Dextromethorphan or DXM is the posh name for cough syrup. But increasingly people are glugging it down, even if they don't have a tickly throat. Why? And what are the dangers?

Girl and spoonful of cough syrup

"And I don't even have a cough."

What is dextromethorphan (DXM)?

It’s common in cough syrups, but 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?

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Effects usually last for about four to six hours.

What are the risks of taking DXM?

  • 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, and yes, 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.
  • It is common to experience nausea, diarrhoea and projectile vomiting. Lovely.
  • Chronic 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.

DXM and the law:

Cough syrups containing DXM are available in almost every chemist or high street pharmacy, so it is perfectly legal to buy. However, some stores put controls on how much of it you can buy at one time.

DXM is also known as:

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 does 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.
  • Don’t take DXM if you are pregnant, unless you want to sabotage the brain development of your foetus.

Next Steps

  • Addaction helps people recover from drug and alcohol addictions.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
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Updated on 29-Sep-2015