The 1970s saw the rise in the use of PCP (Phencyclidine), or “angel dust,’’ as well as its eventual decline. While the drug provided the desirable high, the paranoia, frightening hallucinations and violent side effects kept it from becoming a mainstream high. Years later, cocaine and crack took over as the drugs of choice among those seeking something more potent than alcohol or marijuana. But while drugs may go off the scene for a few years or decades, they typically reemerge, repurposed in new, more potent formats—and often to greater and more dangerous effect. Such is the case with wets.
What Are Wets?
PCP became associated with the term “wet” from the practice of dissolving the powder in water, formaldehyde or oil. Tobacco or marijuana cigarettes were subsequently soaked in the solution and smoked for an immediate and potent high. The ability to smoke the drug using a regular cigarette as a conduit held appeal as it allowed for public consumption. Users either purchase the solution, purchase pre-soaked cigarettes or joints, or pay to dip a cigarette or joint in the PCP laced solution.
The effects of “wet” (also known as sherm, illy or dank) on the user will vary based on dosage, interaction with other substances and drugs, and even the personality and mental state of the user. For example, users prone to psychotic behavior—even if this tendency has never manifested previously—may have a wildly different and more dangerous experience with PCP than a user who is not prone to psychosis or other mental disorders. Common effects of smoking wets include:
- Elevated body temperature
- Schizophrenic episodes including voices instructing the user to commit crimes or violent acts
- Paranoia, anxiety and depression, even to the point of suicide
- Delusions of superhuman strength or ability, such as the ability to fly
- Hallucinations, often disturbing or frightening, even when not high on the drug
- Runs of two to three days in which user feels neither the need for sleep nor food
Though not exclusively, the drug seems to appeal primarily to younger users, perhaps those seeking the novelty of a hallucinatory high. Older addicts, wise to the unpredictable potential psychotic side effects of wet, often opt for (relatively) safer or more predictable highs. In recent years, the East Coast—primarily locations such as Camden, Hartford and Philadelphia—has seen a marked increase in the sale and use of PCP in this format.
Dangers Associated With PCP
While the drug was originally developed for medical anesthetic purposes in the early 20th century, doctors soon discontinued its use due to the anxious and psychotic episodes it tended to produce in patients. The common side effects are still seen in today’s user, and in them hides the danger of the drug: its complete unpredictability. From paranoid psychosis to schizophrenia to homicidal or suicidal violence—all is within the realm of possibility for a PCP user. PCP is also an analgesic. While this was originally the purpose and benefit of the substance, it has potentially negative and dangerous consequences for its modern user. The anesthetic effects of wets make users impervious to pain and undaunted by police efforts to subdue or detain them in the midst of a psychotic or violent episode. Users may also be unaware of injuries they have sustained while using the drug. The pain response, one of the body’s natural defenses against dangerous behavior, is overridden. Thus the drug is a potential danger and hazard not only to users, but to those around them as well. Results vary widely by user—for some, smoking wet results in a relaxed high while others experience severe homicidal derangement.
There is a divide between what PCP use should, scientifically, do to the user and what it actually does. This is something that researchers cannot fully explain. According to University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research “…violent behavior has yet to be confirmed as an independent effect of PCP abuse. Despite its reputation in the media as a drug that causes bizarrely violent behavior and gives users superhuman strength, research does not support the idea that PCP itself is the cause of such behavior and strength. Instead, those who experience violent outbursts while under the influence of PCP often have a history of psychosis or antisocial behavior that may or may not be related to their drug abuse.” Experience with PCP users, however, has demonstrated a different reality. Said one Philadelphia social worker: “Often PCP is cut with embalming fluid, so users probably don’t know whether they’re smoking straight PCP or PCP cut with other chemicals. Many users also soak marijuana in wet, adding THC to the mix of PCP and embalming fluid and whatever else might be present. We don’t know how all these different variations of chemicals affect users differently.” Users who already suffer from mental health disorders could potentially be at a greater risk for psychotic episodes, though very little is currently known about the drug, how it performs with other drugs and how it interacts with preexisting mental and physical conditions.