Teens Misuse Cough Medicines ’Lean and DXM Without Knowing They’re Deadly and Addictive

March 9, 2017
Classroom of teenagers.

Walk into any average-sized middle school or high school classroom in America. You’ll probably be looking at about 25 teenagers. Out of those kids, there’s an excellent chance that one of them has already used cough medicine to get high.

What’s more, out of those 25 kids, eight of them are likely to know someone who has misused cough medicine in this way. And six of them think it’s not risky to take high dosages of cough medicine for the purpose of getting high.

Many parents talk to their children about marijuana and alcohol and a few include prescription drugs in their conversations. Not very many parents think about discussing cough medicine with their children but this is one of the most readily available drugs their kids have.

Different Types of Cough Medicine

Cough medicine pouring into spoon.

There are two major categories of cough medication, available in either liquids or pills. They are codeine-promethazine formulas and dextromethorphan formulas.

When a person is misusing a codeine-promethazine syrup, they may call it “Syrup,” “Sizzurp ,” “Drank,” “Purple Drank” or “Lean.” Codeine-promethazine formulas are usually mixed with a soda drink like Mountain Dew. Jolly Rancher candies may be added for color and flavor. This combination has been popular in the hip-hop community but has caused a number of deaths of well-known entertainers.

Dextromethorphan can be found in cough syrups and pills. A person misusing dextromethorphan may refer to the substance as “DXM,” “Dex” or “Robo.” The pills could be referred to as “Triple Cs” or “Skittles” because some they look like small round candies.

Red cough medicine pills, like those containing dextromethorphan.

A dextromethorphan formula can cause a person to severely overheat, resulting in death. If it’s used while a person is dancing at a nightclub or rave, overheating is more likely. The risk of death also increases if a person mixes a DXM formula with other drugs or alcohol. Accidental deaths may occur because DXM impairs a person’s ability to judge time and distance.

Signs of Use

A person abusing Lean can show these signs:

  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision and drooping eyes
  • Euphoria
  • Dissociation from one’s body
  • Poor motor skills
  • Lethargy and drowsiness

When the dose is very high, headache, weakness, fainting, hallucinations and seizures can result.

As a person consumes more and more DXM, he may progress through these symptoms of use:

  • Inebriation similar to drunkenness
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor memory
  • Impaired vision
  • Disassociation from one’s body
  • Sensory shut-off

Social Media’s Role in this Misuse

Since the vast majority of teens visit social media sites, it’s easy for them to learn about these drugs. They can find all the brand names to buy or steal, how much to take and what to expect. There are thousands of YouTube videos available to youth to instruct them on drug consumption. The website erowid.org claims to be educational but provides curious teens with an extensive library of drug experiences. A young person may think he can do online research and have a safe trip with one of these drugs.

It’s up to parents to provide accurate information to youth before they can get into trouble with one of these or many other substances. Consult the drug information section of our website for help learning about these and many other drugs. And if you find that one of your loved ones is using alcohol or illicit, prescription or over-the-counter drugs and needs help to quit, call us. We can help you understand the nature of addiction and how a lasting recovery can be achieved. For more than fifty years, the Narconon program has helped tens of thousands of people regain their productive, enjoyable lives, along with restoring families and careers. Call us today.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.