PCP (Phencyclidine): Physiological effects

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 2:47 pm

In low doses (1-5 mg), PCP revs the body up, causing increased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The individual will also experience profuse sweating and flushing.
At moderate to high doses (5-15 mg), PCP starts to have a depressant effect and causes a host of other side effects, including a drop in blood pressure (although some people experience a blood pressure surge), a drop in pulse rate, and a drop in breathing rate (shallow breathing). In addition, PCP abusers may experience nausea/vomiting, drooling (enough to affect breathing), increased bronchial secretions, wheezing, or bronchial spasms.
Several muscle problems may occur at higher doses. Examples include involuntary tremors, writhing, shivering, and jerky movements; catatonia, a zombielike state characterized by changes in muscle tone and bizarre posturing; muscle rigidity and immobility; and loss of balance and dizziness. Many PCP abusers will notice an anesthetic effect resulting in increased pain threshold or numbness.
Visual impairments such as blurred vision, blank stare, involuntary flicking of the eyeballs, or tearing are common at higher doses. Fever, sense of extreme heat, and urinary retention may also occur.
At very high doses (over 15 mg), PCP produces some dangerous physical effects, including coma, convulsions, seizures, and an extremely high fever (up to 108°F), which can cause liver, kidney, or brain damage. Very high or low blood pressure and irregular heartbeats also pose a threat to the abuser.
Harmful side effects
Probably the most dangerous effects that PCP has are the feelings of separation from the body and superhuman strength combined with impaired judgment a lack of ability to feel pain. Together, these effects can make people do extremely dangerous things. When people also experience agitation, anxiety, and paranoia while on PCP, they become an even greater risk to themselves and others.
People on PCP have been known to:
• drown in pools or shower stalls
• run around naked in very cold weather
• mutilate themselves or others
• commit or attempt suicide
Another important risk of taking PCP is the likelihood of having a “bad trip.” A bad PCP trip includes extreme panic, paranoia, delirium, and dissociation from reality and even one’s own body. Even one bad trip can produce lasting emotional or psychological trauma. Anyone can have a bad trip on PCP at any time, but it is most likely to happen to people who did not know they were taking PCP or who took a very impure form of the drug or a very high dose. A person who had a bad trip in the past is at increased risk of having a second one.
Some people who take PCP experience symptoms very similar to those seen in people with schizophrenia, including delusions, paranoia, memory problems, confusion, disordered thinking, and impaired speech. This is called PCP organic mental disorder. Such schizophrenialike episodes usually last several days, but they may last weeks or months after taking the drug only once. Such a reaction is most common in chronic users, but it can happen in a seemingly well-adjusted person who takes the drug only once.
PCP is an addictive drug, both mentally and physically. This means that regular users can find it difficult to stop taking the drug. Physical symptoms of withdrawal from PCP include depression, anxiety, belligerence, tremor, cold sweats, stomach upset, and numbed emotions.
Regular PCP use results in tolerance, which means that more and more of the drug is needed to produce the same effects. Higher and higher doses combine with the widely variable potency of street PCP to create a recipe for overdose. A PCP overdose is a life-threatening situation, especially if the drug was taken with another drug. Signs that someone is overdosing on PCP include bizarre, violent, self-destructive behavior, extreme physical and psychological distress, coma, seizures, convulsions, respiratory depression, and cardiac problems.
Deaths from an overdose of PCP are usually caused by respiratory arrest, but death can also result from seizures, cardiovascular collapse, and extremely high fever, which leads to kidney, liver, and brain damage. High doses of PCP also result in extremely high blood pressure, which may cause a stroke.
People who overdose on PCP may fall into a deep coma, slowly come out of it, and then continue to have signs of mild to moderate PCP intoxication that last two to six weeks. This is one of the longest-lasting toxic reactions produced by drugs of abuse.
In adolescents, taking PCP regularly may interfere with the hormones involved in normal growth, development, and learning.
Long-term health effects
Regular users of PCP have reported the following long-term effects, which have been known to last a year or more after stopping the drug:
• memory loss (especially recent memory)
• difficulties with speech and thinking
• depression/suicidal thoughts
• anxiety
• loss of appetite/weight loss
• constipation
• mood disorders
PCP can cause extremely high blood pressure combined with blood vessel contractions. This can increase the risk of stroke. One study suggests that chronic PCP use leads to brain damage, evidenced by memory gaps, disorientation, visual disturbances, and difficulty with speech, which might be due to mini-strokes caused by the effects of PCP.
PCP can cause long-lasting numbness of body parts, including the lungs, if the drug is smoked. This numbness can make people unaware they are damaging their lungs. Normally, irritation in the throat and lungs due to pollution, smoke, and other irritants causes coughing, which removes particles and germs. Regular PCP users are less likely to have this coughing reaction. It is not known whether PCP users are at greater risk of lung disease.
Even one dose of PCP can lead to “aftershocks,” which are similar to the flashbacks experienced by some LSD users. Aftershocks are a re-experiencing of some or all of the effects of PCP intoxication, and can occur weeks, or months after the drug was taken. They have a physical, not psychological, cause. PCP stays in the parts of the body high in fat or oil, like the brain, liver, and fat cells. Stress, exercise, fatigue, or taking certain drugs can release PCP from these fat stores and cause a reaction.
When PCP is taken by pregnant women, it crosses the placenta to reach the baby’s blood stream. There have been a few reports of women who took PCP while pregnant who gave birth to babies with deformities. However, it is not clear if these deformities were due to taking the drug. Newborns whose mothers took PCP while they were in the womb sometimes experience symptoms of withdrawal, including jitteriness, irritability, increased muscle tone, and decreased fetal growth. PCP also passes into the breast milk when taken by lactating mothers.

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