DARK Classics in Chemical Neuroscience: Phencyclidine (PCP)
Phencyclidine (PCP, “angel dust”, an arylcyclohexylamine) was the first non-natural, man-made illicit drug of abuse, and was coined ‘the most dangerous drug in America” in the late 1970s (amidst sensational horror stories of the drug’s effects); however, few other illicit drugs have had such a significant and broad impact on society—both good and bad. Originally developed as a new class of anesthetic, PCP-derived psychosis gave way to the PCP hypothesis of schizophrenia (later coined the NMDA receptor hypofunction hypothesis or the glutamate hypothesis of schizophrenia), which continues to drive therapeutic discovery for schizophrenia today. PCP also led to the discovery of ketamine (and a new paradigm for the treatment of major depression), as well as other illicit, designer drugs, such as methoxetamine (MXE) and a new wave of Internet commerce for illicit drugs (sold as research chemicals, or RCs). Furthermore, PCP is a significant contaminant/additive of many illegal drugs sold today, due to its ease of preparation by clandestine chemists. Here, we will review the history, importance, synthesis (both legal and clandestine), pharmacology, drug metabolism, and folklore of PCP, a true DARK classic in chemical neuroscience.