Phencyclidine or phenylcyclohexyl piperidine (PCP), aka angel dust, is a dissociative anesthetic mainly used recreationally for its mind-altering effects which may cause hallucinations, distorted perceptions of sounds, and violent behavior.
As of 2017, in the U.S., about 1% of high school seniors reported using PCP in the year prior. 2.9% of those over the age of 25 reported using it at some point in their lives. Low doses produce a numbness in one’s extremities and an unsteady gait, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and loss of balance. Moderate doses will produce analgesia and anesthesia. High doses may lead to convulsions.
Its most popularly recognized side effects are summarized by the mnemonic device RED DANES: rage, erythema (redness of skin), dilated pupils, delusions, amnesia, nystagmus (quivering of the eye when looking side to side), excitation, and skin dryness.
It is typically smoked (sometimes with marijuana or tobacco), but may be taken by mouth, snorted, or injected. Chemically speaking, PCP is a member of the arylcyclohexylamine class. PCP is most commonly used in the United States. While usage peaked in the 1970s, between 2005 and 2011 an increase occurred in emergency room visits as a result of the drug.
The drug is often illegally produced under poorly controlled conditions; this means that users may be unaware of the actual dose they are taking. Further psychological effects of the drug include severe changes in body image, loss of ego boundaries, paranoia, depersonalization, psychosis, agitation, blurred vision and euphoria. Additional adverse side-effects may include seizures, coma, and an increased risk of suicide. Flashbacks may occur despite cessation of use.
Like many other drugs, PCP has been known to alter mood states in an unpredictable fashion, causing some individuals to become detached, and others to become animated, inducing feelings of strength, power, and invulnerability. Recreational doses of the drug appear to induce a psychotic state, with cognitive impairment that resembles a schizophrenic episode.
Studies by the Drug Abuse Warning Network in the 1970s showed that media reports of PCP-induced violence may be exaggerated and that incidents of violence are unusual, often limited to individuals with reputations for aggression prior to use of the drug. However, events which involve PCP-intoxicated individuals in physical altercations with law enforcement, possibly driven by their delusions or hallucinations, have been highly publicized.
Other commonly cited incidents include inflicting property damage and self-mutilation, like the pulling of one’s own teeth. These effects were not noted in its medicinal use during the 1950s and 1960s.