PCP Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, and Detox

Lisa Conatser
Calendar icon Last Updated: 02/25/2022

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Chronic PCP use can lead to physiological dependence and addiction. If you are dependent on PCP, quitting will result in PCP withdrawal symptoms, which tend to be very unpleasant and distressing. Professional detox can provide you with the medical care and oversight you need to stay safe and comfortable during PCP withdrawal.

What is PCP?

Phencyclidine (PCP) is a dissociative anesthetic drug that causes a rush of euphoria, hallucinations, dissociation, and often, feelings of superhuman strength or a fear of nothing. PCP was first used in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic, but doctors stopped using it after they discovered it caused patients to become delusional, irrational, and agitated. PCP is now illegal and has become a popular drug because of its mind-altering effects.1,2

PCP Withdrawal Symptoms

PCP is known to be a very addictive hallucinogenic drug due to the way it impacts the reward center of your brain. When you take PCP, a surge of dopamine is released, which produces an intense high. Dopamine helps your brain learn what behaviors to repeat in order to promote survival, which is why pro-survival activities like eating and having sex make you feel good. But PCP produces a more intense high than natural rewards, which ends up hijacking the reward system and causing people to continue using PCP.

Continued use of the drug may lead you to become dependent on it or to develop a substance use disorder (SUD). Once you become dependent on PCP, your body needs the drug in order to function “normally.”

Quitting this dissociative drug will most likely cause PCP withdrawal symptoms, which may include:2

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
  • Twitching or experiencing muscle breakdown
  • Losing weight
  • Sweating
  • Increased body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Anhedonia

PCP Withdrawal Timeline

Research shows that the half-life of PCP is between 11 hours and 51 hours, depending on the amount you take and the method by which you take the drug.3 The term “half-life” refers to the length of time it takes for the concentration of the drug to decrease to 50% of its starting dose in your body.4

No exact timeline exists for what your withdrawal will look like. PCP withdrawal symptoms could last for weeks or months depending on a few factors:

  • Whether you have any other medical conditions
  • How long and how often you used PCP
  • The existence of other chemicals or drugs in your body
  • Your age, weight, and overall health
  • The method you used to take PCP

While the physical symptoms of withdrawal can be mild and short-lived, the psychological effects of PCP withdrawal can be severe and last as long as 6 months to a year. Some of the long-term effects of PCP are:5

  • Persistent speech difficulties
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal

You may experience these symptoms even a year after stopping your use of PCP.

Is PCP Withdrawal Dangerous?

While the physical PCP withdrawal symptoms may not be as severe or life-threatening as withdrawal from other substances like alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opioids, the psychological symptoms can pose a risk.

PCP withdrawal can result in depression and anhedonia, or an inability to feel pleasure, which can be dangerous if they become severe enough or escalate to suicidal thoughts or behaviors.3 If you have recently quit using PCP and are experiencing suicidal ideation, seek out mental health or medical care immediately.

Additionally, PCP withdrawal can result in hallucinations, which are not dangerous in and of themselves, but can pose a risk of accidents, erratic behavior, or violence.2

Detox Treatment for PCP Withdrawal

Detoxification is a set of interventions aimed at managing PCP withdrawal and achieving a medically stable, substance-free state. There are many settings for detox, including:7

  • Ambulatory detox without onsite monitoring: This is the least intensive detox option that occurs on an outpatient basis in settings like a doctor’s office or home health care agency.
  • Ambulatory detox with extended onsite monitoring: This outpatient detox option is a step up from a physician’s office. You attend detox services during the day at a hospital setting and receive care from nurses.
  • Clinically managed residential detox: This residential setting involves living at the facility while going through PCP withdrawal, but you don’t receive medical care. It may be commonly known as a “social detox” setting in which you benefit from peer support.
  • Medically monitored inpatient detox: This inpatient setting is appropriate for someone who requires 24/7 medical care. It may occur in a freestanding detox center, as opposed to a hospital.
  • Medically managed intensive inpatient detox: This is the most intensive detox option, occurring in a hospital setting. You receive around-the-clock medical oversight, supervision, and care.

Benefits of Detox

You don’t have to go through PCP detox alone or at home. A professional detox setting can provide many benefits, including:

  • Initial with the continuum of care and referral to PCP addiction treatment
  • Ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Treat medical emergencies (in inpatient settings)
  • Provide care for a co-occurring medical problem
  • Provide detox counseling, including motivational interviewing to promote a desire for change

PCP Detox Medications

Medications are available to help with withdrawal symptoms when detoxing from a drug. While specific medicines are used for opioid and alcohol detox, researchers have not yet found a medication that helps with blocking the effects of PCP.2 Some medications can help with various symptoms such as anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and nausea. Taking medication to ease any discomfort during the withdrawal process can make it easier to remain in detox and ultimately transition into PCP addiction treatment.

Post-Detox Substance Abuse Treatment

Although PCP detox can help with the management of withdrawal symptoms, detox alone is not effective in treating long-term drug use. Attending an inpatient or outpatient PCP addiction treatment program can help you to build a foundation for recovery by addressing the underlying issues that motivated your PCP use in the first place.

Behavioral therapies, such as individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy, help you identify ways to change patterns of thinking and behavior to avoid relapse. These therapies focus on:8

  • Increasing your motivation for change
  • Identifying obstacles to change in your life
  • Providing incentives for you in your recovery
  • Helping you build coping skills for stress and cravings
  • Finding replacements to drug-using activities
  • Improving your interpersonal relationships
  • Building better habits

Length of Treatment

Length of treatment varies for each individual; however, research indicates that you will need at least three months of treatment to significantly reduce your drug use. It has also been discovered that longer durations in treatment produce the best outcomes of recovery.6 Detox and recovery are part of a long-term process, and substance use disorder is a chronic condition. This means that relapse and multiple periods in treatment are common and shouldn’t be a signal that you have failed at recovery. That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you will relapse or that it is an inevitable part of the process—it’s simply important to avoid shaming yourself if you slip up.

You can do some things to promote sobriety, such as:2

  • Attend treatment sessions with consistency.
  • Look for new activities that can replace your PCP use.
  • Choose your social groups based on what will be most helpful for you in ending your PCP use.
  • Stay healthy by exercising and eating well throughout your recovery process.
  • Learn to recognize people, places, or things that make you want to use PCP again and avoid those triggers.

If you or someone you know has a substance use disorder, please call 800-926-9037 (Info iconWho Answers?) to speak to a rehab support specialist about treatment options.

Resources

  1. National Drug Intelligence Center. (2003). PCP Fast Facts.
  2. National Library of Medicine. (2020). Substance use – phencyclidine (PCP).
  3. Spielewoy, C., Markou, A. (2003). Withdrawal from Chronic Phencyclidine Treatment Induces Long-Lasting Depression in Brain Reward FunctionNeuropsychopharmacol 281106–1116
  4. University of Washington. (n.d.). Neuroscience for Kids – PCP.
  5. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2020). Half Life – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Hallucinogens Drug Facts.
  7. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Effective Treatment.
Pen iconAuthor
Lisa Conatser, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
Lisa Conatser is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas, offering virtual sessions for children, teens, adults, couples, and families. As a counselor, teacher, and writer, she has interactions with people from all walks of life, which gives her a unique insight into a wealth of communication styles. In practice for 10 years, Lisa never grows tired of hearing people’s stories or