Phencyclidine (PCP)-Related Psychiatric Disorders 

Updated: Feb 14, 2018
Author: Jeffrey S Forrest, MD; Chief Editor: Ana Hategan, MD, FRCPC 

Overview

Background

Phencyclidine (PCP) was originally developed as an anesthetic agent and marketed for a time as Sernylan; however, the agitation that some people developed following phencyclidine-induced anesthesia quickly led to its abandonment for this indication. Unfortunately, it then became a drug of abuse for a small but significant population, mostly younger in age and of minority ethnicity. Other chemical names for phencyclidine are: 1-(phenylcyclidine) piperidine or phenyl cyclohexyl piperidine, either of which may have given rise to the "PCP" acronym. Phencyclidine was used for a time as an animal anesthetic, but even this use has ceased in the United States. It is no longer manufactured in the United States for any clinical use, although it continues to be investigated for possible beneficial effects.

PCP has been studied in animal models of schizophrenia. More recently, PCP-like compounds have been investigated for use in treating brain ischemia. PCP is known to produce a syndrome that mimics schizophrenia in humans with no prior psychiatric illness. PCP may also exacerbate psychotic symptoms in individuals who have schizophrenia or other psychotic illnesses. PCP is an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist; thus, it blocks the action of glutamate and aspartate, excitatory amino acid CNS neurotransmitters. PCP is also highly anticholinergic in nature.

PCP can be smoked, ingested orally, snorted intranasally, or injected intravenously. Today, the usual route of administration is smoking, often as an additive to marijuana cigarettes. Because it is inexpensive to produce, PCP is sometimes palmed off on unsuspecting street drug buyers as "THC" (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana); lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD); or as some other, more exotic "designer" hallucinogen.

PCP first came to the attention of ED physicians and psychiatric ED physicians in California and New York during the 1960s. At that time, it was ingested in pill form (the "PeaCePill"). During the early 1970s, PCP became available as a white powder, which could also be put into a solution and then insufflated, ingested by mouth, or smoked on tobacco or marijuana or even on mint leaves, parsley, or other leafy materials, usually to cool the otherwise hot and orally irritating smoke.

The creation of this powdered form may have led to its increased use from the early to late 1970s. The percentage for high school seniors who had "ever used" PCP was found to be 12.8% in 1979. Its use has waxed and waned since but has never again attained double digit popularity. A slight increase in use was noted during the early 1980s, followed by another decline, with another small increase in use among high-school seniors seen from 1996–2002.

The ED visits associated with PCP use have been tracked through the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related ED visits in the United States. In the 2013 DAWN report, the number of PCP-related ED visits increased more than 400% between 2005 and 2011 (from 14,825 to 75,538 visits), but the number of visits doubled between 2009 and 2011 (from 36,719 to 75,538).[1] The largest increase in PCP-related ED visits was among patients aged 25 to 34 years, with an increase of more than 500% from 2005 to 2011 (from 5,556 to 34,329 visits).[1] In 2011, 69% of PCP-related ED visits were made by males, and in 48% of PCP-related ED visits, other illicit drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, were involved.[1]

Historically, PCP has gone by many street names, including angel dust, crystal, hog, embalming fluid, ozone, and rocket fuel. In combination with marijuana, street names such as krystal joint (KJ), mintweed, supergrass, and killer weed have been used. When PCP is combined with cocaine, the resultant concoction is sometimes called space base or tragic magic.

In recent times, PCP analog drugs such as methoxetamine have come to the attention of clinicians. Methoxetamine is a synthetic analog of PCP and acts in a similar manner through the NMDA receptor.[2]

Case Vignette

Jay, a 20-year-old man, is brought to the emergency department of an inner-city general hospital by the police after he is taken into custody for fighting and then resisting arrest. The arresting officer says that he believes Jay may be hurt, perhaps with a fracture of his right arm, but he has never before seen anyone so violent. The patient is extraordinarily agitated and has to be placed in leather restraints immediately upon being brought to the ED. He does not complain of pain and seems to deny having any when asked. With considerable difficulty, the triage nurse is able to take some of his vital signs. His pulse is elevated at 128 beats per minute, and his blood pressure is also high at 150/98.

The ED physician tries to examine Jay, but Jay is yelling and threatening so continuously that chest and abdominal exams are impossible to perform. The doctor does note pronounced nystagmus when Jay looks up at him and also notes that deep tendon reflexes are quite brisk in those locations that can be checked.

Because of the agitation and screaming, the psychiatric resident on call is asked to see the patient as quickly as possible. She arrives in the ED some 20 minutes later. At that point, the patient is sobbing uncontrollably and babbling about of his fear of suicide. Trying without success to perform at least a partial cognitive examination, the resident asks her faculty attending to come to the ED to see Jay. By the time the attending arrives, the patient is talking calmly and, when asked about drug use, admits to smoking some “really great pot” earlier that day. Blood and urine samples are quickly ordered, but by the time the phlebotomy team arrives, the patient is trying to remove all of his clothing even while in restraints and is once again cursing and threatening loudly whether anyone is in the room with him or not.

Is this a case of someone with schizophrenia, a person with an exceptionally rapid cycling bipolar disorder, a picture of hyperthyroidism presenting as thyroid storm, or just a very bad reaction to marijuana?

When a urine drug screen is finally obtained on the inpatient unit in a moment of relative calm, cannabis is present, but so is PCP. Later that evening, radiography also confirms a right wrist fracture about which the patient has yet to complain. Unbeknownst to Jay, his marijuana had been laced with PCP by his drug dealer to "give it a bigger kick."

"Jay" is a fictional name, but this case vignette is a compilation of dozens of ED encounters by the lead author with young men and women having a psychotic reaction to PCP.

Pathophysiology

PCP is a sympathomimetic dissociative anesthetic. The term "dissociative" is used to describe a state wherein a person feels that his or her mind is separated or "dissociated" from the body. PCP is often classified with the hallucinogens; however, because it can also act a stimulant or even a CNS depressant, it is usually classified separately from all other street drugs. Chemically, it is an arylcycloalkylamine. To this point at least 20 analogues and metabolites of PCP have been identified within this chemical family.

The current understanding is that PCP acts as a noncompetitive antagonist at the NMDA excitatory amino acid receptor channel complex. The molecule binds to a site within this channel system, thereby physically preventing sodium, calcium, and potassium ions from moving across the cell membrane. This prevention of ion movement results in decreased neuronal firing; however, PCP cannot bind within an ion channel unless it is initially opened by glutamate, NMDA, or an NMDA agonist. PCP is absorbed rapidly whether it is smoked, ingested orally, inhaled intranasally, or injected into the veins. PCP-hydroxylated metabolites are excreted mainly in the urine.

PCP may cause neurotoxicity in humans; however, the majority of scientific evidence for CNS damage to date has been found in animal model and preclinical studies. Neurotoxicity may be due to dioxin contaminants rather than to the phencyclidine molecule directly.

Olney et al found vacuoles in areas comprised largely of glutaminergic pyramidal neurons in the posterior cingulate and retrosplenial cortex in rats after PCP ingestion. Reports have also described immunotoxicity in mice (reduced humoral immunity and impaired T-cell cytolytic activity), cattle (thymic hypoplasia), and young pigs (decreased total leucocyte counts, reduced gamma globulins, and suppressed IgG). Pregnant mice show increased embryonic mortality when exposed to PCP, but no increase in birth defects; thus, PCP can be said to be "fetotoxic" but not "teratogenic" in mice. The doses of PCP investigated were often quite high; how this evidence might relate to people using lower doses is not known. Interestingly, Olney's results were found using relatively low doses.

Evidence for behavioral toxicity in the human population is better documented, and numerous deaths from suicide, homicide, and accidents related to bizarre behavior have been reported in those intoxicated with PCP.[3] Primary intoxication lasts from 4-6 hours, but behavioral abnormalities may last for as long as several weeks. This lingering presence of behavioral effects is thought to be due to storage of PCP within fatty tissues of the body resulting from PCP's lipophilic chemical nature.

Some have believed that the behavioral problems associated with PCP ingestion that had been reported in the 1970s were exaggerated. However, violence and other problematic behaviors have been observed in multiple patients and in various EDs and psychiatric units across the country as a result of PCP intoxication both historically and in recent case studies.[3]

The behavioral and physiologic effects depend on dose, with lower blood levels in the range of 20-30 ng/mL usually causing sedation, irritability, hyperactivity, impaired attention, and mood elevation. As serum levels rise above 30 ng/mL, ataxia, psychosis, analgesia, paresthesia, and mood lability may occur. The range in which paranoia and aggressive behaviors are most likely to occur is 30-100 ng/mL. When serum levels are higher than 100 ng/mL, patients become stuporous, hyper-reflexive, and hypertensive, and, ultimately, may experience seizures, coma, and death. Note that serum levels with PCP are relatively unreliable, so treatment-related decisions always should be based on any given specific patient's clinical status. The clinical findings may vary greatly from patient to patient as a result of differences in dosing and metabolism.[4]

In terms of metabolism, PCP has a large volume of distribution due to its lipid solubility. This is the reason for the relative lack of correlation between serum or urine values and clinical manifestations. PCP is metabolized primarily in the liver, with renal elimination of the resulting hydroxylase metabolites. Consequently, acidification of the urine has little effect in facilitating detoxification. Indeed, alkalinization is the recommended treatment for the myoglobinuria that can accompany PCP intoxication.

Epidemiology

Frequency

United States

Abuse of PCP began in the United States in the 1960s and peaked in the late 1970s. In 1978, the National Annual High School Senior and Young Adult Survey found that 12.8% of high school seniors had used PCP. Actually, more may have used PCP without realizing it because a 1975 survey showed that 91% of the street substances sold as "THC," "LSD," or some other hallucinogen such as mescaline actually contained PCP instead of, or in addition to, other ingredients. Overall, abuse of this substance has fluctuated in the United States, and a 2007 survey found that only 2.1% of high school seniors had ever knowingly used PCP. However, according to data from the 2005–2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), the number of PCP-related ED visits increased more than 400% between 2005 and 2011 (from 14,825 to 75,538 visits), in which the number of visits doubled between 2009 and 2011 (from 36,719 to 75,538 visits).[1]  A 2013 survey suggested that use of PCP has reemerged in recent years.[4]

In the United States, quite a lot of regional variability in the abuse of PCP exists, with some of the highest areas of use being Washington, D.C. Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; and Dallas, Texas. The reasons for such regionalization remain unclear.

International

International use of this substance is also regional. The use of all drugs in Canada, including PCP, is similar to use in the United States, except that the relative percentages are usually smaller there. Mexico has an unusually large number of available indigenous hallucinogens, such as peyote cacti, Psilocybe mushrooms, and psychedelic morning glory seeds (ololiuqui); therefore, artificial hallucinogens are not as much in demand there. In the rest of the world, various preferred substances of abuse are regionally determined. PCP use has never been as much of a problem globally as it was in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. In recent years, there have been reports of the usage of PCP analogs, such as 3-methoxy-phencyclidine.[5] Another case report in Scotland implicated the abuse of analogs such as 3-methoxy-phencyclidine as causational of extreme violence in patients with no prior violent history.[3]

Mortality/Morbidity

Death from PCP is usually caused by one of the following: overdose (serum levels >100 ng/mL), suicide while under the influence of the drug, or accidental death due to bizarre behavior during intoxication or withdrawal. Those intoxicated with PCP also have been reported to be more likely to be violent, up to and including the commission of homicides.

Nonlethal physical injuries are an additional possible complication because PCP has anesthetic properties and greatly decreases pain perception such that individuals under its influence may not realize how badly injured they are, and thus may greatly aggravate what were originally more minor physical injuries.

Race

PCP seems to have been abused more often by members of inner-city minority groups than by members of the middle class. The reasons for this are not clear.

Sex

In terms of sexual distribution, PCP is more likely to be knowingly abused by males, but this is true of many substances of abuse.

Age

PCP is a drug primarily abused by adolescents and young adults. Older users tend to have started using when they were young.

Prognosis

A clinical study of approximately 200 emergency room patients with apparent exposure to PCP suggested that an average length of stay in the emergency department for an acute PCP intoxication is a couple of hours. In this study, approximately 82% of patients were discharged home and about 8% required inpatient hospital admission. Althought visit lengths can be brief, evidence suggests that such visits can be very resource intensive.[4]

 

Presentation

History

If a patient, or any family or friends who are present, can tell the physician reliably what substance has been used, it is obviously of help. Asking specifically about PCP can produce better information some of the time. However, because PCP is sold under other names, the historian may be honest as far as is known, but the history still may be inaccurate.

Physical

The Mental Status Examination is the most important area of abnormality in PCP intoxication. A great deal of variability occurs in the mental status findings with these patients. At times, their exams may appear normal or nearly so, when a few minutes later (perhaps 20 or so), obvious psychosis and possible evidence of dangerousness to self and/or others appear. Therefore, one must document the hallucinations, delusions, and mood-related issues (such as suicidal and homicidal thinking) that are present carefully and with reference to the time of the examination, as well as commenting on any changes noted during the examination.

PCP-intoxicated individuals frequently seem to feel a need to undress, whether due to their elevated temperature or for some delusion-related impulse. These patients may appear highly distressed, often crying and upset and citing their suicidal and homicidal urges as related to this discomfort. Affective lability is also noted, with a wide range moving from normal or near-normal mood to rage, dysphoria and depression, or anxiety.

Orientation and other mental status measures of mentation are also important to document because PCP produces a drug-induced delirium as well as the psychosis. Concentration is poor, so serial 7 calculations or spelling the word "world" backwards or forwards is usually difficult for such patients. Judgment is impaired with impulsivity being commonly observed, as well as a seeming lack of normal fear. Insight widely varies from moment to moment and cannot be relied upon to remain stable over any period of time.

The physical examination may be difficult because these patients usually are not very cooperative but, if possible, look for increased deep tendon reflexes and nystagmus (particularly vertical but horizontal or rotatory nystagmus are also seen). Other evidence of loss of muscle coordination may also be noted. Typical anticholinergic findings are common because PCP is a highly anticholinergic substance. Elevations in vital signs are also often present for this reason, with tests of blood pressure and pulse, as well as temperature, likely to yield abnormally high findings. Keep in mind that PCP is related to the anesthetics, and the findings will be similar to those observed as people descend into dose-related anesthesia.

Physical examination findings of PCP-intoxicated individuals vary in accordance with the serum level of the drug, as follows:

  • Lower blood levels (20-30 ng/mL) cause a picture of sedation, irritability, hyperactivity, impaired attention, and mood elevation.

  • As the level rises above 30 ng/mL, physical examination show progressive levels of ataxia, paresthesias, and psychosis.

  • At 100 ng/mL, stimulant effects are noted most, with hypertension and hyperreflexia becoming more pronounced.

  • At levels of more than 100 ng/mL, stupor and seizures can occur. In this range, overdose-related death is possible.

A relatively unique and intriguing potential finding occasionally found in PCP intoxication is the presence of vertical nystagmus, which may help suggest the possibility of PCP intoxicatoin before a urine drug screen or history are available. An observational study of emergency room patients presumptively exposed to PCP demonstrated a significant number of patients with this finding.[4]

Causes

Risk factors for use of PCP include the following:

  • Male sex (72%)

  • African American (54%) or Hispanic ethnicity

  • Young adult age range (62% of people treated for PCP overdose are in the second decade of life)

Obviously to ingest PCP, one must have access to this illicit substance, but it is fairly inexpensive and simple to synthesize and is thus relatively easy to obtain.

Sometimes, people who are intoxicated on PCP do not know that it is the drug they have received. Rather, the buyer of the drug is often told that he or she is getting something more exotic, such as "THC" or a designer drug.

Complications

The abuse of PCP and its analogues such as 3-methoxy-phencyclidine have on occastion been implicated as causational of extreme (even homicidal) violence in patients with no prior violent history.[3]

 

DDx

Diagnostic Considerations

It is not uncommon today for people to abuse multiple different substances, which can alter the classical presentation of intoxication and/or withdrawal dramatically. Urine drug screens, while quite useful, may not capture metabolites from all of the substances ingested.

Differential Diagnoses

 

Workup

Laboratory Studies

Always obtain a urine drug screen for a person with agitation or psychosis, unless the patient is so well known to the treating physician and staff that there is no question at all regarding the cause of the abnormalities observed. Even then, if the clinical picture seems at all different from the usual presentation, a drug screen may be useful. Serum levels of specific drugs also may be available in some emergency departments. However, be aware that specific urine or serum levels may have little correlation with clinical manifestations, especially in the case of PCP intoxication. Most patients that are exposed to PCP have also been exposed to other drugs, making a comprehensive drug screen and history essential when available.[4]

Phencyclidine is excreted in the urine, both in unchanged form and as conjugated metabolites. The usual laboratory test for PCP is an enzyme immunoassay technique that detects both PCP and its metabolic analog, 1-[1-(2-thienyl)-cyclohexyl]-piperidine (TCP). This is a qualitative screening test; that is, it tells whether the drug is present or absent. Gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC/MS), as with other drugs, is the confirmatory test providing the highest confidence level for PCP.

Because rhabdomyolysis is a potential complication of PCP intoxication, serum enzyme levels may be useful, particularly skeletal muscle creatine phosphokinase (CPK).

Imaging Studies

Imaging studies have not proved clinically useful as yet in delineating PCP-induced psychosis from other causes of such disorders. Brain imaging studies in small numbers of adult chronic PCP users suggest that they may have decreased right cerebral cortical blood flow and frontal glucose metabolism. Such abnormalities are similar to those found in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. Eventually it is hoped that diagnostic clues to PCP psychosis may be found from more complex imaging techniques than those currently available.

Staging

PCP use may begin as recreational and intermittent, but some evidence suggests that people can progress to abuse and finally, possibly, to dependence.

In addition, assess for stage of change. This includes whether the patient is in the "precontemplation," "contemplation," "planning," "action," or "maintenance/relapse" phase of decision making (as described by Prochaska and DiClemente) regarding his or her use of PCP.

 

Treatment

Medical Care

For good medical care of these patients, one must consider both the variability of their presentations and the risk of violence to self and/or others during the time of drug-induced psychosis. For this reason, these patients often must be admitted to a psychiatric inpatient unit for reasons of safety. In the intensive care area, where these patients may be admitted for overdoses, treatment is aimed primarily at decreased absorption by induced emesis and/or gastric lavage and charcoal. In medical or psychiatric settings, the judicious use of leather restraints may be necessary to protect these patients from harming themselves or other patients and staff members. Use of a benzodiazepine and/or an antipsychotic medicine, particularly those that are not highly anticholinergic, often help to reduce risk, but remember that risk is not entirely eliminated and may wax and wane.

  • Once the diagnosis has been established, the treatment of choice generally is considered to be benzodiazepine tranquilization. Typically, diazepam is used first, unless liver damage is present. In the case of pre-existent liver damage, other benzodiazepines that do not undergo oxidative metabolism by the liver, such as lorazepam, can be administered. Starting at 10 mg, treatment consists of titrating diazepam until the patient is sufficiently sedated. Respiratory status must be monitored. Use of diazepam often decreases PCP-induced aggressiveness, psychotic symptoms, hypertension, and tachycardia.

  • If psychosis remains problematic, consider the addition of an antipsychotic. In the past, this would often have been haloperidol, but now that short-acting injectable ziprasidone and olanzapine for intramuscular administration, as well as quick-dissolving olanzapine and risperidone for oral use, are available, these are generally considered to be better alternatives. When antipsychotics are necessary, always use one that is low in anticholinergic activity because of the anticholinergic properties of PCP itself. It has also been demonstrated that clozapine attenuates epigenetic and behavioral abnormalities induced by PCP in a fashion superior to older antipsychotic agents such as haloperidol and may also be an effective treatment wihen other second-generation antipsychotics have failed.[6]

  • In the past, acidification of the urine was performed using ammonium chloride, but this generally is not recommended any longer due to the possibility of renal toxicity, metabolic acidosis, and increased risk of rhabdomyolysis.

  • Keep the possibility of seizures, coma, and death in mind with higher (>100 ng/mL) levels of PCP and be prepared to support respiration if needed.

  • Following acute medical stabilization, psychiatric and addiction care is indicated. The patient may require transfer to a psychiatric unit if the psychosis is not as yet under adequate control.

  • Evaluate for chemical dependence once the patient is no longer psychotic, and refer him or her for treatment if appropriate. This is a serious and potentially fatal drug of abuse. Regard PCP intoxication and abuse with the same seriousness as any other potentially life-threatening condition.

  • Tennant and colleagues have suggested the use of tricyclic antidepressants such as desipramine for withdrawal when dependence is present.

  • In recent times, PCP analog drugs such as methoxetamine have come to the attention of clinicians. Methoxetamine is a synthetic analog of PCP and acts in a similar manner through the NMDA receptor. Presently, the treatment for synthetic analogs of PCP is similar to that of PCP itself, including supportive care and benzodiazepine administration. As with PCP, management of potentially concomitant rhabdomyolinolysis and respiratory support when warranted are crucial.[2]

Consultations

Obtain psychiatric consultation if the patient is in the emergency department or a general medical unit. If a separate consultation team for addictive disorders is available, ask that group to evaluate the patient. Likewise, if the patient is in a psychiatric unit or in the psychiatry emergency department, consultation with internal medicine and/or addiction subspecialists may be indicated. For people using PCP who may appear to have been injured, orthopedic or surgical consults are indicated, especially as the anesthetic nature of the substance can mask the usual discomfort of fractures and/or internal injuries rendering more casual assessments of the seriousness of the patient’s condition difficult or impossible.

Activity

Patients may require seclusion and/or restraint while acutely intoxicated with PCP. Patients who require seclusion or restraint can be highly violent and confused, and they often complain of very disturbing thoughts about harming themselves or others. Current regulations require frequent monitoring of all persons in seclusion or restraint, including a face-to-face assessment by an independent, licensed practitioner within 1 hour of initiation, and new orders every 4 hours, with additional face-to-face assessments every 8 hours. Adolescent seclusion and restraint rules are more stringent still. Suicide and assault precautions are usually necessary for these patients. When ataxia is present, do not allow ambulation of the patient to occur without assistance due to the risk of falls.

 

Medication

Medication Summary

Benzodiazepines are the medication of choice when treating acute PCP intoxication.

Benzodiazepines

Class Summary

Treat symptoms of aggressivity and may decrease the likelihood of seizures and psychotic complications in PCP intoxication.

Lorazepam (Ativan)

DOC; may be used IV and is well-absorbed after IM injection. Onset of action occurs within minutes of an injection and effects peak 15-20 minutes after injection. Duration of action is 6-8 h. No active metabolites exist.

Diazepam (Valium, Diastat)

Historically, this medication has been the most helpful benzodiazepine in treating acute PCP intoxication. Even the psychotic symptoms respond sometimes. Diazepam is not absorbed reliably IM, but it can be administered both PO and IV. If IV administration is contemplated, decrease dose and be prepared to treat possible respiratory depression. If IM route is used, consider lorazepam as alternative, with dosage range of 1-2 mg.

Antipsychotic agents

Class Summary

These agents are useful when PCP-induced psychotic symptoms do not respond adequately to benzodiazepines or when benzodiazepines are contraindicated. Avoid using highly anticholinergic antipsychotics because PCP is fairly anticholinergic.

Risperidone (Risperdal)

Atypical antipsychotic medication. Has lower incidence of extrapyramidal adverse effects than traditional neuroleptics, such as haloperidol. Binds to dopamine D2 receptor with 20 times lower affinity than for 5-HT2 receptor. Improves negative symptoms of psychosis and reduces incidence of extrapyramidal adverse effects. Similarly, other newer atypical antipsychotics, such as olanzapine or quetiapine, may also be effective. Risperidone has a quick-dissolving oral formulation, Risperdal M-Tab.

Ziprasidone (Geodon)

Available in tab and a parenteral form.

 

Follow-up

Further Outpatient Care

Psychiatric follow-up care and follow-up care (if the patient is dependent) in addiction treatment usually is indicated.

  • The goal of psychiatric treatment is to assess when the person can safely be weaned from an antipsychotic, if it has been needed. Generally, most patients can be weaned from antipsychotics necessitated by PCP-induced psychosis within a 6-month period.

  • Extend addiction treatment until all goals have been met and the person is working within a personal program for continued abstinence.

  • Occasionally, additional booster addiction treatment may be needed because people with addictions have a tendency to relapse.

Further Inpatient Care

PCP-induced psychosis may be very difficult to treat, and sometimes psychotic symptoms may persist for up to 6 weeks or even longer. In such cases, transfer to a long-term psychiatric hospital may be required because of a shortage of acute psychiatric beds or managed care restrictions. Usually, managed care companies do not approve inpatient substance dependence rehabilitation at present, but an intensive outpatient program certainly may be justified for a person who uses PCP.

Rhabdomyolysis may require more prolonged medical hospitalization in the rare instances when this complication occurs.

Inpatient & Outpatient Medications

Unlike the opiates that have antagonists, no phencyclidine antagonist is currently available.

Transfer

Transfer to a psychiatric unit after acute medical stabilization often is necessary. The need for this can be assessed by a psychiatric consultant.

Transfer to a long-term psychiatric hospital from an acute psychiatric unit may be necessary, depending on the local interactions of state hospitals and acute units.

Once the acute medical and psychiatric symptoms have been adequately treated, always provide patients with the opportunity to transfer to some type of chemical dependency treatment program, because the tendency of PCP users to return to the drug has been noted often in the literature.

Deterrence/Prevention

In all disorders of drug abuse and dependence, the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.

No solid proof exists that treatment of PCP dependence in a chemical dependency program will succeed, perhaps because people tend to decrease use with age. However, encouraging a patient to begin (or resume) a substance dependence treatment program is worthwhile.

Complications

A number of patients who abuse hallucinogenic drugs eventually are diagnosed with another psychiatric disorder, such as depression, anxiety disorder, or schizophrenia. Whether these drugs cause these other disorders is not clear, and, in any case, multiple factors contribute to all of the major psychiatric syndromes. Additionally, sound evidence indicates that people who have a psychiatric disorder have a higher likelihood of abusing drugs, so this may simply be an issue of which condition is diagnosed first.

PCP can cause a prolonged psychosis, and users are subject to so-called flashbacks, and either or both of these may be misdiagnosed as a comorbid psychiatric condition.

Other longer-term complications that can arise from acute PCP intoxication include rhabdomyolysis with resulting renal disease, as well as complications of acute hypertension. Some evidence indicates that prolonged use of PCP may cause on going symptoms of confusion, but this is not yet clear.

Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) specifies that withdrawal symptoms and signs have not been established for phencyclidines, there is weak evidence that supports the existence of a withdrawal syndrome.[7] Animal studies show a withdrawal syndrome, and reports exist in the literature of prolonged users of PCP showing a dysphoria and intense craving for the drug, which have been described as a withdrawal syndrome. Abuse of PCP is not known to cause liver disease, and no evidence suggests that PCP causes a Parkinson-like syndrome such as that observed with designer drugs such as 1-methyl1-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MTPT).

Prognosis

Because 62% of people abusing PCP are aged 20-29 years, most people clearly stop using PCP once they have passed young adulthood. Thus, for most people, the long-term prognosis probably is good.

Patient Education

PCP is a drug that has a significant likelihood of adverse effects. Point out these effects during drug education opportunities.

For excellent patient education resources, see eMedicineHealth's patient education article Drug Dependence and Abuse.