Phencyclidine, or PCP, is often categorized as a hallucinogen but is properly known as a dissociative drug, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The mind-altering effects of PCP include distorted perceptions of the senses and a feeling of detachment from the environment and self. The Global Library of Women's Medicine notes that substance use is highly prevalent in pregnant women, with an estimated 10 percent using illicit drugs such as PCP. Fetal complications of prenatal PCP use range from birth defects to long-term developmental effects after birth.
The central nervous system in a gestating fetus comprises the brain and the spinal cord. Neurons develop as part of this process to shape the brain. Neurons are part of the communication system in the brain and are responsible for relaying messages back and forth from the brain to the body. These messages include information on how to feel, behave and respond to external stimulation. PCP exposure during pregnancy alters the brain's ability to form properly and develop neurons. Research data from a 1992 study in the journal "Neuropharmacology" suggest that high levels of PCP during pregnancy disturb the normal development of neural activity in the fetus, resulting in functional deficits.
Respiratory Distress and Intoxication
Fetal exposure to PCP can lead to premature birth and respiratory distress for the infant. According to the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, PCP can cross the placenta, making the prenatal environment toxic to the fetus. The drug stays in the system of the fetus for unknown amounts of time, virtually intoxicating the fetus while also potentially preventing normal lung and organ development. The fetus may have insufficient lung development and reduced breathing capacity after birth owing to PCP exposure. PCP has sedating effects on adult users and these effects are magnified in the fetus, which can die from the exposure.
Addiction and Withdrawal
Chronic drug exposure during pregnancy can result in the fetus being born with an addiction to PCP and going through withdrawal symptoms. In utero the fetus may not show withdrawal symptoms if PCP use stops. If the mother continues use until the child is born, however, the likelihood that the baby will experience withdrawal symptoms such as tremors and lethargy remains high. The American Pregnancy Association notes that the best way to prevent fetal complications from PCP use is to avoid the drug during pregnancy.