By Trinka Porrata

Edited 8-05-01

PCP (phencyclidine) seems to be on the rise again and lately all the talk is about "wets" or "embalming fluid" or "illy" or "fry." Seems kids today may be smoking embalming fluid straight up. I have to agree with on this one. It seems to be a confusion of slang terms that has turned into a reality for some. PCP has been called "embalming fluid" for decades. Probably because of the (often violent) zombie effect this usually-liquid drug causes. It seems this has developed into a mixture of the two (reportedly embalming fluid was used by some to mask the distinctive odor of PCP), and now some people going for the embalming fluid all by itself, with horrible consequences indeed.

Even Erowid makes one thing very clear—Formaldehyde (Embalming fluid is a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol (poisonous, flammable alcohol), ethyl alcohol or ethanol and other solvents) is a known carcinogen linked to nasal and lung cancer with possible links to brain cancer and leukemia and should not be smoked.

Frequently, when young people THINK they are smoking formaldehyde, PCP is also present or may be the actual drug present. But in more and more cases, it seems to be actual formaldehyde alone as the drug culture seeks more bizarre highs. Formaldehyde is available in drug stores and beauty supply stores (an ingredient in nail care products) and school science labs. Funeral homes have also been the target of burglaries and thefts for those seeking embalming fluid. Either marijuana or tobacco cigarettes may be dipped in it and then smoked. Swisher Sweets and Philly Blunts may be hollowed out, filled with marijuana and dipped in the solution. For some it may be a morbid, gothic curiosity about death that entices them to embalming fluid.

Users interviewed by the Texas Commission on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse said it gives visual and auditory hallucinations, euphoria, a feeling of invincibility, increased pain tolerance, anger, forgetfulness and paranoia. Some even reported an overwhelming desire to disrobe (typical with PCP because of getting hot) and a strong distaste for meat. In Philadelphia, a 14-year-old male fatally stabbed (70 times) a 33-year-old neighbor after smoking "wet" to "quiet the voices in his head." Other symptoms include diminished attention, disorganized speech and thoughts, violence, coma, seizures, kidney failure and stroke. The high lasts from six hours to three days.

Samples obtained from one "fry house" in Texas indeed contained PCP. Most often sold as individual joints for $10-20 each, a two-ounce sample of fluid was purchased for $50. The sample was positive for PCP.

One abuser, whose father was a mortician, reported that sometimes the product he bought had the distinctive odor of embalming fluid and sometimes it did not, though the effects seemed to be the same either way. He typically remembered his behavior and hallucinations afterwards.

In 1988 an abstract in Neurology presented a single case of "amp" ingestion. The two cigarettes had supposedly been dipped in formaldehyde. He had both vertical and horizontal gaze nystagmus, agitation, confusion, bilateral upper extremity weakness and depressed reflexes. He experienced pulmonary and cerebral edema and was ventilated in coma. He required dialysis for rhabdomyolosis on day three and two days later had five tonic clonic seizures. He was nearly normal by day 17. No reference was made to PCP but reviewers considered the nystagmus highly suggestive of PCP intoxication. Based on other info, it seems that either PCP and formaldehyde or embalming fluid alone may have somewhat similar effects.

One article stated "Most clinicians agree that the syndrome responds to droperidol or haloperidol and some specifically recommend avoiding benzodiazepines due to disinhibition"

There is also something called a candyblunt. A cigar is filled with marijuana plus codeine cough syrup (poured onto the marijuana before rolling it). It's then dried (30 seconds in the microwave). Or, cough syrup may just be consumed with the blunt for a "deeper relaxation and euphoria." Or, Alize (a bottled passion fruit and cognac drink) may be consumed with the blunt, or other alcohol.

Some of those interviewed in Texas warned that it's a bad drug for girls as it can lead to losing consciousness and certainly to control. One reported witnessing group sex with a girl who had smoked fry. One reported that young women have traded sex for fry sticks. Headaches and impaired vision are common side effects. They also described that they feel fry does long-term or permanent brain damage, relating tales of people who ended up in funny farms, walked around talking to themselves now or ceased personal grooming habits and walk around dirty.

The Texas study did not find that fry is a gateway drug. Most had already used other drugs. Sadly, more likely, this is the aftermath of other drug use and a search from something more bizarre.

PCP was most commonly known as "angel dust" in the old days when I joined the LAPD. We encountered the dusted quite regularly in Rampart Division, for example. One night when Rampart was backed up 55 radio calls and NO other divisions had units available for back up, we got a call that was fortunately old. Neighbors reported that the man in the apartment had gone berserk, but it was by then quiet and no one knew for sure if the wife and child were inside or had gotten out. The curtains to the patio door were literally hanging in shreds. What little we could see from outside was impressive. We patiently waited for back up (which arrived with a member of the grand jury as a ridealong). When we knocked on the door, the suspect opened it with a baffled and dazed look and holding a wad of wires that he had gleaned from phones and stereo equipment, etc. He obligingly handed it to me (duh, only later did we learn that at least one wire was still connected somewhere.. ..and hot). He said he had arrived home and found this mess and had no idea whatsoever had happened. He had no idea where his wife and child were. He was cooperative and passive at this point. We finally located verification that he was a veteran and tried desperately to find placement for him through our mental evaluation unit and the VA Hospital. We were able to talk him into handcuffs and out to the car.

We were careful to explain to the ridealong that this wasn't because of our special talents (or because female cops are "special")... .but only because of the passage of time and the change in his condition from what it would have been if we had arrived during the massive destruction of his apartment. At the VA Hospital, his head was clearing up fast, and he was able to fill us in on his venture. His wife was the one with a drug problem. He had been trying hard to clean her up for the sake of their child. In anger, he had said, "So how would you like it if I did drugs and acted a fool like you?" He grabbed her marijuana joint and began to smoke it. He remembers little after that moment. She didn't bother to warn him that it was dipped in PCP. When he whacked out, she had simply fled with the child. I'm sure his landlord wasn't too happy.

PCP is a dissociative anesthetic (like ketamine and gamma hydroxy butyrate). It produces generalized loss of pain perception with little or no depression of airway reflexes or ventilation. It doesn't make people stronger, but being impervious to pain, they may run on broken legs and perform what seem to be superhuman feats. Psychotropic effects are caused through several mechanisms, including the inhibition of reuptake of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Effects last 11-14 hours or even 1-4 days. Acute ingestion can cause death. Death can also result from self-destructive behavior while under the influence or complication of hyperthermia.

Common effects of PCP include sweating, elevated blood pressure, muscle rigidity, distorted mental images, stupor or coma, slurred speech or inability to speak, increased heart rate, lack of coordination, agitation and combative behavior, hallucinations, pronounced nystagmus. Higher doses can cause life-threatening conditions, including convulsions, respiratory depression, cardiovascular instability and prolonged coma.

Testing: Qualitative urinalysis is widely available. But, PCP analogs, such as ketamine, do not appear on routine screening.

Los Angeles was said to be the source of 90 percent of the PCP distributed nationwide. In the mid-90s, the LAPD Narcotics Division Clandestine Lab Squad took on the Bounty Hunters, a S. Central street gang, that was the primary source. Juan Villenuave spearheaded the assault and ultimately 16 members, including a former DDA, were jailed. Unfortunately, their hydrogenator was never located. And as other gang members take over and some of those in jail are getting released, production of PCP seems to be up again. Anyone with possible LA connections to their PCP cases should contact the current Lab Squad (Frank Lyga handling PCP at the moment).

PCP was tested as Sernyl as an anesthesia for surgery but had too many postoperative problems. It was pulled in 1965 as an investigative drug and never marketed to the health care industry. In 1967 it was introduced for large animal use as Sernylan. That same year the first abuse of it at a San Francisco music festival occurred. It was called PeaCePill.

Ingredients include piperidine, sodium or potassium cyanide and distilled water, plus cyclohexanone and sodium metabisulfite and distilled water, which results in 1-piperidinocyclo-hexanecarbonitrile (PCC). PCC plus phenylmagnesium bromide (reaction between bromobenzene with magnesium turnings in anhydrous ether) results in PCP. Other chemicals you may see in a PCP lab or recipe include pentamethylene dibromide, pyrrolidine and PHP (1-(l-phencyclohexyl)pyrrolidine). PCP may be liquid or powder. May be "dusted" onto mint leaves.

Source: Research brief by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse,, news articles, Drug ID Bible, Poisoning & Drug Overdose manual from the California Poison Control System. etc.

Typical PCP bottle and marijuana cigarettes to be dipped in PCP.

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