Signs of a PCP overdose include hallucinations, seizure, aggression, coma, and hyperactivity.
If you suspect someone has overdosed on PCP, call 911 immediately.
Signs Someone Has Overdosed on PCP
The signs someone has overdosed on PCP include:
- Severe hallucinations or delusions
- Hostility, aggression, or agitation
- Hyperactivity or inability to control movements
- A comatose or catatonic (cannot move) state
- Increased body temperature and blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat
- Uncontrolled side-to-side movements of the eyes (nystagmus)
- Seizures (convulsions)
Individuals who are hyperactive and claim they are seeing or hearing things that are not there or express severe paranoid delusions may have overdosed on a drug like PCP.
The other alternative is that individuals who have overdosed on PCP become very lethargic and appear comatose. Most often, individuals who are comatose have taken extremely high amounts of the drug and are in significant danger, but either presentation suggests a dangerous situation that should be addressed immediately.
What to Do For PCP Overdose
Untrained individuals should not attempt to apply any treatment to someone who has overdosed on PCP. Instead, it is important to immediately call emergency medical services (911).
- Maintain a safe distance from anyone who is hyperactive and appears to be having hallucinations or delusions because these individuals can be dangerous.
- If possible, eliminate environmental stimulation by lowering lights, turning down the heat, and reducing noise.
- Remain calm and act in a controlled manner.
- If the person is unconscious or in a comatose state, try to put them in a sitting position and ensure that their airway is free of obstruction.
- Do not administer fluids, food, or any medications unless trained to do so.
- Do not attempt to make the person vomit unless instructed to do so by a professional health care clinician.
There is some information that can be useful to professional medical providers when they arrive on the scene. If possible, try and collect the following information:
- The person’s age, weight, and any medical conditions they have
- The substance they have taken and how they have taken it
- The amount of the substance they took
- The approximate time they used the substance
How is a PCP Overdose Treated?
At the time of this writing, no specific medication is used to address all cases of PCP overdose. Treatment for such an overdose is usually determined by the types of symptoms the person is presenting with.
“Individuals who are hyperactive, aggressive, and hallucinating might be given sedatives, placed in an environment where there is little stimulation, given IV fluids, and even restrained in some cases. Comatose individuals might be given mild stimulants, IV fluids, and even intubated.”
Individuals who are actively having seizures would be given medications to control them. Medical tests, including brain scans, could be given to direct the course of treatment.
Are There Long-Term Effects of a PCP Overdose?
The outcome for individuals who have overdosed on PCP depends on the amount of drug taken and the length of time between their use of the drug and when treatment was administered.
Because of its mechanism of action, there is a significant chance that organ damage, including brain damage, can occur in individuals who overdose on PCP due to increased body temperature, decreased oxygen to areas of the brain, and the development of seizures.
Numerous areas of the brain can be affected, and individuals may have effects from the overdose that do not fully resolve after they recover. The types of deficits that may remain include problems with attention, memory, judgment, emotional control, and physical coordination and movement.
Because PCP is a significant drug of abuse and there is no accepted recreational use, anyone suffering from an overdose of PCP would likely be transitioned to mental health care providers for evaluation of a possible substance abuse issue. A substance abuse treatment program would aim to prevent any future use of the drug.
What is PCP?
Phencyclidine (PCP) is a dissociative hallucinogenic drug.
This means the drug can produce alterations in sensation and perception that are so vivid that the person loses their grasp of reality.
Hallucinations are false perceptions of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, or tasting things that are not really there, such as hearing voices that are not actually present.
Dissociative effects occur when people feel as if they are disconnected from themselves, such as leaving their bodies (depersonalization) or as if things around them are not real (derealization).
PCP was initially used as an anesthetic drug under the brand name Sernyl, but the side effects were too dangerous. Even though it is classified in the Schedule II controlled substances category, it is not commonly used in medical circles today.
How Does PCP Work?
PCP is believed to work on different neurotransmitters in the brain. Researchers do not have a full understanding of how the drug works.
- PCP is believed to inhibit the release of an excitatory neurotransmitter known as NDMA. This neurotransmitter has numerous functions, including facilitating many cognitive functions such as learning and memory.
- PCP is believed to affect the functioning of dopamine in the brain. This may explain its ability to produce hallucinations (by increasing dopamine in the brain).
- PCP is believed to inhibit the release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that affects memory and is involved in movement.
- The drug may facilitate the release of enkephalins and endorphins, which are involved in inhibiting feelings of pain.
- PCP may also affect certain neurons that release serotonin.
PCP is a dangerous drug of abuse that is often snorted, smoked, or injected. PCP is often smoked in cigarettes or with cannabis products.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that in 2017:
- About 6 million people over age 12 admitted to using PCP at least once in their lifetime.
- About 73,000 people admitted to using PCP within the year.
- About 32,000 people admitted to using PCP within the previous month.
The effects of PCP are dose-dependent. Individuals taking lower doses will appear as if they are drunk. Those who use moderate doses may appear hyperactive, overheated, and experience hallucinations. Large doses of PCP are likely to produce catatonic or comatose states and even seizures.
PCP can be fatal in large doses. People who smoke, snort, or inject drugs deliver more of the drug to the brain in a quicker fashion than individuals who take the same drug orally. Because PCP is often smoked, snorted, or injected, the risk for an overdose is enhanced.