From Chapter One of the book
How to Quit Drugs for Good

How to Quit Drugs for Good

For more about this book:
click here

PCP and Ketamine

Both PCP (phencyclidine) and ketamine were originally developed by pharmaceutical companies as general anesthetics. However, these drugs also produce mild to severe hallucinations and dissociation—the feeling that you’ve been separated from your body. For this reason, many researchers refer to PCP and ketamine as “dissociative anesthetics.”


PCP. This substance was prescribed for a few years as a general anesthetic under the trade name Sernyl. However, a significant percentage of people, on awakening from PCP anesthesia, experienced excessive agitation, seizures, hallucinations, or delirium. That’s why, in 1965, the use of PCP as an anesthetic for humans was discontinued. After that, it was used as a veterinary anesthetic but in 1978 was discontinued for that use as well. Since then, all production of this drug has come out of clandestine labs. AKA: Angel Dust, Peace Pill, Rocket Fuel, Embalming Fluid, Horse Tranquilizer, Elephant Tranquilizer, Monkey Dust, Gorilla Biscuits, D.O.A. (Dead On Arrival).

Ketamine. This PCP congener followed a similar path as PCP. It was first introduced in the United States in 1971 as an anesthetic drug. However, as was found with PCP anesthesia, people awakening from ketamine anesthesia showed signs of delirium and were often hallucinating, although the physical symptoms were not as severe as with PCP. In fact, a benzodiazepine can significantly reverse the side effects of ketamine, and because of this ketamine is still occasionally used in conjunction with a benzo as a human anesthetic. Veterinarians began using ketamine years ago as an anesthetic and still use it to today. The ketamine sold on the streets has most often been diverted from legal markets. AKA: Special K, K, Super C.

Other phencyclidines. By making a change or two in the production phase, illegal manufacturers have created many PCP look-alikes that have similar psychoactive effects. These drugs include PCE, PCPy, TCP, and TCPy. All these have found their way onto the streets, often being sold as PCP, LSD, or some other hallucinogen.

Combinations. Some users smoke marijuana laced with PCP (AKA: Angel Dust, Angel Poke, Supergrass, Wackey Weed, Killer Weed).

How They’re Used

The dissociative anesthetics come as pills for swallowing, powders for snorting, rocks for smoking, or solutions for injecting. Dealers have also created smokable combinations by impregnating tobacco, marijuana, parsley, or oregano with one of the dissociative anesthetics.

The high from PCP hits within 15 to 30 minutes and remains at peak levels for four to six hours. However, the drug metabolizes slowly, and because of this significant levels can be found in the body up to two days after taking a single dose. In other words, the high lingers for a couple of days.

The effects from ketamine are not so dramatic. The high comes on within 15 to 45 minutes and lasts four to six hours, but it metabolizes faster than PCP. The high from snorting the powder remains intense for about one hour.


About 3.2%, or 6,755,000, of Americans have used PCP at some time in their lives. About 0.2%, or 382,000, have used PCP within the past year. Statistics on the illicit use of ketamine are not yet available.

The Joy of It

Probably more than any other drug, the phencyclidines and ketamine stir excitement through the wild, unpredictable ride. Users hop aboard this unstoppable though imaginary dreamship that departs from plain, normal, everyday life into the bizarre reaches of lost-in-space psychosis. Most users experience vivid hallucinations. Many users experience racing thoughts as well as “racing bodies”—a physical jacking that makes users want to run around and do things. However, some users get the opposite physical effects. Although their minds fly, their bodies become dead weights, anesthetized as it were and not a matter of present concern. With most users, the mind seems to leave the body, creating a dissociative state that is typical to these drugs.

The Problems They Cause

Physical. These drugs can bring on nausea and possibly vomiting. They commonly cause slurring of speech, muscle rigidity, staggering, grinding of teeth, elevated body temperature, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, increased salivation and tearing, and flushing of the skin. These drugs can increase (or decrease) the rate of breathing, depending on the dose.

Mental. Users commonly experience illogical or disorganized thinking, delusions, hallucinations, and an inability to concentrate.

Behavioral. Behavior often becomes unpredictable. Some users become violent. Some get involved in dangerous acts, often while entertaining the delusion that they’re impervious or invincible. Some become extremely hyperactive, bouncing off the walls, whereas others become lethargic to the point of catatonia. This is dose related as well.

As noted by drug researchers from the Duke University Medical Center in their book Buzzed, “[T]aking PCP can produce a state similar to getting drunk, taking amphetamine, and taking a hallucinogen simultaneously. . . . Many of PCP’s bad side effects also resemble those of amphetamine such as increased blood pressure and body temperature. However, at the same time it causes a ‘drunken’ state characterized by poor coordination, slurred speech, and drowsiness. People under the influence of PCP are also less sensitive to pain. Finally, at higher doses it causes a dissociative state in which people seem very out of touch with their environment. . . . So in total you have someone running around drunk, insensitive to pain, and very uninhibited. Is it any wonder that PCP-intoxicated people find themselves in trouble with the law?”

Psychosis. As with the hallucinogens, PCP and ketamine produce a state resembling psychosis in most users. However, users are less likely to realize that their delusions and hallucinations are just that. In other words, they’re more likely to interpret these as real and thus are more likely to make mistakes while high.

In addition, the psychotic state produced by PCP and ketamine takes much longer to go away than that of other hallucinogens. It can last for days from a single dose. As with other hallucinogens, PCP and ketamine sometimes trigger a psychosis that becomes lifelong.

Danger of overdose. Users who “dose up” on PCP or ketamine run the risk of overdose and possibly death. When users double or triple the initial dose or take additional doses before the original high wears off, they begin to experience dangerous side effects. These include general anesthesia, a rise in body temperature to as high as 108 degrees, a rise in blood pressure that can lead to stroke or internal bleeding, muscle damage, kidney failure, liver damage, seizures or epileptic fits, respiratory failure, and coma. Some of these side effects can become so severe that they cause death. The side effects are more severe for the phencyclidines than for ketamine.


The abstinence syndrome is relatively mild. Coming down from the high usually takes a few days to a week. Then, for an additional week or more, individuals typically feel depressed, and their anxiety level increases. They might also suffer from memory loss.

The emotional depression experienced by short-term heavy users or long-term moderate users can last for months and can even continue for up to a year in recovery. It appears that the pleasure center in the brain needs a long time to recuperate from the dissociative anesthetics.