"I would liken it to the people who use ketamine today. Ketamine was a drug developed in the '60s, and it's also currently used as an anaesthetic to animals. It's very similar to PCP and ultimately, it makes you feel very powerful because nothing hurts you. It's used at rave parties and, like PCP, it's inhaled, injected, swallowed, and smoked. The ketamine high lasts for about 20 to 30 minutes, and its residual effects last up to an hour after an initial dose. They call it the businessman's LSD because of the short duration of the high. A moderate dose causes euphoria, a burst of energy, and a drunken feeling. A high dose will cause tunnel vision, shortness of breath, loss of balance, a floating sensation -- which was what you'd notice from people on PCP. They would do what we called 'moonwalking.' They would put their foot out real slow and put it down. You can end up going into a coma from a result. Like PCP, someone under the influence of ketamine can be very physical, because you're talking about taking doses of an anaesthetic, which kills everything that hurts, so you feel like a superman."
Black agrees that sherm smoking was more of a ghetto drug, but, like rap music, it quickly finds its way into the better neighborhoods. "You typically found it in the low-income areas, but then, like everything else, you ended up with middle-class and upper-class kids coming there to buy it."
The name "sherm" comes from a brand of cigarettes. "Nat Sherman's brand cigarettes is known as the perennial favorite of PCP users because the thick, dark paper withstands the saturation well and conceals the fact that the cigarette has been dipped. When it became fashionable to roll your own cigarettes, there were cigarette-making kits where you could roll your own cigarettes with a filter. Some of the smarter ones started rolling marijuana joints that way, because they looked more professional and less suspicious."
Don Thornhill, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, says that he doesn't see much PCP use right now, but that could change. "We haven't seen much of it in some time, but we don't really get involved in it unless there's a laboratory or something of that nature. Typically, it does move from East to West. In the late '80s, crack cocaine started on the East Coast and spread out West. One of the things that made PCP such a problem is that people would get so whacked out using it. Their threshold of pain was just phenomenal. It's very dangerous in that respect."
The police and users are not the only ones in danger. According to Dr. Anthony Ferkich, director of Emergency Medicine at Paradise Valley Hospital, anyone trying to help a PCP user is at risk. "I can remember a big gentleman, probably upwards of 300 pounds -- a big, strong fellow -- he was brought in by police, handcuffed. He was under the influence of PCP. He was very violent, very enraged, and the trick was, how to get him from the handcuffs onto the patient gurney! There were ten policemen in the room, and he looked at them, saying, 'Do you want me to break these handcuffs?' No one in the room doubted that he could do it. You could see the rage in his eyes, and there wasn't anything in particular that was enraging him. They tend to get that hyperadrenaline surge, so they are frequently stronger than they would normally be. They present a danger to the staff of the hospital and themselves."
Echoing the police interpretation, Ferkich says that though PCP use had been on the decline, there has been a slight rise recently. "Over the past year, I've been seeing more cases than I'm used to, but it's not a large number. And I'm speaking only about the patients where we're looking for it, by way of drug testing. The effects from smoking the marijuana and formaldehyde is largely an irritant effect on the lungs and respiratory passages, coughing and so forth. Marijuana's actually a hallucinogen, so anything from a mild euphoric reaction to visual hallucinations are possible. PCP tends to cause sort of a waxing and waning behavior. They can be calm some moments and violent and agitated at other moments with big adrenaline surges. They can be very violent. Heartbeat and blood pressure is up. Overall, there's a general hyperdynamic response in the body."