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Systematic (IUPAC) name
Clinical data
Routes of
Smoked, Insufflated, Oral
Legal status
Legal status
Pharmacokinetic data
Biological half-life 7-46 hours
CAS Number 77-10-1
ATC code none
PubChem CID 6468
DrugBank DB03575
ChemSpider 6224
Chemical data
Formula C17H25N
Molar mass 243.387 g/mol[[Script error: No such module "String".]]
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Phencyclidine (a complex clip of the chemical name 1-(1-phenylcyclohexyl)piperidine, commonly initialized as PCP), also known as angel dust and other street names, is a recreational, dissociative drug formerly used as an anesthetic agent, exhibiting hallucinogenic and neurotoxic effects.[1] Developed in 1926,[2] it was first patented in 1952 by the Parke-Davis pharmaceutical company and marketed under the brand name Sernyl. In chemical structure, PCP is an arylcyclohexylamine derivative, and, in pharmacology, it is a member of the family of dissociative anesthetics. PCP works primarily as an NMDA receptor antagonist, which blocks the activity of the NMDA receptor and, like most antiglutamatergic hallucinogens, is significantly more dangerous than other categories of hallucinogens.[3][4] Other NMDA receptor antagonists include ketamine, tiletamine, and dextromethorphan. Although the primary psychoactive effects of the drug lasts for a few hours, the total elimination rate from the body typically extends eight days or longer.

Biochemistry and pharmacology

Biochemical action

In a similar manner, PCP and analogues also inhibit nicotinic acetylcholine receptor channels (nAChR). Some analogues have greater potency at nAChR than at NMDAR. In some brain regions, these effects act synergistically to inhibit excitatory activity.[citation needed] wPCP (and ketamine) also act as potent D2 receptor partial agonists,[5] as well as dopamine reuptake inhibitors.[citation needed]

PCP is retained in fatty tissue and is broken down by the human metabolism into PCHP, PPC and PCAA.

The most troubling clinical effects are most likely produced by the action of phencyclidine on the D2 receptor. This has been suggested to account for most of the psychotic features.[6] The relative immunity to pain is likely produced by indirect interaction with the endogenous endorphin and enkephalin system that has been found in rats.[7][clarification needed]

When smoked, some of it is broken down by heat into 1-phenyl-1-cyclohexene (PC) and piperidine.

Conversion of PCP into PC and piperidine by heat. (Image in the PD)

Structural analogs

File:ACHA SAR.png
Possible Analogues of PCP

More than 30 different analogues of PCP were reported as being used on the street during the 1970s and 1980s, mainly in the USA. The best known of these are PCPy (rolicyclidine, 1-(1-phenylcyclohexyl)pyrrolidine); PCE (eticyclidine, N-ethyl-1-phenylcyclohexylamine); and TCP (tenocyclidine, 1-(1-(2-Thienyl)cyclohexyl)piperidine). These compounds were never widely-used and did not seem to be as well-accepted by users as PCP itself, however they were all added onto Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act because of their putative similar effects.[8][citation needed]

The generalized structural motif required for PCP-like activity is derived from structure-activity relationship studies of PCP analogues, and summarized below. All of these analogues would have somewhat similar effects to PCP itself, although, with a range of potencies and varying mixtures of anesthetic, dissociative and stimulant effects depending on the particular substituents used. In some countries such as the USA, Australia, and New Zealand, all of these compounds would be considered controlled substance analogues of PCP, and are hence illegal drugs, even though many of them have never been made or tested.[9][10][clarification needed]

Brain effects

Like other NMDA receptor antagonists, it is postulated that phencyclidine can cause a certain kind of brain damage called Olney's lesions.[11][12] Studies conducted on rats showed that high doses of the NMDA receptor antagonist MK-801 caused irreversible vacuoles to form in certain regions of the rats' brains. All studies of Olney's Lesions have only been performed on animals and may not apply to humans. The research into the relationship between rat brain metabolism and the creation of Olney's Lesions has been discredited and may not apply to humans, as has been shown with ketamine.[13][14]

Phencyclidine has also been shown to cause schizophrenia-like changes in the rat brain, which are detectable both in living rats and upon necropsy examination of brain tissue.[15] It also induces symptoms in humans that are virtually indistinguishable from schizophrenia.[16]

The full extent of the pharmacology of this compound in the human CNS is not fully understood; it binds to many different receptor sites. The primary interactions are as a non-competitive antagonist at the 3A-subunit [epsilon subunit] of the NMDAR in Homo sapiens'. Phencyclidine is known to bind, with relatively high affinity, to the D1 subunit of the human DAT (Dopamine Transporter), in addition to displaying a positive antagonistic effect at the α7-subunit of the Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor (nAChR). It also binds to the mu-opioid receptor, which seems to be a central part of the mechanism of action of drugs in this class. (For example, Dizocilpine [MK-801] shows little appreciable analgesic effect despite having a high specificity for the NMDA-3A and NMDA-3B subunits - this may well be mediated by the lack of related efficacy at the mu-opioid receptor, though the NMDAR certainly does play a role in transmission of pain signals).[citation needed]

History and medicinal use

PCP was first synthesized in 1926, and later tested after World War II as a surgical anesthetic. Because of its adverse side effects, such as hallucinations, mania, delirium, and disorientation, it was shelved until the 1950s. In 1953, it was patented by Parke-Davis and named Sernyl (referring to serenity), but was withdrawn from the market two years later because of side-effects. In 1967, it was given the trade name Sernylan and marketed as a veterinary anesthetic, but was again discontinued. Its side effects and long half-life in the human body made it unsuitable for medical applications.

Recreational use

Illicit PCP seized by the DEA in several forms.

PCP began to emerge as a recreational drug in major cities in the United States in 1967.[17] In 1978, People magazine and Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes called PCP the country's "number one" drug problem. Although recreational use of the drug had always been relatively low, it began declining significantly in the 1980s. In surveys, the amount of high school students admitting to trying PCP at least once fell from 13% in 1979 to less than 3% in 1990.[18]

PCP comes in both powder and liquid forms (PCP base is dissolved most often in ether), but typically it is sprayed onto leafy material such as cannabis, mint, oregano, parsley, or ginger leaves, then smoked.

PCP is a Schedule II substance in the United States, a List I drug of the Opium Law in the Netherlands and a Class A substance in the United Kingdom.

Method of absorption

The term "embalming fluid" is often used to refer to the liquid PCP in which a cigarette is dipped, to be ingested through smoking, commonly known as "boat" or "water." The name most likely originated from PCP's somatic "numbing" effect and the feeling of physical dissociation from the body, and has led to the widespread (mistaken) belief that the liquid is made up of or contains real embalming fluid. Occasionally, however, some users and dealers have, believing this myth, used real embalming fluid mixed with (or in place of) PCP.[19][20] Smoking PCP is known as "getting wet", and a tobacco or cannabis cigarette dipped in PCP may be referred to on the street as a "fry stick," "sherm," "amp," "toe tag", "dippa", "happy stick," or "wet stick." "Getting wet" is an increasingly popular method of using PCP, especially in the western United States where it is sold for about $10 to $25 per cigarette.

In its pure (base) form, PCP is a yellow oil (usually dissolved in petroleum or diethyl ether or tetrahydrofuran). Upon treatment with hydrogen chloride gas, or isopropyl alcohol saturated with HCl, this oil precipitates into white-tan crystals or powder (PCP hydrochloride) In this form, PCP can be insufflated, depending upon the purity. However, most PCP on the illicit market contains a number of contaminants as a result of makeshift manufacturing, causing the color to range from tan to brown, and the consistency to range from powder to a gummy mass. These contaminants can range from unreacted piperidine and other precursors, to carcinogens like benzene and cyanide-like compounds such as PCC (piperidinocyclohexyl carbonitrile).


Behavioral effects can vary by dosage. Small doses produce a numbness in the extremities and intoxication, characterized by staggering, unsteady gait, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and loss of balance. Moderate doses (5–10 mg intranasal, or 0.01-0.02 mg/kg intramuscular or intravenous) will produce analgesia and anesthesia. High doses may lead to convulsions.[21]

Psychological effects include severe changes in body image, loss of ego boundaries, paranoia and depersonalization. Hallucinations, euphoria, suicidal impulses and aggressive behavior are reported infrequently.[21][22] The drug has been known to alter mood states in an unpredictable fashion, causing some individuals to become detached, and others to become animated. Intoxicated individuals may act in an unpredictable fashion, possibly driven by their delusions and hallucinations. Occasionally, this leads to bizarre acts of violence.[23] However, studies by the Drug Abuse Warning Network in the 1970s show that media reports of PCP-induced violence are greatly exaggerated and that incidents of violence were unusual and often (but not always) limited to individuals with reputations for aggression regardless of drug use.[24]

Included in the portfolio of behavioral disturbances are acts of self-injury including suicide, and attacks on others or destruction of property. The analgesic properties of the drug can cause users to feel less pain, and persist in violent or injurious acts as a result. Recreational doses of the drug can also induce a psychotic state that resembles schizophrenic episodes which can last for months at a time with toxic doses.[citation needed] Users generally report an "out-of-body" experience where they feel detached from reality, or one's consciousness seems somewhat disconnected from consensus reality.[citation needed]

Symptoms are summarized by the mnemonic device RED DANES: rage, erythema (redness of skin), dilated pupils, delusions, amnesia, nystagmus (oscillation of the eyeball when moving laterally), excitation, and skin dryness.[25]

Management of intoxication

Management of phencyclidine intoxication mostly consists of supportive care — controlling breathing, circulation, and body temperature — and, in the early stages, treating psychiatric symptoms.[26][27][28] Benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam, are the drugs of choice to control agitation and seizures (when present). Typical antipsychotics such as phenothiazines and haloperidol have been used to control psychotic symptoms, but may produce many undesirable side effects — such as dystonia — and their use is therefore no longer preferred; phenothiazines are particularly risky, as they may lower the seizure threshold, worsen hyperthermia, and boost the anticholinergic effects of PCP.[26][27] If an antipsychotic is given, intramuscular haloperidol has been recommended.[28][29][30]

Forced acid diuresis (with ammonium chloride or, more safely, ascorbic acid) may increase clearance of PCP from the body, and was somewhat controversially recommended in the past as a decontamination measure.[26][27][28] However, it is now known that only around 10% of a dose of PCP is removed by the kidneys, which would make increased urinary clearance of little consequence; furthermore, urinary acidification is dangerous, as it may induce acidosis and worsen rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown), which is not an unusual manifestation of PCP toxicity.[26][27]

See also


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  • Inciardi, James A. (1992). The War on Drugs II. Mayfield Publishing Company. ISBN 1-55934-016-9. 

External links

ca:Pols d'àngel

cs:Fencyklidin da:Fencyklidin de:Phencyclidin es:Fenciclidina fa:فن‌سيكليدين fr:Phéncyclidine ko:펜시클리딘 it:Fenciclidina he:פאנציקלידין lt:Fenciklidinas hu:Fenciklidin nl:Fencyclidine ja:フェンサイクリジン no:Fensyklidin pl:Fencyklidyna pt:Fenilciclidina ru:Фенциклидин simple:Phencyclidine sk:Fencyklidín sr:Фенциклидин fi:Fensyklidiini

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  2. Development of PCP, 2006 ,CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research)
  3. Drugs and Behavior, 4th Edition, McKim, William A., ISBN 0-13-083146-8
  4. Kapur, S. and P. Seeman. "NMDA receptor antagonists ketamine and PCP have direct effects on the dopamine D2 and serotonin 5-HT2receptorsimplications for models of schizophrenia(2002)
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  6. Giannini AJ, Nageotte C, Loiselle RH, Malone DA, Price WA (1984). "Comparison of chlorpromazine, haloperidol and pimozide in the treatment of phencyclidine psychosis: DA-2 receptor specificity". Journal of Toxicology. Clinical Toxicology. 22 (6): 573–9. doi:10.3109/15563658408992586. PMID 6535849. 
  7. Castellani S, Giannini AJ, Adams PM (1982). "Effects of naloxone, metenkephalin, and morphine on phencyclidine-induced behavior in the rat". Psychopharmacology. 78 (1): 76–80. doi:10.1007/BF00470593. PMID 6815700. 
  8. PCP synthesis and effects: table of contents
  9. Itzhak Y, Kalir A, Weissman BA, Cohen S. New analgesic drugs derived from phencyclidine. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 1981; 24(5):496–499
  10. Chaudieu I, Vignon J, Chicheportiche M, Kamenka JM, Trouiller G, Chicheportiche R. Role of the aromatic group in the inhibition of phencyclidine binding and dopamine uptake by PCP analogs. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behaviour. 1989 Mar;32(3):699–705.
  11. Olney J, Labruyere J, Price M (1989). "Pathological changes induced in cerebrocortical neurons by phencyclidine and related drugs". Science. 244 (4910): 1360–2. doi:10.1126/science.2660263. PMID 2660263. 
  12. Hargreaves R, Hill R, Iversen L (1994). "Neuroprotective NMDA antagonists: the controversy over their potential for adverse effects on cortical neuronal morphology". Acta Neurochir Suppl (Wien). 60: 15–9. PMID 7976530. 
  13. Jansen, Karl. Ketamine: Dreams and Realities. MAPS, 2004. ISBN 0966001974
  14. Erowid DXM Vault : Response to "The Bad News Isn't In": Please Pass The Crow, by William E. White
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  19. Kids Use Embalming Fluid as Drug, By Joann Loviglio, July 27, ????, ABC News
  20. Illegal drug users dip into embalming fluid, By Douglass Dowty, August 03, 2009, The Post-Standard
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