PCP’. But as it has an exhaustive list of street names and synonyms, it extremely difficult to identify.

Becoming familiar with many of PCP’s street names and synonyms can help you to spot and distance yourself from the drug when you come across it. It can also help others support you, as removing the jargon and special names can help them understand exactly what it is you are taking, thus allow them to better help you.

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Here are some of the most common names for PCP you will come across [5][6]:

  • Phenylcyclohexyl piperidine
  • Angel dust
  • Animal tranquilliser
  • Elephant tranquilliser
  • Embalming fluid
  • Hog
  • Ozone
  • Wack
  • Killer joints
  • The PeaCe pill
  • Rocket fuel
  • Supergrass
  • Superweed
  • Cliffhanger
  • Goon Dust
  • Trank
  • Peter Pan
  • Lethal Weapon
  • Kools

It’s also important to understand that PCP goes under special street names when it is combined with other drugs.

For example, the following names refer to a Marijuana / PCP combination:

  • Love boat
  • Wet
  • Dippers
  • Illy
  • Fry Sticks
  • Happy Stick
  • Dust Blunt

These refer to a mix of PCP, ketamine, caffeine, methamphetamine, and pseudo/ephedrine:

  • Green kryptonite
  • Purple teardrops
  • Orange pokemon

And these names refer to a combination of PCP and MDMA:

  • Pikachu
  • Elephant flipping

Routes of PCP Administration

As PCP comes in several different forms, it can be taken in many different ways. It can be smoked, injected, snorted, or swallowed. Each method involves its own process.
Here’s how they work:

Smoking

One way in which PCP can be administered is through smoking. By dipping a cigarette into liquid PCP and then drying it, you can then smoke the substance. This method -sometimes called ‘embalming fluid’- is done with tobacco cigarettes and occasionally with marijuana joints.

It can also be sprayed onto certain leafy materials such as cannabis, ginger leaves, parsley, oregano, and tobacco then smoked. Generally, users find they can control its effects better when taking it this way.

Injection

As PCP can be dissolved in water, it can be injected directly into your bloodstream using a needle.

Injection is one of, if not the, most dangerous methods of administering PCP and for your safety should always be avoided. It is much easier to overdose with injections, and if you are sharing equipment, this can lead you to catch a virus such as HIV or hepatitis C which can greatly affect your health and cause you to suffer unintentionally.

Snorted

When it is in its white-tan coloured crystal or powder form (known as PCP hydrochloride), PCP can be snorted through the nostrils.

However, this is subject to the purity of the compound and much of the PCP brought on the street will contain several harmful contaminants which can leave you doing unintentional damage to your body.

Oral

The last way you can take PCP is orally, via tablet or capsule. This can allow you to potentially take larger doses of the drug than you would through smoking. These tablets can sometimes be found under the name ‘PeaCe pills’.

Risk Factors for PCP Addiction

PCP addiction is a challenging condition that can greatly affect the quality of your life and cause you to suffer. Managing this addiction can be difficult, and there are many factors that go into making you more likely to become addicted to the substance against your will.

Understanding these factors can help you gain more awareness of your addiction, and understand why you have come to be addicted. This can help you to gain more control of it moving forward.

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Genetic

Genetics can play a large role in your addiction. Scientists estimate that genes can account for up to 60% of a person’s risk of addiction. This includes the genes themselves, and how they respond to the environment.

Factors such as a history of addiction in your family members, as well as mental health disorders all contribute to the likelihood that you may suffer from addiction at some point in your life.[7]

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Environmental

Your environment has a huge influence on whether or not you’ll suffer from PCP addiction. This can be your family, your school, and/or your neighbourhood. For example, growing up in an environment with easy access to PCP, such as a low-income neighbourhood with a large illicit drug trade, has a huge impact on the likelihood of you developing an addiction because your ease of access is so much greater.

Your home environment during your childhood is especially important. If you are the child of a parent who misuses drugs, alcohol or breaks the law, then there is an increased risk of you suffering from addiction later on in life.

Likewise, your friends and peer group during your teenage years have a strong influence on you. Even if you have limited risk factors, merely being around teens who use PCP can sway you to try it for the first time. Alongside this, difficulties at school, and struggling to build friendships and social skills can increase your risk of addiction further.[7]

Addictive Personality

An addictive personality is a complex mix of traits that make you more susceptible to suffer from one or more addictions. Traits like impulsivity, lack of self-control, inability to quit, thrill-seeking are indicators that you might struggle with addiction. Alongside this, having a personal history of personal trauma elevates the risk of substance use further.[8]

Brain Chemistry

Addiction is deeply connected to your brains response to pleasure. When you enjoy something, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine which gives you a great feeling of ‘reward’ for whatever you’re doing. Naturally, this rewarding feeling becomes addictive.

PCP utilises this function of the brain by flooding it with dopamine when it is taken, causing the feeling of using the drug to be experienced like an incredibly rewarding activity. The method through which the drug is taken further increases the strength of this dopamine release – for example, injecting it provides a particularly strong rush of pleasure.

However, there are downsides to this. Over time, the brain changes so that it no longer provides the same release of dopamine for the same amount of the drug taken. Because our brains aren’t designed to take such strong surge of dopamine release constantly, they eventually begin to produce less dopamine naturally and start removing dopamine receptors. The result is that not only do you crave PCP more but it also no longer has the same pleasurable effect – meaning you are compelled to take more and more.[9]
This can result in an incredible level of suffering which is hard to break. On top of this, the brain also learns where you received the drug, and stores information about environmental cues so that it can be located again. This causes intense cravings as you go about your life, making the act of quitting of rehabilitating yourself from the substance extremely challenging – especially in a familiar environment such as your home.

PCP also specifically effects the way your brain cells react to glutamate. Glutamate is one of, if not the, most important chemicals for normal brain function. It is involved in nearly all of the brains functions, such as memory formation, emotions, pain, and learning. PCP disrupts your brains receptors to glutamate, affecting all of these processes – which is why PCP changes your ability to create memories and feel pain.

PCP Abuse & Addiction Signs and Symptoms

In yourself or others, there are a lot of signs of symptoms of PCP abuse and addiction. Knowing what these look like can help you to better assist yourself in recovery, and help those close to you.

Signs and symptoms of PCP addiction and abuse include:

  • Mood Changes:
  • Psychological cravings
  • Continued use despite awareness that it is resulting in psychological problems
  • Sedation or becoming overly calm
  • Euphoria
  • Mood swings
  • Intense anger
  • A sense of invulnerability
  • Physical and mental changes:
  • Immobility
  • Blank stare
  • Amnesia
  • Numbness
  • High blood pressure
  • Slurred speech
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you or someone you know are suffering from any of these challenging and debilitating symptoms then it is a sign that you or they are abusing PCP at great cost to their quality of life.

Behavioural Changes in PCP addiction

Alongside the general signs of symptoms of PCP addictions, there are also a number of behavioural changes that abuse of the drug can cause in you. These behavioural changes can have a terrible impact on your family, work, and social life as the drug leads you to act in extreme ways that are often hostile to other people.
PCP can lead you to become aggressive or violent towards other people, due to the extreme emotions, psychotic symptoms, and delusions it causes in you. Not only can this cause physical harm to people you care about, but it can cause you to become distant from them. PCP can also lead to odd, erratic behaviours that don’t line up to your expectations, intentions, or surroundings.

These changes can lead to problems at school or work, where the drug causes you to act in ways that aren’t tolerated by your peers. This can have a catastrophic effect on you and cause you to suffer painful changes in your life that you never wanted or asked for.

Physical Changes

There are many physical changes that come with PCP addiction. Many of these changes are unwanted, and not only come at a cost to your personal life, but they can also be frightening to experience, and feel like something bad has happened to your body.

You may experience rapid heartbeat and raised body temperature in the short or long term, which can lead to experiencing feelings of panic or fright.

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Your blood pressure may increase, and you may experience problems breathing, which can be extremely scary in the moment.

There is also the loss of motor coordination and slurred speech that comes from even a low dose, both of which can affect your safety, relationships, and ability to work and/or study at school.

Psychological Changes

PCP has a huge effect on your psychology and causes a whole range of psychological changes from the way you perceive yourself to the world around you.

One of the more common feelings associated with PCP is a sense of numbness and relaxation, sometimes accompanied by a sense of well-being and euphoria. It is for these effects that most people struggling with addiction take the drug. However, there are other psychological changes that are far from pleasurable.

PCP can cause you to misperceive your physical abilities such as strength and speed, as well as giving you a sense of invulnerability.

This can lead you to take actions that are incredibly dangerous and risk your safety and/or life. You can also experience intense distortions of sensory perception which lead you to perceive reality different than it actually is. This can be accompanied by powerful and sometimes terrifying hallucinations, which in turn, can be experienced as flashbacks when taking the drug again in the future.

Alongside these psychological changes, you can also experience memory loss, delusions of grandeur, problems concentrating, and experiences of extreme anxiety, panic, and worry – all of which have a terrible effect on your life and can cause you to suffer.

How to Know if Someone is Overdosing on PCP

As PCP comes with so many symptoms, it can be difficult to tell if someone is overdosing, but there are some signs that indicate it. It is also important to understand that the dosage of PCP has varying effects on different people. For example, someone might take 5mg and feel euphoria, whereas you could take the same amount and experience psychotic symptoms. However, in most people, doses greater than 10 mg result in a coma, and sometimes, death.

To identify is someone has overdosed on PCP, look for these symptoms such as heightened aggression and agitation, loss of coordination, increased temperature and blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, a catatonic state where the person does not move (or alternatively, hyperactivity), nystagmus, severe delusions and hallucinations, coma or unconsciousness, or seizures.

In general, someone who has used PCP can be extremely dangerous to themselves and others, so for your safety it is recommended that you do not try to approach them and instead call the emergency services. This will be greatly upsetting if it is someone you love, but leaving it to the emergency services is always the best course of action.[10]

Why is PCP Addictive?

Given some of the more dangerous side effects of using PCP, it can be difficult to understand why it is so addictive, but there are numerous reasons why it holds so much power over the people who take it.

As discussed earlier, PCP has a variety of effects, some of which are intensely pleasurable and desirable if you are looking to dull pain, feel euphoria or detachment, or even experience intense sensory distortions. This alone is enough for the drug to become a sought after experience because it provides such an extreme escape from what may be potentially unpleasant realities.

On top of this, PCP provides the brain with surges of dopamine which overload you with an experience of intense pleasure and reward.

Over time, the brain learns to crave this experience, going so far as store memories of where it was experienced and found, as well as removing its natural ability to produce dopamine. This leaves you in a state where PCP becomes your easiest, and sometimes, sole way to experience the pleasure you seek. But as, over time, your brain lessens its response to PCP, you are motivated to find larger doses. [11]

The cumulative effect of this is that PCP can be extremely hard to shake when it comes to addiction. However, with the right support, recovery is more than possible.

How PCP May Affect Relationships

As PCP is both highly-addictive and effects your psychology, it may harm your relationships.

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Most importantly, PCP can cause you to become erratic, aggressive, and violent, which can lead to you to become unintentionally dangerous to other people you care about – such as your spouse, children, or friends.

The addictive element of PCP plays another role. Because the substance becomes such an important factor in your life, you will likely begin to neglect other areas that were once important to you and are still important to others. Your marriage, your sex life, your children, your friendships – all of this will become a lower priority compared to your addiction to PCP. Something which many of your loved ones will find upsetting.

In short, PCP can have a destructive effect on your most important relationships. However, with treatment, you can become free of your addiction and begin to heal the relationships that matter to you most.[12]

PCP Treatment and Therapy Options

Finding the right treatment option is an essential first step in a successful recovery from PCP addiction. Finding the right treatment option means you won’t be going through recovery alone and can receive the crucial support you need.

Treatment centres offer a structured and practiced method of treatment that has helped many people suffering from PCP addiction. Many offer programmes of therapy, as well as assistance during the more trying times of rehabilitation.

Outpatient treatment centres offer you treatment and support during daytime hours, but at night you can go back to your home. Inpatient treatment facilities offer a more complete approach. By living in the treatment facility, you remove yourself from any proximity to PCP, making use impossible. You are also provided with constant care, support and monitoring, all of which of especially useful during your more challenging withdrawal stages.

Alongside this, various methods of therapy (such as behaviour therapy) can help you gain a better understanding of the psychology, motivations, and habits that form your addictive behaviour and allow you to gain more control over it – a fundamental step to building the kind of life you want. One that is free from the suffering imposed by your addition.

Steps in PCP Rehab Treatment

There are three main phases to PCP rehab treatment. These are detoxification, therapy, and long term recovery.

Detoxification allows you to remove the drug from your system, which makes further (and necessary) testament possible. Detox starts as soon as the effects of your last dose wear off, and your body begins the process of adjusting to life without PCP. This stage will be accompanied by withdrawal symptoms, which is why it can be such a challenging stage for those suffering from addiction.

The next phase is therapy, where, alongside a therapist, you begin to explore your personal history, habits, patterns of thinking, and behaviour, in order to help you rebuild your life and gain control over your addiction. This is a crucial and necessary step that helps to prevent you from returning to PCP use in the future by helping you to build new, stronger patterns of behaviour.

Examples of therapies include cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, as well as group therapy.

The final stage of PCP rehab treatment is long term recovery. It is important to understand that the process of recovery is not complete once you leave rehab. It is a process that continues on afterwards, and in many instances, is best looked at as a lifelong process. Addiction is always something to be managed, and using the new tools learned in rehab as well as your new, healthy system, you will have everything you need to manage your life and stay free from the temptation of returning to PCP addiction and the suffering that it brings. [13]

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FAQs

Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about PCP addiction:

What are the pleasurable effects of PCP?
PCP has many effects that some people consider to be desirable. Amongst these are pain relief, a ‘high’ euphoric feeling, hallucinations, a feeling a disassociation from the body, as well as feelings of grandeur.
Is PCP very addictive?
PCP is a highly addictive substance, both for the potentially pleasurable feelings listed above, as well as the way it interacts with your brain chemistry.

PCP triggers your brain’s dopamine response, causing a feeling of pleasure within you. Over time, your brain becomes dependent on PCP for this response, causing feelings of craving within you for the drug, and a dependence on it to feel the way you wish to feel. It also diminishes your brain’s ability to respond to dopamine, which causes you to desire larger and larger doses of the drug.

How Do I know I am addicted?
There are some signs that suggest you are suffering from an addiction to PCP. These are:

You need more of the substance to gain the same effects because you’ve developed a tolerance. You feel strange, depressed, or sick when the drug wears off. You may even feel tired, confused or have seizures. You can’t stop yourself from using the drug, even when you know you don’t want to do and take steps to stop yourself. You spend a lot of time thinking about the drug, and you find it increasingly hard to limit yourself.

On top of these, a clear sign you are addicted is that you are continuing to use the drug despite the fact is having an effect on your relationships, work, social life, and overall happiness. In short, you are using the drug despite the fact it is causing you a great deal of suffering.[14]

Can PCP be combined with other drugs?
Yes, PCP can be combined with drugs such as marijuana (sometimes called ‘Love boat), as well as drugs like MDMA (sometimes called ‘Pikachu’ or ‘Elephant flipping’), and combinations of ketamine, caffeine, methamphetamine, and pseudo/ephedrine (sometimes called ‘Green kryptonite’ or ‘Orange pokemon’).
Can I die from PCP use?
Yes, tragically, PCP use can be fatal, and it does not require a large dose to cause people to fall victim to it. In fact, a dose as small as 100mg can cause death.
What is PCP used for in the medical field?
PCP is no longer used in the medical field. It was once manufactured under the trade names Sernyl® and Sernylan® as a general anaesthetic for humans but was soon discontinued once clinical studies revealed that it had extreme adverse side-effects on patients such as delusions and severe anxiety.

These days, PCP is sometimes used in veterinary medicine as a tranquilliser, however even this is rare.[15]

How can I help someone who has overdosed on PCP?
The best you can help someone who has overdosed on PCP is to call the emergency services. PCP can cause those who have taken it to become dangerous to themselves and others, so it is always best that emergency services are called.
Does stopping PCP cause withdrawal symptoms?
Yes, stopping PCP can cause painful and challenging withdrawal symptoms in the short-term and long-term. Short-term symptoms may include elevated body temperature, agitation, muscle breakdown, and hallucinations. Long-term symptoms may include symptoms like depression, memory loss, and impaired cognitive function.[16]
How long does the withdrawal phase last with PCP?
The withdrawal phase for PCP will vary depending on how long you’ve used the drug, and how strong the doses you used were. On top of this, PCP stays in the body far longer than most drugs due to its ability to bind to brain tissue. However, most people suffering from addiction to PCP experience a withdrawal phase lasting several weeks.

During the first 2-10 days of your last PCP use you will deal with mild withdrawal symptoms. 2-6 weeks after your last of PCP you will experience the strongest withdrawal symptoms. And 2-12 months after your last use of PCP you may continue to experience cravings.

All of these can be managed during a supervised and assisted detox programme which will greatly help to reduce the challenge and your level of suffering.

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