What is PCP?
Phencyclidine, or PCP, was synthesized in 1926 and used in the 1950s to act as a surgical anesthetic. However, it was retired in 1960s due to significant side effects including delusion, emotional trauma and acutely irrational behavior. It now sees illegal use as an extremely potent and dangerous hallucinogenic drug. It is generally ingested either orally or through the nose and its sedative effects take hold extremely quickly. PCP takes the form of a white, readily soluble powder crystalline in nature. It has It has been classified as being a hallucinogen, dissociative anesthetic, psychotomimetic, and sedative-hypnotic.
Photo of PCP in its powder form
Short-Term effects of PCP on the body
The potency of PCP varies significantly with dosage, noted for its danger and unpredictability. In lesser concentrations it alters bodily awareness, numbing the extremities and provoking extreme emotions such as anger or euphoria. Muscular coordination is diminished and users often experience a sense of invulnerability and power, becoming agitated, violent, and irrational. Conversely, one could become temporarily sedated and carefree, in a daze.
In high concentrations PCP can cause significant damage to users including vomiting, audiovisual delirium, seizures, comas, and, on occasion, death. While in the throes of hallucination the user can become a serious threat to themselves and others.
Effects of PCP on the Nervous System
PCP is a sympathomimetic drug, meaning that it copies the effects of transmitter substances within the sympathetic nervous system such as epinephrine or dopamine. The recall of norepinephrine (responsible for maintaining concentration) into the presynaptic neuron is blocked, resulting in a maintained level of sympathetic nervous system activation. This causes the feelings of prolific paranoia and anxiety, the “flight or fight response”. In addition, the parasympathetic system, responsible for calming the body down, is blocked by a decrease in acetylcholine at the receptors, maintaining the nervous and frantic states,
PCP also inhibits dopamine’s reuptake after being released and applied at the synapse. The resulting high dopamine levels are responsible for the hallucination, dissociation and psychosis within reactions to PCP.
Diagram of the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous systems. Note the effects of the Parasympathetic system, unfortunately blocked by PCP.
Long-Term Effects of PCP
PCP is an addictive drug, and its use can lead to the development of psychological dependencies. Abusers of PCP can experience long lasting memory loss, weight loss, brain damage, and depression. In addition, PCP can be stored in the body fat for up to the entire life. This PCP can be released through sweat and trigger a flashback years later.