PCP, also known as phencyclidine and angel dust, was originally developed as a general anesthetic but became a popular substance in the 1960s. It’s listed as a Schedule II drug in the United States, which makes it illegal to possess.
Like wide-leg jeans, PCP’s popularity comes and goes. It’s become a common club drug in the last couple of decades and produces effects similar to other dissociative substances, like special K.
To get an idea of how powerful it is, just look at the other slang terms for it:
- elephant tranquilizer
- horse tranquilizer
- embalming fluid
- rocket fuel
- DOA (dead on arrival)
- lethal weapon
Healthline does not endorse the use of any illegal substances, and we recognize abstaining from them is always the safest approach. However, we believe in providing accessible and accurate information to reduce the harm that can occur when using.
PCP can be ingested orally, snorted, smoked, or injected, depending on its form. You can find it in tablets and capsules. Most of the time it’s sold in its original form: a white crystalline powder.
Most people smoke it by sprinkling it on marijuana, tobacco, or plant leaves like mint or parsley. People also dissolve it in a liquid and dip cigarettes or joints in the solution.
It really depends on the dose.
PCP causes psychological and physical effects that can be unpredictable, especially in larger doses.
At a lower dose, PCP makes you feel euphoric, floaty, and disconnected from your body and surroundings. As you increase the dose, the effects get more intense, leading to hallucinations and erratic behavior.
Psychological effects of PCP can include:
- feeling of weightlessness or floating
- feeling disconnected from your body or surroundings
- distorted sense of time and space
- trouble concentrating
- anxiety and panic
- suicidal thoughts
Physical effects of PCP can include:
- blurred vision
- difficulty speaking
- impaired motor skills
- decreased sensitivity to pain
- muscle rigidity
- irregular heartbeat
- slow, shallow breathing
- changes in blood pressure
- increases body temperature
- shivering and chills
- nausea and vomiting
- rapid involuntary eye movements
- loss of consciousness
If PCP is smoked, snorted, or injected, you typically begin to feel the effects within
If you ingest it orally, the effects take longer to kick in — usually 30 to 60 minutes.
The reason for the time difference is how fast the substance enters your bloodstream. When taken orally, your digestive system processes it first, hence the longer onset time.
PCP’s effects generally last from 6 to 24 hours but linger up to around 48 hours in some people. In people with a lot of body fat, effects can come and go or fluctuate over a few days to months.
PCP is fat soluble and stored by fat cells, so your lipid stores and fatty tissues hang on to it longer.
Factors like how much you use and whether you’re using other substances also affect how long you feel angel dust.
It seems to depend on how much you use, according to user accounts on forums like Reddit.
Low doses mostly appear to wear off gradually and produce an “afterglow” in some people with mild stimulation. Coming down from a larger dose, however, involves intense hangover symptoms, like:
- trouble sleeping
Some people also report numbness in their arms and legs.
The comedown usually lasts around 24 hours once you reach baseline.
PCP’s half-life is somewhere around
- type of drug test used
- body mass
- hydration level
- frequency of use
Here’s the general detection window for PCP by test:
- Urine: 1.5 to 10 days (up to
several weeksin chronic users)
- Blood: 24 hours
- Saliva: 1 to 10 days
- Hair: up to 90 days
Combining PCP with other substances, including prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), and other recreational substances, raises the risk of serious effects and overdose.
This is especially true when you mix angel dust and substances that depress the central nervous system (CNS). The combo can cause your breathing to become dangerously slow and lead to respiratory arrest or coma.
PCP may potentially interact with:
- anti-anxiety medications
- sleep aids
- OTC cold and cough medications
Some potential signs of PCP-related substance use disorder include:
- cravings intense enough to affect your ability to think about other things
- a need to use more PCP to experience the same effects
- unease or discomfort if you can’t easily access PCP
- trouble managing work, school, or household responsibilities because of your PCP use
- friendship or relationship difficulties caused by your PCP use
- spending less time on activities you used to enjoy
- withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop using PCP
If you recognize any of these signs in yourself, don’t panic. You have plenty of option for support, which we’ll get to later.
PCP carries several serious risks that you need to be aware of, especially if you use it often, for a long time, or in larger doses.
Learning and memory issues
Taking PCP (even in low doses) can take a toll on your memory.
Long-term use can cause lasting learning and memory deficiencies that can affect day-to-day functioning.
Long-term PCP use can cause a condition called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).
HPPD causes you to experience flashbacks and hallucinations for a long time after substance use.
Persistent speech problems
Long-term use can affect your ability to speak properly or at all.
Speech problems can include:
- trouble articulating
- inability to speak
Feelings of depression and anxiety are common effects, even with low doses of PCP.
Higher doses or frequent use can cause severe depression and anxiety, along with suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Chronic PCP use can cause toxic psychosis, especially if you have a history of mental health issues.
When this happens, you can experience symptoms like:
- aggressive or violent behavior
- auditory hallucinations
Overdose and death
Fatal overdoses are possible when you take a large amount of PCP. But most PCP-related deaths result from dangerous behavior caused by delusions and other psychological effects.
PCP use has been linked to:
- accidental drowning
- jumping from high places
- violent episodes
If you’re going to use PCP, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe:
- Stick to a low dose. Anything over 5 milligrams can cause serious effects. Use a low dose and avoid redosing in the same session.
- Don’t use it often. Bingeing, frequent use, and long-term use can have long lasting and even fatal consequences.
- Don’t do it alone. You could trip out pretty bad and experience hallucinations, erratic or violent behavior, or seizures. Have someone sober stay with you who knows how to spot the signs of trouble and will get you help if you need it.
- Choose a safe setting. Since your behavior can be unpredictable when you use angel dust, being someplace safe and familiar is important.
- Stay hydrated. PCP can raise your body temperature and cause profuse sweating. Avoid dehydration by having some water before and after you use it.
- Don’t mix. Combining substances raises your risk for overdose and death. Avoid mixing PCP with alcohol or any other substance.
Call 911 right away if you or anyone else experiences any of these signs or symptoms of overdose:
- trouble breathing
- constricted pupils
- high body temperature
- high blood pressure
- irregular heart rate
- aggressive behavior
- uncoordinated movements
- loss of consciousness
If you’re worried about your substance use and want help, you have options for getting support:
- Talk to your primary healthcare provider. Be honest with them about your use. Patient confidentiality laws prevent them from reporting this information with law enforcement.
- Call SAMHSA’s national helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357), or use their online treatment locater.
- Find a support group through the Support Group Project.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.