Basic Facts about PCP

PCP is the shortened name of the synthetic chemical phencyclidine. It was developed in the 1950’s and was originally intended as an anesthetic. It is a disassociative drug that also has stimulating effects on the central nervous system. PCP has numerous side-effects was even shown to cause brain lesions in rats tested in laboratory conditions. For all these reasons, phencyclidine was never approved for medical use for humans, and because many of the same effects are caused in animals, never approved for veterinary use either. PCP use has declined dramatically after peak usage in the 1970’s, mainly due to low demand for the drug.

Our clinicians make sure our patients understand the danger of PCP abuse.

Street names for PCP are: Angel Dust, Embalming Fluid, “Getting wet”, Float, and Sherms. To be clear, although “embalming fluid” is a nickname for PCP, it does not include formaldehyde, and formaldehyde is a known carcinogen which should not be ingested under any circumstance (though neither should PCP for that matter). It is generally thought that this nickname arose because of the numbing effect PCP can have on the body.

Since PCP is most commonly found in liquid form, it is typically freebased or injected. Another common form of ingestion is dipping cigarettes in the liquid and them smoking them after they have dried. This is a particularly dangerous method since it is impossible to measure dosage this way, and the PCP can be cut with a variety of other substances and the user will have no way of knowing. Most PCP that is ingested has been sold as another drug, such as amphetamines or LSD.

Physical and Mental Effects

PCP intoxication mimics symptoms of severe schizophrenia. Much media attention has been given to PCP use due to the violence and extreme aggression that it can bring out in users, however this is a small (but prominent) percentage. Users are prone to bouts of:

  • Mania
  • Loss of bodily perception
  • Numbness to pain
  • Extreme agitation
  • Loss of touch with reality
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggression
  • Rapid eye oscillation

Once ingested, the effects of PCP last anywhere from 4-6 hours. Unlike other disassociatives, which generally produce a numbing calmness, PCP has the opposite effect on people. As a result, people attempting to care for a person under the influence of PCP often end up agitating the user further.


Although PCP use and abuse is in sharp decline, much media attention is given to cases of its abuse. It is not unheard of for users to be killed by police officers due to a mixture of extreme aggression and violence, an inability to follow directions from officers, and their adrenalized state. People under the influence of PCP have been known to break handcuffs, jump from moving cars, and even be shot multiple times before succumbing to their injuries. This is especially unfortunate because PCP is so rarely taken on purpose and police officers are often left with no choice of action other than lethal force. Public education about the dangers of PCP have been effective, but this does not stop accidental use from persisting as a problem to users and their communities.