When former Patriots’ tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with the premeditated murder of an acquaintance, it sent shock waves through the sports world and made national headlines.
Why would a successful athlete throw it all away to avenge a personal score? The picture started to become a bit clearer, however, once it took into account Hernandez’s questionable past, which included numerous violent incidents and several failed drug tests.
A Destructive Relationship With PCP, Angel Dust
One of the most eyebrow-raising revelations to emerge from the reporting on the Hernandez affair was the disclosure that the former New England Patriots’ tight end regularly used PCP, a drug with a uniquely unsavory reputation. After Rolling Stone reported on the angel-dust use, some suggested his unexpected homicidal behavior was a consequence of his dalliance with this infamous illegal substance.
But two and two don’t always add up to four. In basic mathematics they may, but in the real world, connections that seem obvious are often imaginary, and we must be careful not to apply our favorite metaphors too indiscriminately. While angel dust is presumed to be a drug that can cause a psychotic and maniacal break with reality and turn even the most mild-mannered person into a deranged killer, the truth about this drug is more complex than its notorious image would suggest.
Facts are stubborn things, and they can frustrate our most cherished preconceived notions about important subjects. No one could argue with the proposition that PCP (phencyclidine) is a dangerous substance that is capable of causing great harm to its users as well as to anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path. However, the hysteria that has surrounded illegal drugs for so long oftentimes inhibits genuine understanding, and that is certainly the case with angel dust. To put it succinctly, this drug is bad, but some of the ideas people have about its supposed evil nature are either exaggerated or just plain inaccurate.
Angel Dust Makes You Violent, Right?
Many have heard the stories about how angel dust turns its users into raving lunatics with superhuman strength and most have probably seen police videos showing suspects in custody for possession of PCP. They appear to be going completely berserk; hitting, kicking, biting, scratching and clawing police officers, paramedics and innocent bystanders; frantically lashing out at anyone and everyone around them while screaming obscenities or letting loose with an unintelligible barrage of guttural gibberish. At times, those who are high on angel dust seem to have the power of Hercules, tossing people around like rag dolls or smashing chairs, tables or other material objects as if they were cheap props from an old-time Western movie.
Police are very wary of confronting individuals who have been using angel dust, and considering some of the unsettling experiences they may have had with such individuals, that is certainly understandable. However, what the scientific evidence shows is that those who become violent while under the influence of PCP tend to be people with criminal records who have a previous history of violence. PCP acts somewhat like alcohol in that it robs a person of his normal inhibitions, and this is what can make someone who has been taking this drug difficult to deal with and perhaps dangerous.
But even though angel dust can cause a variety of psychotic symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, disorientation and a feeling of paranoia, a normally nonviolent person is not going to suddenly become a vicious, marauding maniac simply because he has consumed this substance. Nor is he going to gain extra strength while under its chemical spell: most people arrested for drug crimes go quietly or with minimal fuss when they are taken into custody, so when a person high on angel dust goes on the attack, it can catch everyone off guard. Consequently, such an individual may be able to do a lot of damage to physical objects or get in quite a few solid punches or kicks before finally being wrestled down and brought under control.
The Truth About Angel Dust
Even though there are some myths circulating about angel dust, this drug can and does cause disturbing changes in its consumers/victims. For example, because PCP is a type of anesthetic it can render a person at least partially insensitive to pain, meaning that an individual on an angel dust-fueled rage could cause significant damage to himself without realizing that he has been injured. Additionally, if they become frequent and persistent, the hallucinations and delusions PCP users experience can cause a break with reality, and a habitual user of the drug could require hospitalization or mental health treatment if they should become lost in a frightening fantasy world.
In the Rolling Stone article where Aaron Hernandez’s angel dust use was discussed, his friends revealed that he had become increasingly paranoid and fearful in the months leading up to the murder, to the point that he had begun carrying a gun with him wherever he went. Paranoia can become strongly enhanced in a person who is consuming angel dust, and, from everything we can gather, it appears that Hernandez was undoubtedly a victim of this particular side effect of the drug. Nevertheless, it is clear, based on his history, that Hernandez’ life was a tragedy waiting to happen with his ongoing involvement with gangs, guns, drugs and violent criminal behavior. Even if PCP had been removed from the picture, Hernandez was a ticking time bomb destined to explode.
And perhaps this analogy provides a good framework for helping us understand the true nature of PCP. Rather than being the bomb itself, angel dust is more like the fuse, and when a person lights that fuse by choosing to consume this drug he may very well end up destroying his life and his sanity as a result of that decision.