The Monster in Your Medicine Cabinet

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A recent Dateline NBC story about recreational use of the cough supressant dextromethorphan nicely illustrates the news media's tendency to promote drug fads while decrying them. The story hypes DXM's attractions as well as its dangers, completely missing the point that prohibition fosters the use of such readily available intoxicants by making better (i.e., safer and more effective) ones hard to get. No doubt we can look forward to more Dateline exposés in the same vein: "The Joy of Jimson Weed," "Nuts About Nutmeg," "Gasoline Is a Gas," etc.

[Thanks to Mark Noble for the link.]

NEXT: Freedom of the Press in Liberated Iraq

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  1. ewilliam, ever watch Half Baked on Comedy Central? Now THAT is bad.

    Steve, when I was in Jr. High there was a stupid fad going around where people would hyper-ventilate to pass out to get the associated “rush” (and headache) that followed. I admit, I joined in on that one a couple times. The funny thing is, they made hyper-ventilating against school rules and a suspendable offense. I’m glad I wasn’t a high-strung, nervous kid.

  2. about twenty years ago I read in “The Consumer Reports Guide to Licit and Illicit Drugs” (really)
    that the whole glue sniffing thing was actually blown out of proportion by a small a.p. wire story that grew wings and strarted the whole trend

  3. “…completely missing the point that prohibition fosters the use of such readily available intoxicants…”

    The press is completely illiterate on all such issues, as they indicated a few weeks back with their coverage of the black market in human cadavers. One anchor expressed shock that one body might fetch as much as $200,000. Well, why wouldn’t it? There’s a heavy demand, and the supply is tightly restricted because of the government’s interference with the sale of bodies by their original owners. So a black market is inevitable. When some people want something bad enough, and other people are willing to sell it, all the governments in the world aren’t going to stop the resulting commerce. All they’ll do is create organized crime, and eventually corrupt the government itself with all that black market money.

  4. Banning “Quick Drying” Testor’s model airplane glue was the worst thing ever to happen to a child. It wasn’t sniffing it that was the attraction – it was that you could peel it off your skin like an instant sunburn peeling, a great pasttime. Also it was good for balsa wood model airplanes.

  5. DXM is, imo, a drug that rose to popularity specifically as a result of the internet’s rising prominence as an information distribution resource. I think word spread rapidly because, again, it was something that was legal and easy to get, especially for underage kids. But I thought that whole fad had already burned out in the 1990s. That’s when my awareness of it as a phenomenon began. I thought it was old news, not worthy of attention anymore.

  6. I’m pretty sure I could create a computer program to write stories about a stochastically generated “new threat to your children.” I’m even more sure that someone already has.

    If oogidyboogidy can happen to our kid, oogidyboogidy can happen to anyone.

    Robotripping is the new crack.

  7. In an amusing sidenote, I was watching COPS the other night and they pulled over some kid for smoking a joint while driving. The officer asked him if he would want to ride in a plane if the pilot was stoned (not sure what this has to do with driving a station wagon).

    The kid said “Well, I guess it depends on how the pilot handles it”.

    The officer was dumfounded. All he could come up with was an incredulous “Don’t you understand?!? An ALUMINUM TUBE at 600MPH!!!” The kid was understandably unphased.

    When they did a field sobriety test on the guy, he seemed fine – even though he had admitted to just smoking a joint that they found in the car.

    All in all, it was a comical episode.

  8. I rarely watch Cops, but just recently I saw one where they pulled a guy over and found pot in the car. The passenger admitted that it was his own, not the driver’s. The cops told the driver that they were only going to book the passenger, because it would spare them a lot of hassle. (How thoughtful of them!)

    They then insulted the driver’s car by saying that under the law they can confiscate it (even though it wasn’t his pot and he’s claiming to have been unaware the passenger had pot), but since the car is messed up it won’t get much money for the police dept. so they won’t bother.

    In other words, they basically told him that they had the legal right to take his property even though he did nothing wrong, and the only reason they didn’t is that his car isn’t worth enough money to make it worth their while.

    And the difference between asset forfeiture and theft is what, exactly?

  9. shiny badges!

    shiny, shiny badges!

    DXM is cool and all if you are 20 and wanna relive your childhood but picking random cough syrups to drink is a good way to die, especially because i don’t think kids do all the reading about drug interactions, etc. or much reading at all, for that matter.

  10. DXM is cool and all if you are 20 and wanna relive your childhood

    Goodness, man! Did you gobble down bottles of Tussin as a kid, or did you just go through childhood as a lizard?

  11. I used to down bottles of Dimetapp Elixir as a kid, so much did I love the “Great Grape Taste”.

    But I’ve been clean for 14 years now…

  12. “but picking random cough syrups to drink is a good way to die”

    Today’s kids are stupid…the problem is that you’re only supposed to drink the pure Robo – with only the cough suppressent (DMX). The kids who have died drank the Robo with the aspirin and the pseudoephadrine (i.e. decongestant), both of which are not good in large quantities.

    Geez, don’t today’s kids read about drugs on the internet before taking them? Safety first 🙂

    -dlc-

  13. Ooops, I meant DXM.

    Where my dogs at? Holla!

  14. I know Reason has some affection for John Stossel, but his expose on Exstacy a couple years back on 20/20 was just as bad as this recent Dateline story. You can see Stossels report on POT-TV.com.

  15. I had a friend back in highschool who always seemed to be the first to try out any new drug fad. Let me tell you, after seeing him hopped up on Robo, I had no inclination to try it myself. And sure enough the next day he decided it best if we all stuck to shrooms and LSD.

    Suprisingly good guy now too. Probably has the best work ehtic of anyone I’ve ever met.

  16. “Today’s kids are stupid…the problem is that you’re only supposed to drink the pure Robo – with only the cough suppressent (DMX). The kids who have died drank the Robo with the aspirin and the pseudoephadrine (i.e. decongestant), both of which are not good in large quantities.”

    I’ve never taken dextromethorphan recreationally, though I’ve seen it done. Not since high school, though. I’ve never heard of anybody taking it via Robitussin before: everyone I knew took Coricidin tablets instead, and all knew to make sure not to get the kind with acetominophen or pseudoephedrine. As a fad, it’s probably faded, which, I suspect, probably means that kids don’t know the safety groundrules as widely. Honestly, this NBC story is just as bad as any school anti-drug propaganda: if they’re going to promote that something gets you fucked up, they have a responsibility to mention that there are ways of doing it which are far less likely to croak you than others. I’d bet my bottom dollar the dead kid from the story probably bought it from some other ingredient besides the straight DXM. Interestingly, the biggest DXM head I knew is in the military now, as well. I guess they mustn’t whiz-quiz for the stuff. Perverse.

  17. “Goodness, man! Did you gobble down bottles of Tussin as a kid, or did you just go through childhood as a lizard?”

    a little bit of both, really. 🙂

    no, seriously, i always found medium sized doses of DXM to be wall to wall childhood memory playground, thinking about things like couch colors or rugs in my parents’ house 10 years gone, etc.

    i was sick a lot as a child (until my eardrums ruptured, which stopped all the infections oddly enough) and probably had more than my fair share of inadvertent cough syrup adventures as a matter of trying to sleep through the night.

    maybe the DXM kiddiez can hook up with the guys selling salvia divinorium as a marijuana replacement and throw serious parties for serious jackasses.

  18. Evan,
    Funny you should mention that. A guy in my college fraternity that was in ROTC was adamant about not doing drugs … because of the piss test. The day he discovered and tried nitrous he said, “It’s like 10 orgasms in a row.” I of course made the requisite, “Shouldn’t you change?” response.

  19. Speaking of cut films, I just rented Caddyshack for the spouse (she didn’t know why Tiger’s commercial was so funny), and it was rated-R, with Lacy Underall not wearing much clothing in several scenes.

    But here’s the thing: Chevy Chase is talking to what’s his name early on, and asks “Do you take drugs, Billy?”

    I distinctly remember Billy saying “every day,”–and Chevy goes “good, good.”

    Now in the film, Chevy asks, “do you” and Billy sorta says “no,” and Chevy goes “good, good.” And again, it was the R-rated version with nudity and swear words. Am I right that they edited the thing out? Or just misremembering? (Saw the film many times, but seldom sober).

  20. He does say every day. At least on my DVD he does.

  21. dhex-
    reliving your childhood? that’s a fucked-up childhood, at least compared to the last time i took it.

    The itching and nausea can be unpleasent, but the itching can be mitigated with a regular dose of a certain household anti-histimene (I forget which, it was supplied by a person I took it with), and I beleive the nausea is the result of all the sugar you get from drinking the cough syrup. So that depends on the person. It’s an interesting high, and the nature of it really depends on how much you take. I usually end up feeling light and very talkative. The one time I took what was probably too much, I began to felt overloaded and paranoid, but it wasn’t too terrible. I don’t recommend trying to go to bed while still feeing the effects.

    But the real kicker is, me and my roomies only get cough syrup on the rare occasions (and not always then) when we can’t find anyone to buy us booze. Frankly, I’m not convinced it’s anymore dangerous than drinking, but I guess it’s worth noting I probably would have only done DXM once instead of the four or five times I’m up to if the drinking age weren’t so damn high!

  22. There’s a lot of that happening in re-released movies, which is another can of worms. Who has the right: the studio? the director? etc. etc.
    (Answer: whoever owns the movie)
    What this has to do with dextromethorphan, I do not know.

  23. OK, maybe it was a blockbuster thing.

  24. Dextromethorphan, by itself, is safe even at recreational dosages. This is media hysteria, and while I agree with Jacob in that prohibition drives people to try dangerous, but legal substances for a high, Dextromethorphan should not be among those. It has been used recreationally since it came out. HST even has a reference to it in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (the book, of course):

    “On the outskirts of Vegas I stopped at a neighborhood pharmacy and bought two quarts of Gold tequila, two fifths of Chivas Regal, and a pint of ether. I was tempted to ask for some amyls, My angina pectoris was starting to act up. But the druggist had the eyes of a mean Baptist hysteric. I told him I needed the ether to get the tape off my legs, but by that time he’d already rung the stuff up and bagged it. He didn’t give a fuck about ether. I wondered what he would say if I asked him for $22 worth of Romilar and nitrous oxide. Probably he would have sold it to me. Why not? Free enterprise….Give the public what it needs – especially this bad-sweaty, nervous-talkin’ fella with tape all over his legs and this terrible cough along with angina pectoris and these godawful Aneuristic flashes every time he gets in the sun.”

    – “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, Vintage Books Edition, 1971, p. 100

    Romilar was, of course, an early, DXM-only product.

    Here, there should be plenty of information for your consumption at these two sites:

    http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dxm/dxm.shtml
    http://www.dextroverse.org

  25. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all substances were legal and every family could have a substance rack, maybe next to the spice rack?

    Like the spice rack, I suspect most bottles would gather dust, because nobody knows exactly how to use it.

    Still there would be no hysteria, and family members could be sure all their substances were pure, and they would have the satisfaction of knowing they could whip up some gourmet mood alteration with minimal side effects when and if the notion struck ’em.

    Come to think of it, do narcs already have such racks in the privacy of their homes?

  26. There was some Cheech and Chong movie on a while back where the TV version had them being all impressed with a duffelbag full of diamonds. Later, they go to a whole field of diamonds. It was really very strange.

    And I’ve seen Cops from time to time, but most of the time when I see it, it just pisses me off. The ones that really got to me were the episodes at Mardi Gras… now, the cops break up fights and stuff like that, which is fine, but a lot of their time is spent busting some poor shlub who decided to smoke weed in plain view. Makes me want to puke.

  27. Andy D. and David Moynihan,

    I was horrified to see the TV-edited version of
    “Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie.” But you should see what they did to “Blazing Saddles.”

  28. I have a couple of friends that have done ‘Tussin and from the stories I heard about the experience, it was not something I wanted to do (though it did cross my mind). The intense itching and throwing up (not to mention a bottle of Robitussin, blech) just didn’t sound like my bag.

    Now mushrooms, that’s a hallucinogen

  29. I wonder win spinning around rapidly will be outlawed?

  30. Along the same vein…

    a cursory viewing of Dazed & Confused on Comedy Central last night made my head hurt (much worse than any fool hangover). I own the flick, and I enjoy it for what it is. Though, watching a movie in which a major part of the plot is illegal drug consumption after being butchered by the censornannies, is like watching Heat without the guns. Every secondhand backwards connotation to drugs is cut out. Entire scenes make absolutely no sense, because the family-friendly voice-overs don’t mean anything. “Marijuana on one! Reefer on two!” was made into something like “Manning on one, halfback on two!”. Huh?

    Regardless, this is my point: the movie shows the copious consumption of alcohol by minors. And Tony’s nerdly diatribe about how “there’s nothing like piling on pancakes after a night of beer drinking” escapes the censor’s wrath, even though he is musing about an illegal activity (underage alcohol consumption).

    Am I just crazy, or is there something seriously wrong with this picture? They can show 15-year-olds getting rip-roaring drunk, but god forbid, if they mention the word “reefer”, you better start writing a big $150,000 check to the FCC. Makes me want to puke.

  31. Along the same vein…

    a cursory viewing of Dazed & Confused on Comedy Central last night made my head hurt (much worse than any fool hangover). I own the flick, and I enjoy it for what it is. Though, watching a movie in which a major part of the plot is illegal drug consumption after being butchered by the censornannies, is like watching Heat without the guns. Every secondhand backwards connotation to drugs is cut out. Entire scenes make absolutely no sense, because the family-friendly voice-overs don’t mean anything. “Marijuana on one! Reefer on two!” was made into something like “Manning on one, halfback on two!”. Huh?

    Regardless, this is my point: the movie shows the copious consumption of alcohol by minors. And Tony’s nerdly diatribe about how “there’s nothing like piling on pancakes after a night of beer drinking” escapes the censor’s wrath, even though he is musing about an illegal activity (underage alcohol consumption).

    Am I just crazy, or is there something seriously wrong with this picture? They can show 15-year-olds getting rip-roaring drunk, but god forbid, if they mention the word “reefer”, you better start writing a big $150,000 check to the FCC. Makes me want to puke.

  32. I don’t get it… I think Robitussin tastes good. Though it falls into that strange category of drugs (along with Vicodin) that don’t seem to affect me except for their indicated use, regardless of how much I take.

  33. This entire issue is akin to the school shooting/school violence issue as it relates to the media.

    It seems we have more “big problem issues” today since the media so super-saturates our life.

    John Stossel from ABC news did a piece recently about these fads and the media. He particularly noted school violence; one would think that it’s on the rise; all these school shootings and such we see on the news.

    In his report, the fact is that school violence is down…but media coverage is wayyyyyyyyyy up.

    Same thing for drugs? Cough syrup?

    Likely.

    Brent!
    BRL, Inc.

  34. This entire issue is akin to the school shooting/school violence issue as it relates to the media.

    It seems we have more “big problem issues” today since the media so super-saturates our life.

    John Stossel from ABC news did a piece recently about these fads and the media. He particularly noted school violence; one would think that it’s on the rise; all these school shootings and such we see on the news.

    In his report, the fact is that school violence is down…but media coverage is wayyyyyyyyyy up.

    Same thing for drugs? Cough syrup?

    Likely.

    Brent!
    BRL, Inc.

  35. Drinking large amounts of cough syrup to get high, if one is careful to buy only DXM-only bottles, is completely safe and fun.

  36. Have you heard about CAKE?? It’s a made up drug!

    http://www.thehighhat.com/Static/002/brass_eye.html

  37. a lot of the cops drug busts are made worse by the idiots involved. which is why i assume they make the cut in the first place.

    there was a mardi gras show where some kid was busted with a sizeable (1/2 oz maybe?) of pot and actually told the cops, in all seriousness, “but i was gonna smoke it all here” – as if his not travelling over state lines had anything to do with his possession. at the very least they’re lessons in what people shouldn’t do when pulled over by the cops.

    i wonder if dextromethorphan is still being sold over the internet on its own? that’d be a great way for some kids without scales (or common sense) to kill themselves.

    cough syrup is kinda gross. and a bit sad. but in a happy, childhood sort of way. 🙂

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