PCP, Amoeba, Angel Dust, Hog, Weed. These are the street names for phencyclidine, an animal tranquilizer. Its use in the D.C. area is second only to that of marijuana. It can knock out an elephant, but it can turn a person into a raging semblance of a cornered wild animal.
Developed as an anesthetic in the late '50s by Parke-Davis, its use on humans was discontinued when many post-operative patients awoke with severly psychotic symptoms. According to Dr. Paul Luisada, deputy medical director at Saint Elizabeth's Hospital it caused an "epidemic" of paranoid schizophrenics who were admitted to the mental hospital in 1973-74.
These severely paranoid and violent patients were highly resistant to normal calming drugs, Luisada reports, and they were extremely dangerous owing to their excessive paranoia. The patients had to be isolated initially and remained in the hospital from five days to four weeks. All had used PCP prior to admission. None had had a history of psychotic episodes.
One had become so violent in his paranoid fears that he "attacked everyone in sight," one 17-year-old broke all the windows and furniture in his house before he could be stopped. Another was shot by police who were unaware of his condition - he had failed to heed their orders to halt. PCP. Luisada says, "has no equal in its ability to produce psychoses nearly indistinguishable from schizophrenia."
Not a true hallucinogen, PCP causes misperceptions rather than actual visions. One PCP intoxicated man was found in his apartment hallyway trying to strange a boy he thought was his son. He had no son, but his marriage was wavering over a dispute to have children. Another was found by police "singing naked in a supermarket."
Luisada says that PCP-induced psychoses are still the number-one-admittance type at St. Elizabeth's. He said that sensitivity to the drug varies from person to person and that its effects are long-lasting, sometimes causing a slow build-up of paranoia with accompanying dangerous misperceptions.
Patients isolated during the first part of their hospital stay intermittently screamed, shouted banged or stared at the wall. They didn't sleep and frequently ministerpreted innocuous stimulii as threatening. They were suspicious of their food and of those who brought it, and out on the ward, several PCP patients perceived a senile old lady who made repetitive motions in a wheelchair as threatening. One man attacked her.
Montgomery County narcotics agents have attributed several murder/suicides and some homicides to PCP-intoxication. Persons with growing paranoia begin carrying a gun and, miscued by the drug-induced perceptions, they misuse them.
Called Killer Weed because it causes numbness in arms or legs, it makes some users feel "dead." It can create manic agitation, paranoia, restlessness. It can masquerade as other drugs since its effects simulate stimulants, hallucinogens and depressants, depending on what it's mixed with.
PCP comes in a multitude of forms. It can be sprayed on marijuana or ordinary cigarettes or mixed with parsley and smoked. In capsule form it is called Hog, and when bought in film tins to sprinkle on other substances it is known as Angel Dust. When it first appeared in the Haight-Ashbury area in 1967, it was not considered a drug of choice, but it was recycled by underground pushers to spike their numberous impure wares.
It is now frequently used, by choice, in its straight dust or capsule form, and considering its frequent unpleasant effects, police and doctors are mystified as to why it has become a status drug. It is not addictive, but its users tend to ingest it more than once. For example, almost half of the PCP patients at St. Elizabeth's returned a second time. They all said they "thought they could handle it."
A contradiction since its inception, the flower children called it the Peace Pill. Until they tried it. The misnomer stuck, but the Peace Pill is now recongnined as the most insidiously dangerous of the underground mindwares. It 60s availed by a growing network of illicit laboratories. It is cheap to make, the chemicals are common - thus, hard to trace - and laboratories can be housed in vans.
Laboratories can gross up to $4 million a week. The profit is in the drug's diversity since it can "spike" almost any otherwise mediocre or unsaleable substance.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse frequently found PCP to be the active ingredient in drugs sold as LSD, THO (the active ingredient in marijuana, which NIDA says has never existed on the street) and in mascaline and cocaine. In Milwaukee in 1970, five kinds of mescaline" were analyzed - four contained mostly PCP and the fifthe was LSD. An analysis of the alleged THO sold at rock concerts and around the Philadelphia area proved to be mainly PCP.
Keith Stroup, national director of NORML (National organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) says that while technically NORML deals only with marijuana, he finds PCP to be "a terribly dangerous, foolish, idiotic drug to take.
"It completely debilitates people and I've seen a lot of it. Not just kids . . . successful adults, too. One man I know who has made a couple of million - he was young, quick, competent - started on PCP and the last ime I saw him he couldn't concentrate on anything, didn't do anything. He just smoked one PCP joint after another."
PCP clearly falls into the category of very dangerous drugs, Stroup said, and though he says he cannot understand how it became a drug of choice, he is well aware of its ability to simulate other drugs - in particular the rock concert specialty, THC. THC is almost always PCP. Stroup confirmed - sometimes LSD: THC is chemically unstable and must be kept at a specific temperature, an impossibilty in street sales.
While most kids don't want to destroy themselves, he said, they don't trust government information and don't realize that what they learn on the streets is no more valid. Ten years ago the government produced ridiculous drug literature that no one could take seriously. Now, having spent $4 million a year on drug research, there has been an accumulation of honest information that, in some cases, supports discouragement of chronic marijuana use, especially for young people, Stroup said.
With an 8-year-old daughter of his own, Stroup is concerned with any drug use involving children.
"We're known as the dope lobbyists," he said, "but giving two million marijuana smokers who are otherwise law-abiding people criminal records hasn't abated the problem. We would like to approach drug abuse from a 'help' standpoint rather than an accusatery one and would like to give people well-researched facts rather than propaganda.
Most drug-users, particularly young ones, have no precedents for distinguishing a personality-induced "bad trip" from a drug-induced one. In fact, drug-induced unpleasant episodes are hardly recognized sonce users are conditioned to believe that their mind-expending experience is entirely their own and is dependent upon their own state of mind. This attitude has made PCP's effects hard to spot as its use in drugs of other names could be discerned only by laboratory analysis.
PCP is available in most major cities in the United States, but the Durg Enforcement Agency has called the metropolitan area the nation's PCP capital.