High on Cough Syrup?
Lately, I've discovered the joys of dextromethorphan hydrobromide, the active ingredient in many cough syrups. I've been told that it is a synthetic opiate, which seems plausible given how enjoyable a high one can get from drinking a 4-ounce bottle. Aside from the stigma of participating in a seemingly high-schoolish high, are there any negative side effects I should be worried about?
Dextromethorphan is indeed a narcotic that's found in more than 75 over-the-counter cough syrups. It's a relative of codeine that works by quieting the cough center. The drug is not considered to have a euphoriant effect, but some people are more sensitive to it than others. You're apparently among this crowd. Large amounts (from 4 to 20 ounces) are reputed to produce a PCP-like effect - lightheadedness, dissociation from the body, and hallucination - from the conversion of dextromethorphan into dextrorthan.
DM-based cough syrup became popular around 1990 among high school and college students as an easily obtainable high; it's apparently still popular. The drug became so trendy that the Food and Drug Administration held an advisory committee hearing in 1990 to decide whether to regulate these formulations more strictly. The agency held off because of lack of data on the scope and significance of the use of cough syrup by teenagers.
Dextromethorphan can be very useful as a regular cough suppressant. I like to use cough syrups containing it for nonproductive coughs - those that don't bring up phlegm - brought on by influenza or upper respiratory viral infections. First, however, I try tincture of mullein, a fuzzy roadside weed that generally relieves dry, bronchial coughs. Use a dropperful in a little warm water every four hours. Also, inhale warm steam from boiling water spiked with sage or eucalyptus. You can make a nice inhalation tent by holding your head under a towel draped over the pot (keep the towel away from the burner, though). Stay away from DM if you're coughing up phlegm. This is the product of inflammation in your bronchial system and it's helpful to get it out.
Cough, cold, and allergy medicines bring in more than US$3 billion to their manufacturers every year, and part of me thinks drugmakers would like you to take them for whatever reason you can come up with. Cough syrup isn't particularly bad for you - but I wouldn't recommend it if you're just looking for a pleasant trip. You should check the other ingredients on the label. You might be getting artificial sweeteners and antihistamines along with your narcotic, as well as food dyes. Cough syrups may also contain depressants like alcohol or chloroform, and stimulants like phenylpropanolamine. In general, dextromethorphan isn't associated with significant side effects. Unlike other narcotics, it does not produce dependence.