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It is difficult to estimate the current use of phencyclidine in the United States because many individuals do not recognize that they have taken it. PCP is frequently laced with other illicit substances (such as marijuana) and the buyer not made aware of its presence.
A 1986 National Institute of Drug Abuse survey of high school seniors revealed that over 12% of the students had used hallucinogens and that many of these drugs probably contained PCP.
PCP use in the U.S. dates back to 1967 when it was sold as the "Peace Pill" in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Its use never became very popular because it had a reputation for causing "bad trips."
PCP use grew during the mid-1970s primarily because of different packaging (sprinkling on leaves that are smoked) and marketing strategies. During the 1980s it was established as the most commonly used hallucinogen, with the majority of users 15 to 25 years old.
Although phencyclidine was initially developed by a pharmaceutical company searching for a new anesthetic, it was not suitable for human use because of its psychotropic side effects.
PCP is no longer manufactured for legitimate, legal purposes. Unfortunately it can be made rather easily and without great expense by anyone with a basic knowledge of organic chemistry, making it a prime drug for the illicit drug industry. It is available illegally as a white, crystalline powder that can be dissolved in either alcohol or water.
PCP may be administered via different routes. The onset of effects is related to the means of drug administration. If dissolved, PCP may be taken intravenously and effects noted within seconds.
Sprinkled over dried parsley, oregano, or marijuana leaves, it can be smoked and effects noted within 2 to 5 minutes, then peaking at 15 to 30 minutes. Taken orally, in the pill form or mixed with food or beverages, PCP's effects are usually noted within 30 minutes and tend to peak at about 2 to 5 hours.
Lower doses of PCP typically produce euphoria and decreased inhibition as may be seen with drunkenness. Mid-range doses cause body wide anesthetic with enhanced sensations and impaired perceptions which may result in panic reactions and violent defensive behaviors.
Large doses may produce paranoia, auditory hallucinations, psychosis similar to schizophrenia. Massive doses, more commonly associated with ingesting the drug, may cause cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, muscle rigidity, acute renal failure, and death. Because of the analgesic properties of PCP, users who incur significant injuries may not feel any pain.
Ketamine, a compound related to PCP, has grown in popularity in recent years. It is commonly referred to as Special K.
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