*Queue Blaine Anderson singing cough syrup* You probably have no idea what Dextromethorphan means. Remember cough syrup, that thing your mum gives you when you have a frog at the back of it? Well DXM is a key ingredient. Read on to find out why DXM-infused cough syrup is being used as a high.

A young woman is sitting at a desk. She is going through papers on dxm. This is a wide-angle image.

What is dextromethorphan (UK)?  

It’s usually found in cough syrups as a cough suppressant but that’s not all it’s used for. Dextromethorphan is also taken recreationally to induce a variety of highs. DXM creates several ‘plateaus’ of effects, meaning different doses produce different experiences. Users usually ingest it by drinking over the recommended dosage of over-the-counter syrup, swallowing gel caps, or snorting pure DXM powder. The drug is a semi-synthetic derivative of morphine, a chemical found in opium.

What are the effects of DXM? 

If you take it for a cough and cold, likelihood is you’ll just be drowsy. But let’s be real, that’s not why you’re here. You’re looking for effects including:  

  • When you take DXM recreationally, you are effectively overdosing on medicine, and it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen to you. Regular DXM users report that different doses create different effects. Typically, a low dosage is supposed to create a mild stimulant effect or an intoxicated effect similar to alcohol or cannabis.
  • In higher doses it can cause a dreamlike feeling of separation from your body with visual hallucinations and can be similar to taking ketamine.
  • It can cause a euphoric good mood with uncontrollable giggling and laughing.
  • On the other hand, DXM can cause bad coordination, zombie-like walking, reduced agility and involuntary muscle spasms.
  • It’s an appetite suppressant, and gives you a racing, pounding heart.

The effects usually last for about four to six hours.

What are the risks of taking DXM? 

There are always side effects to any cold medicines you take. Although, if you’re using dxm recreationally, they might be a little different. Here’s what to expect: 

  • If you take too much it can suppress your central nervous system. This can result in your brain forgetting to tell your lungs to breathe. Basically, you could die.
  • The high can make users feel disorientated, confused, and isolated from others. This unpleasant feeling can last for days after taking the drug. To find out more about comedowns, click here
  • It is common to experience nausea, diarrhoea and projectile vomiting. Lovely.
  • Long term dextromethorphan use may cause depression, psychological dependency, and in extreme cases, even brain damage.
  • There is a concern it can cause small holes in the brain – called Olney’s Lesions.

Dextromethorphan (UK) and the law: 

DXM products such as cough syrup are available in almost every chemist or high street pharmacy, so it is perfectly legal to buy. It’s also not a controlled substance, so the government haven’t put any regulations on it. However, some stores do place controls on how much of it you can buy at one time.

Street names: 

Robo, skittles, triple C, tussin, dex.

If you are planning on taking DXM:  

  • Read the ingredients label carefully and don’t take any product containing any active ingredient other than dextromethorphan as it can be very dangerous.
  • Added ingredients to avoid entirely include acetaminophen, which can cause fatal liver damage when taken in high doses; guaifenesin, which can cause severe nausea and vomiting; and chlorpheniramine maleate, which in high doses can cause life-threatening seizures, bleeding and loss of consciousness.
  • Do not drive or operate heavy machinery. It even warns you on the label, and that’s for people who are only taking a spoonful rather than chugging the entire bottle.
  • Don’t mix it with alcohol or antidepressants. To find out more about mixing drugs, click here.
  • Don’t take DXM if you are pregnant, this can sabotage the brain development of your foetus.

Next Steps

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 14-Sep-2021