What Is PCP?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 06, 2023
5 min read

Phencyclidine (PCP), also known by its street name “angel dust,” is a dangerous illegal drug that’s commonly sold as a white powder or in liquid form.

It belongs to a class of drugs called hallucinogens that can cause such mind-altering effects as confusion, mood changes, and seeing or hearing things that aren’t there. Your body can grow addicted to PCP. At high doses, it can cause a range of serious health issues like seizures, a coma, and possibly death. 

People most often take this drug to chase the high that can make you feel detached from your body.

PCP is a man-made substance. It tastes bitter and is made of a white crystalline powder. You can find it in tablet, capsule, powder,or liquid form. In some cases, the drug is dyed in different colors. 

Besides angel dust, other commonly used street names for the drug include ozone, rocket fuel, amp, animal tranquilizer, hog, shermans, wack, crystal, and embalming fluid. If it’s mixed with cannabis, you might hear it called killer joints, fry, lovelies, wets, or waters.

PCP is a combination of stimulant (upper), depressant (downer), hallucinogen, and anesthetic (sedative) all at once.

People often dissolve the powder or liquid in alcohol or water. They might drink it or inject it into a vein.

But it’s also sold as tablets or capsules that you can swallow. In some cases, people mix it with tobacco, various cannabis products, or even mint and oregano. It is also common to snort or smoke the powder.

Researchers aren’t fully sure. But they believe that PCP changes how certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in your brain send and receive signals.

For example, it can:

  • Impair your ability to pay attention, learn, and judge reality. It can also affect memory skills.
  • Impact your dopamine receptor, which can cause you to feel a floating sensation or synesthesia (smelling or tasting colors)
  • Boost feel-good chemicals in your brain like endorphins, serotonin, and enkephalins that reduce stress and pain
  • Produce schizophrenia-like symptoms such as paranoia, anxiety, and delusional or suicidal thoughts 

In some cases, it’s possible for PCP to cause over-the-top psychological effects that make you feel stronger than you are and engage in violent behavior. This could cause you to physically harm yourself or others. 

The answer will depend on how much PCP is in your body and how you ingested the drug. Most people usually take PCP in small doses. If you:

  • Inject it in liquid form with a needle, you might start to notice the drug’s effects in 2-5 minutes
  • Smoke it, it can take up to 5 minutes to feel high, but the intense rush might peak around the 15- to 30-minute mark
  • Take it by mouth, it takes longer for the drug to kick in. Whether in pill or capsule form or if you mixed the powder with food or beverages, it’ll take up to 30 minutes to see the effects. But the hallucinogenic effects might last anywhere from 2 to 5 hours. 

After use, it might take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours to come off a high from PCP. 

When you use PCP in any form, how you react to the drug will depend on how much of it you drink, snort, inject, or smoke. 

Low to moderate doses. This is usually 1 to 5 milligrams. It’s the most commonly used amount and can give a similar feeling to being drunk. It can cause physical side effects like:

  • Numbness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of muscle coordination and balance
  • Impaired concentration or speech
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid, involuntary eye movements 
  • Blank stares

High doses. Doses between 6 and 10 milligrams can cause serious mental and physical side effects like:

  • Hallucinations
  • Flashbacks
  • Shallow breathing
  • High temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Drooling

When you take a higher dose, it might cause you to have strange behaviors and postures, such as spasms that cause you to arch your back, head, and neck. You might also have tremors and greater activity levels. 

If you take more than 20 milligrams at once, it can cause you to overdose and could lead to serious problems like seizures, a coma, or even death. 

If the effects don’t wear off, it’s important to get medical help right away. If you can, call 911 or head to the nearest hospital. 

Let someone close to you know you’re about to use PCP so they can get you to help if you need it.

Yes. PCP is a Schedule II substance under federal law. This category includes narcotics that have a high potential for abuse or physical or psychological dependence. So if you use, buy, or sell the drug, you might face fines and jail time. 

PCP is a psychologically and physically addictive drug. You might lose the sense of control around the substance and instead develop the need to use it more often to get through your day-to-day routine. This dependence on the drug is medically known as substance use disorder.

Over time, the more you use the drug, the more tolerance you’ll build. This means you’ll need to use higher doses to get the same level of high. 

Because of this, the combination of addiction and increasing tolerance will make it very hard to quit. If you stop or try to slow down usage, it can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Worry
  • Hyperactivity and crankiness
  • Agitation
  • Twitching 
  • Muscle breakdown

The withdrawal symptoms can be hard to manage or cope with. If you’re unable to resist PCP, talk to your doctor about treatment options such as in-patient recovery.

Currently, there’s no medication available to reduce or block PCP’s effects on your body and overall health. 

But if you’re looking to cut back your PCP use, therapy may help. 

Experts have found that programs like cognitive behavioral therapy or talk therapy can be effective for substance addiction. 

Your doctor may also refer you to a live-in addiction recovery center to help you through the next steps. Insurance often covers residential treatment centers. But if you don’t have insurance or your insurance doesn’t cover it, speak to a health advocate at a  treatment facility about costs and payment plan options.

It’s good to reach out to a support group of close family and friends, if you can. They can help you stick to your goals, avoid triggers, and keep you accountable during recovery. 

You can also join a virtual or in-person support group and connect and share with others who’ve been through a similar experience. 

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts while using PCP, call or text 988 (the national suicide hotline). You can also chat with someone at www.988lifeline.org. 

If you or someone you know overdoses, call poison control at 800‑222‑1222 to speak to an expert. Call 911 or head to the nearest hospital to get medical help right away.