Is PCP (Phencyclidine) Addictive Addiction, Abuse & Treatment

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Is PCP (Phencyclidine) Addictive? Addiction, Abuse & Treatment

Table of Contents

PCP, or phencyclidine, is a powerful drug that can be highly addictive. It’s most commonly known as “angel dust” and has been used recreationally for many years, but it can also have serious physical and mental health effects, including addiction. In the United States, PCP is illegal to use or possess without a prescription. This means that it has a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Even though the PCP pandemic sounds bad, treatment options are very effective. PCP addiction can be treated through a combination of therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medications, and support groups. Let’s look at the question ‘Is PCP addictive?’, PCP abuse, and its treatment in detail.

What Is PCP (Phencyclidine)?

Phencyclidine (PCP) is a dangerous illegal drug first developed in the 1950s as an anesthetic. It has been used medically for various applications, such as sedation and pain relief during surgical procedures, but its use has declined due to its potential for addiction and its numerous side effects. PCP has since become known as a recreational substance, and its use is associated with feelings of euphoria, relaxation, disinhibition, and altered perception.

Common street names and forms for PCP include angel dust, rocket fuel, embalming fluid, and wack. It’s usually found in powder or liquid form but can also be found in tablets or capsules. The most common way of ingesting PCP is to smoke it; this method results in a quick onset of its effects.

PCP is a Schedule II substance in the United States and is illegal for recreational use. It’s strictly regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and only available through prescription. However, because of its potential for abuse, it has been classified as a controlled substance in many countries worldwide.

Effects of PCP

PCP is one of the most powerful and addictive drugs available, and its short-term effects can be severe and long-lasting. The immediate physical effects of PCP intoxication include:

  • Elevated blood pressure

  • Dilated pupils

  • Increased body temperature

  • Flushing of the skin

  • Clumsiness, confusion, and slurred speech

  • Nausea

  • Poor coordination and balance

Psychologically, the drug’s effects can cause:

  • Anxiety or paranoia

  • Hallucinations

  • Delusions of grandeur

  • Disorientation and disassociation from reality.

Effects of PCP

Behaviorally, individuals who have taken PCP can show these adverse effects:

  • Agitation or excitement

  • Erratic and aggressive behavior

  • Outbursts of violence

  • Hallucinations, which can lead to dangerous behaviors such as jumping from heights

PCP can cause serious delayed health complications if used over a long period or in large quantities. It has residual effects on cognition and memory, as well as impact on physical health. Long-term users of PCP can experience psychological dependence in any combination of the following:

  • Memory problems

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Difficulty learning new information

  • Personality changes

  • Respiratory distress

PCP is an unpredictable drug, and its effects on people vary widely. Some individuals may not exhibit the above symptoms, while others may experience all. It’s important to remember that PCP is a hazardous and powerful drug and should be avoided at all costs.

Is PCP (Phencyclidine) Addictive?

When looking at PCP addiction, defining what addiction and dependence mean is important. Addiction is a behavioral disorder characterized by a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance or an activity despite harmful consequences. Dependence is the body’s adaptation to a drug such that withdrawal symptoms occur if stopped suddenly (or when taken in less than therapeutic doses).

The scientific understanding of the potential for PCP addiction is complex. While it was initially thought to have a low potential for addiction, more recent studies suggest that there may be an increased risk among those already using other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine. Additionally, individuals with frequent and prolonged exposure to PCP are at greater risk of developing a dependence on the drug.

Several factors can contribute to an individual’s risk for PCP addiction, especially in high doses, such as genetics, environment, and preexisting mental health conditions. Additionally, the route of administration (i.e., smoked vs. ingested) may also influence an individual’s risk for addiction. For example, smoking PCP can cause psychoactive effects more quickly and be more reinforcing than other methods, increasing the risk of developing an addiction.

It’s important to note that there is a distinction between physical dependence on PCP and psychological addiction. Physical dependence occurs when the brain and body become accustomed to the presence of a drug in the system, such that discontinuing its use results in withdrawal symptoms. Psychological addiction, conversely, involves compulsive drug use even in the face of negative consequences. Those who abuse PCP tend to suffer from both, even if they switch from higher to moderate doses during medical treatment.

PCP Abuse and Addiction

PCP is a powerful hallucinogen, and its abuse can have potentially severe consequences for individuals in terms of physical health, mental health, and social functioning. Abuse of PCP can lead to addiction as it alters brain chemistry in ways that create long-term changes to the user’s physiology. These changes may make it difficult or impossible for an individual to stop using the drug, even when it’s causing significant harm.

Most PCP users begin their use by inhaling or smoking the substance. As time progresses, patterns of abuse may change to include taking larger doses more frequently or intravenous injections. Frequent and intense use can lead to an increased risk for addiction. Additionally, due to the drug’s powerful effects, users may begin to develop tolerance to it. This means that they will need to take increasingly larger doses of PCP to achieve the same desired effects.

Withdrawal symptoms often accompany the development of tolerance as the user’s body becomes dependent on the drug. These symptoms include anxiety, agitation, confusion, insomnia, and depression. Without professional help, it’s difficult for a PCP user to break out of the physical dependence and addiction cycle. Long-term use can also lead to permanent changes in brain chemistry that may be irreversible.

Examining Modern PCP Use

Given the potential risks associated with PCP abuse, it’s essential to understand current trends in usage and identify possible sources of the drug in the illicit market. Additionally, the primary source of PCP in the illegal market is said to be from illegally manufactured laboratories run by organized crime groups. Illicit PCP is often mixed with other drugs, such as marijuana or LSD, to increase the substance’s potency and make it easier to produce.

Given its potential for abuse and addiction, it’s important to be aware of the sources of PCP and patterns of use to prevent further problems associated with its use. Education about the drug’s risks and treatment resources should be readily available to those at risk or suffering from PCP addiction. By reducing access to the drug and providing help and support for individuals struggling with its use, we can all work towards reducing the prevalence of PCP abuse in our society.

Signs of PCP Abuse

In addition to understanding the sources of PCP in the illicit market and its use patterns, it’s also important to be aware of the signs of PCP abuse. Drug abuse often manifests through behavioral and physical indicators and social and interpersonal consequences.

Behavioral signs of PCP abuse may include changes in mood or behavior, agitation, and confusion. Physical signs may include slurred speech, impaired coordination, dilated pupils, flushed skin, increased respiration rate, and nausea or vomiting. Additionally, PCP use can often lead to social and interpersonal consequences such as strained relationships with family and friends due to erratic behavior or difficulty functioning in school or work.

Signs of PCP Abuse

If you suspect that someone is abusing PCP, it is important to seek professional help for the individual. Treatment for PCP addiction often includes psychological counseling, medication-assisted treatment, and other behavioral therapies. With proper care and support, individuals suffering from PCP abuse can recover and lead healthy, productive lives.

PCP Overdose and Toxicity

PCP overdose risk is heightened when combined with alcohol and other drugs. PCP has depressed effects on the central nervous system, which can result in sedation, decreased coordination, slurred speech, and slowed reflexes. When combined with alcohol or depressant drugs, such as benzodiazepines or opiates, these effects can be amplified and become more dangerous.

Mixing PCP with stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamine, can also lead to serious physical consequences. Stimulant drugs cause the body to produce adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. This can lead to an elevated risk of stroke or cardiac arrest when combined with PCP. PCP toxicity should be taken seriously even if the drug is less mainstream than many other fatal drugs.

Polydrug Use and Its Complications

Polydrug use, or the consumption of multiple drugs simultaneously to achieve an intensified effect, is a particularly dangerous activity that can increase the risk of overdose. When PCP is taken with other depressant drugs or stimulants, it increases the likelihood of serious health complications and death.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has linked polydrug use with various adverse health effects, including mental health issues, respiratory depression, and kidney failure. Additionally, polydrug use can create dangerous interactions between the ingested drugs and lead to an extreme reaction. This is particularly likely when mixing PCP with other street drugs or prescription medications.

When an individual has taken too much PCP, they may experience a range of symptoms that could indicate an overdose. These can include:

  • Confusion and disorientation

  • Dilated pupils

  • Severe agitation or aggression

  • Delirium or psychosis

  • Slurred speech

  • Loss of coordination and balance

Polydrug Use and Its Complications

Symptoms of PCP Use Disorder

Diagnostic criteria for PCP use disorder are defined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). A diagnosis of PCP use disorder may be given to a person who has used PCP repeatedly over some time and presents with two or more of the following symptoms:

  1. Increased tolerance to the drug

  2. Withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not used

  3. Unsuccessful efforts to reduce the use of the drug

  4. Excessive time spent obtaining and using PCP or recovering from its effects

  5. Continuing to use PCP despite persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems caused by its use

  6. Reduced work performance or social activities due to PCP use

  7. Habitual use of the drug in dangerous situations, such as operating a vehicle while under the influence

  8. Craving for PCP when it is not available

If you or someone you know is suffering from symptoms of PCP use disorder, it’s important to seek professional help immediately.

Behavioral and psychological symptoms

Along with physical symptoms of PCP use and overdose, some behavioral and psychological indicators may indicate an individual suffers from PCP abuse. These include anger and aggression, paranoia and delusions, anxiety and depression, impaired judgment, and impulsivity. PCP use can also cause long-term cognitive impairments such as memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and learning disabilities.

Individuals suffering from PCP abuse may also demonstrate withdrawal signs when not using the drug. These symptoms include cravings for PCP, insomnia or fatigue, depression, and anxiety. It’s important to be aware of the signs of PCP abuse so that treatment can be sought immediately to prevent more serious consequences.

PCP Addiction Treatment, Detox, and Rehab

Seeking professional help can be a key part of overcoming PCP addiction. Professional treatment centers are staffed with knowledgeable and caring professionals with the expertise to provide comprehensive, personalized care for addicts in every stage of recovery. Treatment programs typically involve detoxification, counseling, group therapy, relapse prevention strategies, and aftercare planning to help maintain sobriety. Additionally, treatment centers often provide access to 12-step program participation and other forms of peer support.

The detoxification (Detox) process is the first step in treating PCP addiction. Medical professionals perform assessments and create an individualized treatment plan during the process. In most cases, detox involves managing withdrawal symptoms and providing medications as needed to keep the patient comfortable and safe. The goal of detox is to rid the body of all traces of PCP as quickly and safely as possible. It should be noted that detox is only the first step of recovery; it does not guarantee long-term sobriety.

Safely managing PCP withdrawal symptoms is essential to successful treatment. Many people who attempt to quit PCP without professional help return to drug use because of the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. Common symptoms include agitation, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and depression. Medical professionals can provide medications that reduce cravings and minimize withdrawal symptoms for a more comfortable experience.

Behavioral Therapy Options

Behavioral therapy is a key component of PCP addiction treatment. During individual and group counseling sessions, patients work with therapists to uncover the underlying causes of their substance use disorder. Patients also learn new coping skills and develop strategies for avoiding relapse. Additionally, many centers offer family therapy services to help repair strained relationships between patients and loved ones affected by their addiction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that has been proven to be effective in treating PCP addiction. CBT helps patients identify unhealthy thought patterns and triggers associated with substance abuse and replace them with positive behaviors.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Group Therapy

Group therapy is another helpful part of the treatment process. These sessions provide patients with an environment where they can openly discuss their experiences with addiction and learn from others’ stories. Group therapy also offers a sense of community and support that can benefit recovery.

12-Step Programs

12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are effective for PCP addiction treatment. These programs provide structure and guidance, promoting accountability and reinforcing abstinent behaviors. In addition, 12-step programs offer a network of peers who can provide meaningful support during recovery.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)

MET is a form of psychotherapy that helps patients build motivation for lifestyle changes. MET encourages addicts to identify their reasons for wanting to quit using drugs and provides positive reinforcement for abstinent behaviors. This also includes the popular method of motivational interviewing.

Contingency Management (CM)

CM is an evidence-based treatment option in which patients are rewarded for abstinent behaviors. Rewards can be tangible (such as vouchers or movie tickets) or intangible (such as words of encouragement). The goal of CM is to increase motivation and reinforce positive behavior changes.

Holistic and Alternative Therapies

Some holistic approaches, such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, and art therapy, can also be helpful in recovery. These therapies can help patients cope with stress and reduce cravings for PCP. Additionally, holistic approaches to treatment often provide a sense of purpose and connection that many people find beneficial during recovery.

Family Involvement in Treatment

Family involvement is an important part of addiction recovery. Family members can provide support and encouragement as patients work through their recovery journey. Additionally, family therapy sessions can help repair strained relationships and address any underlying issues that may have contributed to the development of the substance use disorder. Family support is a great way to care for people suffering from abuse and help them get clean.

Get the Help You Need

No matter how far an addiction has progressed, seeking help at NuView Treatment Center is never too late. You can regain control of your life and future by admitting your powerlessness over substances and taking the appropriate steps toward recovery. You are not alone in this fight – reach out for help today and begin your journey to better health and well-being.

Our programs are based on evidence-based practices and holistic approaches to help you heal from the inside out. Contact us at (323) 307 – 7997 or email us at to learn more about how we can help you.

  1. Mozayani A. (2003). Phencyclidine – Effects on Human Performance and Behavior. Forensic science review, 15(1), 61–74.

  2. Journey JD, Bentley TP. Phencyclidine Toxicity. [Updated 2022 Sep 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

  3. Bey, T., & Patel, A. (2007). Phencyclidine intoxication and adverse effects: a clinical and pharmacological review of an illicit drug. The California journal of emergency medicine, 8(1), 9–14.

  4. Journey, J. D., & Bentley, T. P. (2022). Phencyclidine Toxicity. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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