Ketamine vs. PCP

What's the Difference?

Ketamine and PCP are both dissociative anesthetics that have similar effects on the central nervous system, but they differ in their chemical structure and potency. Ketamine is a pharmaceutical drug primarily used for anesthesia and pain management, while PCP is a recreational drug known for its hallucinogenic and sedative properties. Ketamine is considered to have a safer profile with a lower risk of addiction and physical dependence compared to PCP, which is notorious for its potential to cause addiction and severe psychological side effects. Additionally, ketamine has been studied for its potential therapeutic uses in treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, while PCP has no recognized medical applications. Overall, while both substances have similar effects, ketamine is generally considered to be a safer and more versatile drug compared to PCP.


Chemical NameKetamine hydrochloridePhencyclidine
ClassificationDissociative anestheticDissociative hallucinogen
Medical UsesAnesthesia, depression treatmentNone (illicit drug)
Street NamesK, Special K, Vitamin KAngel dust, Rocket fuel
AdministrationInjected, snorted, smokedInjected, smoked, swallowed
EffectsAnalgesia, dissociation, hallucinationsEuphoria, hallucinations, aggression
Duration of Effects1-2 hours4-6 hours
RisksPsychological dependence, bladder problemsPsychosis, violence, memory loss

Further Detail


Ketamine and PCP are both dissociative anesthetics that have gained notoriety for their mind-altering effects. While they share some similarities in terms of their chemical structure and effects on the brain, there are also significant differences between the two substances. In this article, we will explore the attributes of ketamine and PCP, highlighting their pharmacological properties, medical uses, recreational effects, and potential risks.

Pharmacological Properties

Ketamine, also known as "Special K," belongs to the class of drugs called arylcyclohexylamines. It acts primarily as an NMDA receptor antagonist, blocking the transmission of signals between neurons in the brain. This mechanism of action results in its dissociative effects, causing a sense of detachment from one's body and surroundings.

PCP, or phencyclidine, on the other hand, is a member of the arylcyclohexylamine class as well. It also acts as an NMDA receptor antagonist, but it additionally affects other receptors, such as dopamine and serotonin receptors. This broader receptor binding profile contributes to its hallucinogenic and stimulant properties.

Medical Uses

Ketamine has been approved by the FDA for use as an anesthetic in both humans and animals. Its dissociative properties make it particularly useful for surgical procedures, as it can induce a state of sedation and analgesia while maintaining respiratory function. Additionally, ketamine has shown promise in the treatment of depression, with some studies suggesting its rapid antidepressant effects.

PCP, on the other hand, does not have any approved medical uses in humans. It was initially developed as an anesthetic but was discontinued due to its unpredictable and potentially dangerous side effects. However, it is still used as a veterinary anesthetic in some cases.

Recreational Effects

Both ketamine and PCP are commonly abused for their hallucinogenic and dissociative effects. When used recreationally, ketamine is typically snorted or injected, while PCP is often smoked or ingested orally. The effects of ketamine are dose-dependent, with lower doses producing a sense of euphoria, relaxation, and mild dissociation. Higher doses can lead to a "K-hole" experience, characterized by intense dissociation, hallucinations, and a loss of contact with reality.

PCP, on the other hand, is known for its potent hallucinogenic effects. It can induce vivid and often disturbing hallucinations, paranoia, and aggression. The stimulant properties of PCP can also lead to increased energy, agitation, and a distorted sense of time. These effects, combined with its dissociative properties, make PCP a highly unpredictable and potentially dangerous recreational substance.

Potential Risks

While both ketamine and PCP carry risks, they differ in terms of their potential dangers. Ketamine is generally considered to have a lower risk profile compared to PCP. However, it can still cause adverse effects such as nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate, and elevated blood pressure. Prolonged and heavy ketamine use can lead to psychological dependence and bladder problems, known as ketamine-induced cystitis.

PCP, on the other hand, poses more significant risks. Its unpredictable nature can result in severe psychological and physical side effects. Acute intoxication with PCP can lead to psychosis, delirium, seizures, and even coma. Long-term use of PCP is associated with memory impairment, cognitive dysfunction, and mood disorders. Additionally, PCP has a high potential for addiction, and sudden withdrawal can cause withdrawal symptoms and cravings.


In conclusion, while ketamine and PCP share some similarities as dissociative anesthetics, they differ in terms of their pharmacological properties, medical uses, recreational effects, and potential risks. Ketamine is an FDA-approved anesthetic with potential therapeutic applications, including the treatment of depression. PCP, on the other hand, lacks approved medical uses and is associated with a higher risk of severe psychological and physical side effects. Both substances should be approached with caution, and their recreational use should be avoided due to the potential for harm.

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