PCP Addiction and Abuse: Signs and Symptoms

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Phencyclidine (PCP) is a frequently abused drug that has been used recreationally because of its hallucinogenic properties and dissociative effects. PCP is highly addictive, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified it as a Schedule II controlled substance because of its high potential for abuse.1 It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of PCP addiction and abuse so that you can seek treatment for yourself or someone you care about.

PCP History and Use

PCP was developed in the mid-20th century for use as an anesthetic during surgery, but due to severe side effects like psychosis, it is no longer used in clinical settings. However, it is still occasionally used as an animal tranquilizer. Nowadays, much of the PCP seen on the streets has been produced in clandestine labs.4

PCP is categorized as a hallucinogenic drug, a category that includes substances like LSD, peyote, and psilocybin (magic mushrooms). Hallucinogens cause significant changes in thinking and feeling in addition to the altered perception of your situation and surroundings.2 Unlike classic hallucinogens like LSD, PCP is also classified as a dissociative drug because it causes users to feel separated from their bodies and their environment.2,3 While LSD and other similar hallucinogens are not considered to be addictive, PCP is addictive and can lead to dependence, cravings, and a problematic pattern of use that negatively interferes with your daily life and functioning.1

PCP is used in a variety of forms, including white powder, tablets, liquid sprayed on herbs, or cannabis to be smoked. Because of its different dosages and forms, the intensity of the PCP effects can vary.2

As a synthetic drug, PCP also goes by other names such as:2,3

  • Angel dust
  • Rocket fuel
  • Peace pill
  • Sherman
  • Zoom

Signs and Symptoms of PCP Abuse

Many people abuse PCP for its hallucinogenic and dissociative effects, as well as its euphoric high. Depending on the dose and method of administration, PCP effects can appear within a couple of minutes and can last for many hours. Additionally, some individuals who use PCP have felt the side effects for days after use.2

At low to moderate doses, PCP abuse can cause:2

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of coordination
  • Numbness
  • Disorientation

At higher doses, PCP can cause the following harmful effects:2,4

  • Breathing issues
  • Inability to move
  • Amnesia
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Violent and bizarre behavior
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures

Other short-term effects of PCP abuse can include:4

  • Feeling immune to pain
  • Feeling superhuman strength
  • Paranoia, panic, and terror, or fear of immediate danger for one’s life
  • Delusions of grandeur
  • Robotic, stiff demeanor
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Blurry vision
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Chills and shivering
  • Inability to speak coherently

One of the most dangerous aspects of PCP is that it is highly unpredictable. Its effects can be influenced by many things, including:

  • Brain chemistry
  • Genetic factors
  • Emotional state when taking PCP
  • Tolerance
  • Physical health
  • Mental health, including co-occurring conditions

PCP Long-Term Side Effects

Chronic PCP abuse can lead to harmful consequences, such as:2,4

  • Flashbacks or hallucinations
  • Memory loss
  • Coma
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Speech problems
  • Weight loss
  • Social isolation
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and society
  • Desire to binge on PCP
  • Toxic psychosis
  • Cardiac arrest

These long-term effects of PCP abuse may last for a year or longer after you’ve stopped using PCP.2 Another debilitating long-term effect of PCP abuse is PCP addiction, a pattern of compulsive PCP use regardless of negative consequences.

Signs of PCP Addiction

Those who frequently abuse PCP can develop a PCP use disorder that carries the same diagnostic requirements as for any other abused substance. To be diagnosed with a PCP use disorder, or PCP addiction, someone must be using the drug and have experienced at least two of the following issues in a 12-month period:5

  • Taking more phencyclidine than intended
  • Trying unsuccessfully to decrease or control the use of PCP
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of PCP
  • Experiencing cravings to take more phencyclidine
  • Failing to carry out normal roles at school, work, or home
  • Continuing to use PCP despite social or interpersonal problems
  • Discontinuing other important social, occupational, or recreational activities in favor of PCP use
  • Taking PCP in situations that are dangerous to self or others
  • Using PCP with the knowledge that it is causing or worsening physical or psychological problems
  • Developing a tolerance for PCP
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when PCP use is abruptly discontinued (dependence)

Tolerance occurs when you need higher and higher doses of PCP to feel the desired effects. Thus, tolerance increases the risk of PCP overdose and death. Furthermore, chronic use of PCP can lead to physiological dependence, which means your body has adapted to the presence of PCP and needs it in order to function “normally.” If you are dependent on PCP and suddenly stop or reduce your use, you will likely experience unpleasant and distressing PCP withdrawal symptoms.

Consequences of PCP Addiction

PCP addiction negatively affects every area of your life. Some long-term consequences of PCP addiction may include:4

  • Legal problems, including arrest
  • Incarceration
  • Cognitive damage
  • Depression
  • Family issues
  • Financial distress
  • Homelessness
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Job loss
  • Physical injuries due to reckless behavior
  • Psychosis
  • Loss of interpersonal relationships
  • Suicidal ideation

PCP Overdose

Although it is not likely you’ll overdose on classic hallucinogens, such as psilocybin or peyote, it is possible to overdose on PCP, especially as your tolerance increases. Signs of a PCP overdose include:2,4

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Convulsions
  • Elevated blood pressure

The risk of a PCP overdose increases greatly if you combine PCP with central nervous system depressants like benzodiazepines or alcohol.2 In addition to the risk of overdose, PCP can also have deadly consequences due to its dissociative properties and the bizarre and erratic behavior it often causes. For example, someone high on PCP might think they can fly and jump off of a building.2

PCP Withdrawal Symptoms

If you’ve developed a dependence on PCP, quitting may be difficult and even dangerous due to the emergence of uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Acute withdrawal symptoms may emerge within eight hours of the last PCP dose. Acute PCP withdrawal symptoms may include:4

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Diminished speech
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired reflexes
  • Memory problems
  • Muscle tremors and twitching
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures


If you are addicted to PCP and want help managing your withdrawal symptoms, you can seek out formal detox treatment, which occurs on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Inpatient detox provides you with around-the-clock care and a medical detox program can help ensure your comfort and safety with the use of medications and medical oversight. Outpatient detox enables you to continue attending work or school while detoxing from PCP but doesn’t offer the same level of attention and care as inpatient.

Although the choice is ultimately up to you, inpatient detox may be the right setting if you:

  • Have a severe PCP addiction
  • Have a polydrug addiction
  • Have had previous withdrawal experiences
  • Have a co-occurring mental health condition
  • Have a comorbid medical condition
  • Have many drug-using triggers at home

Transitioning to PCP Addition Treatment

Professional detox is a great first step toward a substance-free life but it is not a substitute for formal addiction treatment since it doesn’t address the underlying issues that motivate your PCP abuse in the first place. Once acute PCP withdrawal has resolved and you are stabilized, you will want to seek out a substance abuse recovery program that can provide you with the necessary tools to fight cravings and manage triggers. Like detox, rehab occurs on an inpatient or outpatient basis.

Inpatient PCP treatment programs require that you live at the facility for the duration of the program, where you will receive interventions, such as:

The treatment philosophy of every rehab is different—some offer 12-step meetings like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous while others use alternative and complementary methods, such as meditation, yoga, and creative arts therapy. It’s important to do your research when choosing a rehab that’s right for you. Conversely, outpatient treatment programs, much like the detox programs, grant you more freedom in terms of scheduling, and they also vary greatly when it comes to commitment. Some require only one or two hours per week of therapy while others require several hours per day.


  1. U.S. Department of Justice. (n.d.) PCP Fast Facts.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Hallucinogens DrugFacts
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015, February). Common hallucinogens and dissociative drugs
  4. Clouet, D.H. (1986). Phencyclidine: An update. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 
  5. Smith, D.E., Wesson, D.R., Buxton, M.E., Seymour, & R., Kramer, H.M. (1978). The diagnosis and treatment of the PCP abuse syndrome. NIDA research monograph. (21), 229-240. 
  6. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.