Overview of Phencyclidine Use Disorder

Model poses as daydreaming woman in bed under white blanket
Vladimir Godnik / Getty Images

Phencyclidine use disorder is a diagnostic label that appeared for the first time in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, also known as DSM-5. The disorder is given to people who are experiencing problems as a result of using a group of substances called phencyclidines, or substances which are pharmacologically similar to them, such as ketamine.

Phencyclidines are commonly known as PCP or Angel Dust. Although less popular in recent decades, PCP seems to be making a comeback. Marijuana cigarettes laced with PCP, known as "fry," have been identified as a modern form of PCP, which is considered harmful, due to their rapidly addictive characteristics and effects which include increased risk of violence and hallucinations.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


To receive a diagnosis of a phencyclidine use disorder, the person must have been taking one of this group of drugs, and as a result, experienced at least two of the following problems within a 12-month period:

  • Taking more phencyclidine or a similarly acting drug than was intended.
  • Trying unsuccessfully to cut back or control the use of phencyclidine or a similarly acting drug.
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of phencyclidine or a similarly acting drug.
  • Experiencing cravings to take more phencyclidine or a similarly acting drug.
  • Failing to carry out normal role expectations at school, work or home, such as repeated absences from school or work, or neglecting the care of home and family.
  • Continuing to use phencyclidine or a similarly acting drug, even in the face of ongoing social or interpersonal problems as a result.
  • Dropping out of other important activities, whether social, occupational, or recreational.
  • Taking phencyclidine or a similarly acting drug in situations that are dangerous to self or others.
  • Using phencyclidine or a similarly acting drug with the knowledge that it is causing or physical or psychological problems, or making existing physical or psychological problems worse.
  • Tolerance for phencyclidine or a similarly acting drug.


While addiction is often the first concern when we think of substance use disorders, there are many other dangers that outweigh addiction. Withdrawal does not usually occur, and while tolerance and habitual use can certainly be an issue for users of phencyclidine and similarly acting drugs, such as ketamine, the risks of physical harm and of severe mental illness are higher than for many other drugs. The drug is at best dissociative, producing feelings of being separated from the body, which can lead users to wander aimlessly without proper attention to hazards such as traffic and heights. In more serious cases, it can lead to a phenomenon known as a k-hole, experiencing difficulty moving, putting the user in a physically vulnerable state, or even inducing a coma. On the mental health side, the hallucinogenic effects of the drug can continue for days or weeks, putting the individual into a psychotic state.

Dissociative drugs are also sometimes used to facilitate sexual abuse because the victim may be unable to move and may not even be aware that they are being abused. However, the psychological aftermath of sexual abuse and rape are just as traumatic, and can still lead to criminal convictions for the perpetrators and long-term psychological problems for the victims.

As date rape is a real risk of drug-taking, especially among vulnerable young women, never take drugs under the encouragement of someone who may be a potential date rapist, no matter how charming they may appear. Be cautious about accepting drinks that you have not prepared or observed being prepared by a professional bartender. There have been many cases of date rape after a dissociative drug has been used to spike a drink given to an unsuspecting victim.

If you believe you have been raped under the influence of a drug, even if your memory of the incident is not clear, it is important to report it to the police as soon as possible. This is not only doing justice to yourself but also to other potential victims who may be abused by serial date rapists, who go unreported.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • "Angel dust" makes an unwelcome comeback. Nursing 44(2):23. 2014.
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, DSM-5TM. American Psychiatric Association, 2013.
  • Peters R, Kelder S, Meshack A, Yacoubian G, McCrimmons D, Ellis A. Beliefs and social norms about cigarettes or marijuana sticks laced with embalming fluid and phencyclidine (PCP): why youth use "fry". Substance Use & Misuse 40(4):563-571. 2005.
  • Peters R, Williams M, Ross M, Atkinson J, McCurdy S. The use of fry (embalming fluid and PCP-laced cigarettes or marijuana sticks) among crack cocaine smokers. Journal of Drug Education 38(3):285-295. 2008.

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.