What Is a Wet Drug?
Use of these drugs can result in serious and sometimes fatal repercussions. The origins of the wet drug phenomenon date back to the 1970s, when some marijuana users began dipping their cigarettes or “joints” in a liquid form of PCP. By then, some drug users and dealers used the slang term “embalming fluid” for PCP.
Some experts believe drug dealers subsequently and mistakenly began using genuine embalming fluid to augment marijuana cigarettes, and this led to the current use of embalming fluid, PCP or both.1 After a decline in abuse during the late 1980s and 1990s, reports of PCP abuse increased.2 In the northeastern U.S., a spike in the use of wet drugs was reported starting in the early 2000s.3
Street slang for marijuana or cigarettes dipped in PCP or embalming fluid: Amp, Clickem, Crazy Eddie, Drank, Fry, Fry Sweet, Ill, Illy, Milk, Purple Rain, Wack, Water-Water, Wet, Wet-Wet and Wetdaddy.4
This is a compound of formaldehyde, methanol, glutaraldehyde and other solvents. The percentage of formaldehyde in embalming fluid ranges from 5-37%, while methanol content varies from 9-56%. Most people associate embalming fluid with morgues and funeral homes, however, the fluid can be purchased directly from chemical companies online or in person. Anyone who comes in contact with embalming fluid should exercise extreme caution because inhalation or skin exposure can cause serious health issues.4
This drug was developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic in the U.S. due to its sedative, amnesia and analgesic side effects. It was pulled from the U.S. market in 1965 due to the high incidence of postoperative delirium and psychosis.2
Wet Drugs: Facts and Demographics
PCP is dissolved in an oily yellow tincture called “wet.” Dealers soak crushed mint leaves in wet and sell them in dime bags, or dip cigarettes in it (dippers) and sell them ready to smoke. In 2011, Philadelphia saw a surge in the use of wet drugs, primarily among teens. Nelly, a former wet user said he started smoking wet when he was an “up and comer” in the West Philadelphia drug scene.
Prior to smoking his first dipper, Nelly consumed potent blunt-wrapped weed, the same stuff he said most Philly dealers smoke from sundown to sunup while working street corners. Although he stopped smoking wet a few years ago, Nelly experienced periodic psychosis long after quitting. Shaking his head, Nelly said, “I can’t smoke that stuff no more. Believe me, if I go back out there and start smoking wet again, I’m a dead man.”5
A 2008 study on African Americans (ages 18-40) in Houston who were current crack cocaine users and sexually active uncovered insightful findings on concurrent use of wet drugs (fry). Of all respondents, 43% used both drugs. Females were more likely than males to be concurrent crack cocaine and fry users.
In addition, those who used both were statistically more likely to have been diagnosed with gonorrhea in the past 12 months, currently trading sex for drugs, not have a casual sex partner, and used marijuana, codeine (syrup) or meth at some point.2
The Dangerous Side Effects of Wet Drugs
The formaldehyde and ethyl alcohol in wet drugs causes physical side effects such as bronchitis, body tissue destruction, brain damage, lung damage, impaired coordination, inflammation and sores in the throat, nose and esophagus. PCP acts by disrupting receptors of the neurotransmitter (chemical) glutamate, which influences the perception of pain, learning, memory and emotion.
Side effects of PCP include hallucinations, “out of body” experiences, visual disturbances, impaired motor coordination, sexual disinhibition, depression, severe anxiety, disorientation, paranoia, aggressive behavior and violence, seizures and respiratory arrest. Marijuana use alone has not been linked to respiratory failure; however, it has been associated with chronic respiratory problems (e.g. bronchitis, obstructive lung disease and airway changes).1,2,6
According to wet users, an overdose causes such a high body temperature, it feels like they are burning up. Stories about naked PCP users fighting off police with the strength of 10 men are apparently true. A Philadelphia policeman said “That stuff about Superman strength is for real, believe me. I’ve seen people jump out of two story windows…people really do crazy stuff on PCP when we encounter them.”7
A study published in 2013 reported on respiratory failure in two young adults who were hospitalized soon after smoking “wet” marijuana cigarettes. The first case involved a 27-year-old woman who presented with respiratory failure and seizures. Her medical history included chronic depression and alcohol and marijuana abuse, but no prior seizures.
During the next 10 days, she experienced progressive respiratory failure despite many attempted rescue therapies and required advanced life support (ECMO) for more than a month. She was discharged to an inpatient rehabilitation unit 65 days after hospital admission. On the night before admission, she had smoked marijuana cigarettes dipped in PCP and embalming fluid.1
The second case involved a 20-year-old man with no past medical problems who presented to the hospital with disorientation and hypoxemic respiratory failure. He also experienced progressive respiratory despite multiple rescue attempts and required ECMO, although it was only needed for 10 days. He was transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation unit 35 days after hospital admission. It was confirmed he had a history of marijuana abuse and smoked tainted marijuana cigarettes just before hospitalization.1
Horrific Crimes Associated With Wet Drugs
Various heinous acts perpetrated by people after smoking wet have been reported by the media. In 2003, a young man who committed murder after smoking wet marijuana was unable to recall the events of that night because he experienced drug induced amnesia.
He received a 25-year prison sentence for an act he could not remember committing. He was unaware the joint he was smoking was “wet” and capable of creating auditory hallucinations. This caused him to commit a horrific act he said he would never consider if he was not under the influence of this dangerous drug.7
- A Camden, N.J. man accused of murdering a 6-year-old boy and critically wounding his 12-year-old sister was high on marijuana laced with PCP at the time of the crimes.6
- The driver that killed one and injured 22 others in New York City’s Times Square in May 2017 allegedly stated, "I wanted to kill them" and admitted to smoking PCP-laced marijuana before this act of violence.8
- In January 2016, an 18-month-old boy was rushed to Yale-New Haven Hospital after he consumed a PCP-cigarette belonging to his father. The mother said she smelled PCP on the child’s breath and the child was acting oddly. She admitted the contraband cigarettes were in their home and within the child’s reach.9
- A 24-year-old man accused of murdering an 18-year-old man in March 2015 testified at a hearing in August 2017 that he didn't understand his Miranda rights at the time of the police interrogation because he was too high on marijuana sprinkled with PCP.10
- Gilbert CR, Baram M, Cavarocchi NC. “Smoking Wet”: Respiratory Failure Related to Smoking Tainted Marijuana Cigarettes. Tex Heart Inst J. 2013;40(1):64-67.
- Drug Enforcement Administration website. http://www.deadiversiontest.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/pcp.pdf Published January 2013. Accessed June 14, 2018.
- Peters RI, Williams M, Ross MW, Atkinson J, Mccurdy SA. The Use of Fry (Embalming Fluid and PCP-Laced Cigarettes or Marijuana Sticks) Among Crack Cocaine Smokers. J Drug Educ. 2008;38(3):285-295.
- Drug Enforcement Administration Newark Division website. https://www.dea.gov/pubs/states/newsrel/newark_intel_bulletin_embalming.html Accessed June 14, 2018.
- PCP: The New Rise of a Drug That Turns Teens Crazy. Daily Beast website. https://www.thedailybeast.com/pcp-the-new-rise-of-a-drug-that-turns-teens-crazy Published April 22, 2011. Accessed June 14, 2018.
- What Is 'Wet?' Dangerous Drug Cocktail. Live Science website. https://www.livescience.com/22917-wet-pcp-marijuana.html Published September 4, 2012. Accessed June 14, 2018.
- PCP Laced Marijuana: Creating Psychosis and Psychiatric Commitment. Citizen Commission on Human Rights Florida website. http://www.cchrflorida.org/pcp-laced-marijuana-creating-psychosis-and-psychiatric-commitment/ Accessed June 14, 2018.
- Driver Behind Times Square Mayhem: 'I Wanted to Kill Them'. NBC News website. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/driver-behind-times-square-mayhem-i-wanted-kill-them-n762176 Published May 19, 2017. Accessed June 14, 2018.
- Infant ingests PCP-laced cigarette. Yale News website. https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2016/01/27/infant-ingests-pcp-laced-cigarette/ Published January 27, 2016. Accessed June 14, 2018.
- Springfield murder defendant testifies he was too high on PCP-laced pot to understand his rights. Mass Live website. https://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/08/murder_defendant_testifies_he_1.html Published August 16, 2017. Accessed June 14, 2018.