One of the most recent fads in drug abuse is the ingestion of dextromethorphan—a common ingredient in cough and cold medications. So, just what is the biggest risk of DXM? The very fact that it’s a legal substance, contained in over-the-counter cough-and-cold medications, renders it very dangerous. When you ingest mass quantities of it, your brain forgets to tell your lungs to breathe. And then you die.
It’s Not New
Dextromethorphan crossed the radar of the drug-using public in the 1950s, and it didn’t take long for people to find out it could get you high. Once codeine was banned from over-the-counter cough syrups, drug manufacturers settled on dextromethorphan as a favorite new active ingredient. By the 1970s people began sharing exciting stories about the great highs they got from cough syrups like Robitussin and similar brands.
Nobody wants to single out Robitussin as the sole culprit, because other brand names (Delsym, for one) include DXM as well. Abusers also go for generics because they are more affordable. The point is that the Robitussin brand name became assimilated into users’ vocabulary—to druggies, “robotripping” means you’re up for a good time.
DXM dropped off the popularity scale in the 1990s, overshadowed by other ways to get high. Lately it has re-emerged as a favorite drug of choice because it’s easy to access, both legal and cheap.
Myths and Misconceptions About DXM
- First and foremost, people think they can take a safe trip as long as they look for cold pills that are mostly DXM. They think that DXM by itself is not harmful.
- They have no idea how to calculate an effective dose for their high. The effect of DXM depends on body weight. That means the dose that puts a 150-pound person on a pretty neat high can be deadly for his 120-pound friend.
- People also believe that since DXM comes in commonly available over-the-counter medications it cannot possibly harm them. After all, the government wouldn’t put anything on the market that could kill them, right?
One Dose Leads to Another
Once someone goes down the road to dextromethorphan abuse, he may begin to explore ways to maximize his high. That’s when a user takes the cough syrup and cooks it down to extract pure DXM. The process involves the use of hazardous chemicals like naphtha, a flammable solvent used by wood workers.
If it weren’t so dangerous, it would be almost amusing to hear DXM abusers caution one another against ingesting anything except pure DXM. They simply don’t worry about blowing up their kitchen trying to extract it.
People tire of drinking so much cough syrup just to get high, so they often look for cold pills. Taking somewhere between 10 and 20 cold pills gives them a feeling of being drunk. When they take higher doses, 30 or more, they experience actual hallucinations. Taking more than that will put them face down on a sidewalk—or face up in a casket.
The Dangers of “Other” Ingredients
Most DXM products come with added common ingredients that are harmful when taken in excess. There is acetaminophen (think Tylenol), chlorpheniramine (an antihistamine), and guafenesin (an expectorant). The repeated ingestion of large amounts of Tylenol damages the liver permanently. Chlorpheniramine induces rapid heartbeat, and it also has been associated with seizures and coma. Guafenesin causes vomiting.
If you are using DXM or you know someone who needs treatment for dextromethorphan abuse, side effects include muscle spasms, panic attacks, delirium, loss of motor coordination, and, of course, that fatal suppression of the respiratory system. Don’t stop to take a breath—get help now.