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PCP Effects on the Brain

PCP (phencyclidine) is a synthetic dissociative drug designed to be used as an anesthetic that would sedate the person and cause them to psychologically become detached from themselves so that they would not be affected by the surgical pain or remember it when they awoke. This medical use, according to the DEA, “was discontinued due to the high incidence of patients experiencing postoperative delirium with hallucinations.”

PCP effects on the brain are unpredictable. It remains a schedule II controlled substance with small amounts available for veterinary medicine and scientific research, but, the majority of PCP is manufactured illegally and distributed on the street for abuse of its hallucinogen effects.

Dangerous Doses

PCP dosage

A large dose of PCP can be fatal.

PCP drugs are not always pure, are often substituted with chemicals other than phencyclidine, and have no consistency in potency. Abusers are guinea pigs and can never be sure of what will occur and the dealers themselves, usually don’t know what’s actually in the PCP they are selling. The variances and dangers are so significant, that some dealers will have experienced abusers test the products for free before they put it on the street. Others could care less. The extreme dose variances increase the likely-hood of overdose in even the most experienced of abusers and when combined with other substances, the results may prove to be fatal.

PCP Abuse

Abuse of PCP goes way back. In the 1960’s and 70’s, it gained its popularity among abusers as a “peace pill” and hence, the PCP name. It’s predominantly abused among high school students and young adults who abuse it at social parties and raves or all-night dance clubs, but its abuse has no bounds in other populations. Street names include:

  • Angel Dust
  • Rocket Fuel
  • Ozone
  • Embalming Fluid
  • Amp
  • Boat
  • Sherm

PCP comes in powder, pills, and liquid forms. Abusers can consume the drug in multiple ways including orally or snorting and smoking the drug after applying PCP powder onto leafy substances such as tobacco or marijuana, or after dipping joints or cigarettes into the liquid. The more rapid the chemical reaches the brain and the higher the potency and dose, the more likely use of the drug will have adverse effects on the brain.

Dangerous PCP Effects during Intoxication

Abusers never know when they may experience a “bad trip” from PCP and many abusers become violent or suicidal, unable to be subdued or to distinguish the hallucinations from reality. At high doses, the effects may resemble mania with schizophrenic-like behaviors, delusions, paranoia, or panic. Abusers who become delusional and feel invulnerable are oblivious to outside stimuli and may be unable to recognize pain or reasonably judge dangers.

Abusers who experience negative emotional states, fear, panic, or paranoia are more likely to seriously endanger themselves as they try to escape from things that just aren’t there. A PCP abuser may go from a tranquil and relaxed state of mind to an extremely violent mode or suicidal tendencies. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, “Recently, suicide mortality became the leading cause of injury mortality in the United States, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, poisoning, falls, and homicide.” When PCP abusers become violent or suicidal, they become dangerous to others as well.

Short Term PCP Effects on the Brain

According to the NIDA“PCP prevents the actions normally caused when a neurotransmitter, called glutamate, attaches to its receptor in the brain. It also disrupts the actions of other neurotransmitters.”PCP distorts sights, sound and other senses. The user may experience “out of body” sensations that are related to the dissociative effects, feel like they are “floating” with strange impressions of space and time, or imagine things that aren’t real. Some abusers experience euphoria and invulnerability while others experience drowsiness and calming sensations.

PCP is dose-dependent and the effects on the brain intensify with greater doses depending on the methods of consumption and certain biological or psychological factors of the abuser with effects, generally, last from 4 – 6 hours. While the intoxication effects on the brain may be short-lived, the disruptions in neuronal activities can cause the person to feel unpleasant symptoms of depression, anxiety, mood swings, and general dysphoria when the intoxication effects subside.

According to the NIDA “Approximately 50 percent of individuals brought to emergency rooms because of PCP-induced problems—related to use within the past 48 hours—report significant elevations in anxiety symptoms.” For the next few days, it may be difficult to concentrate and order thoughts, control emotions, or resist the urge to use the drug again.

PCP Addiction

Abusers use PCP for the positive and rewarding effects on the brain they anticipate. PCP increases dopamine levels, the natural chemical messenger that helps to regulate the reward center of the brain and reinforce behaviors that bear repeating. This is the primary chemical that motivates drug seeking behaviors and compulsions to use drugs leading to addictions. PCP addiction progresses from the occasional use of PCP for pleasure to using it frequently and uncontrollably, eventually, feeling compelled to use it to avoid withdrawals. According to the NIDA, “PCP is addictive—its repeated abuse can lead to craving and compulsive PCP-seeking behavior, despite severe adverse consequences.”

Long Term PCP Effects on the Brain

Once an abuser stops using PCP, some problems may persist for up to a year or more. Long-term PCP abuse can cause memory loss, speech and cognitive difficulties, depression, weight loss and multiple personality disorders. According to the Scripps Research Institute, “Repeated challenges (e.g., excessive use of drugs of abuse) lead to attempts of the brain via molecular, cellular, and neurocircuitry changes to maintain stability but at a cost.”

The accumulated neuro-adaptations from PCP along with the variable and toxic substances abusers ingest over time can cause brain damages that may be permanent.

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