12   DXM Drug Culture

This section describes some of the current and past DXM culture. Most of this is one big unknown, and I'm attempting to write the definitive text on the history of DXM's recreational use (this will probably take me several years). If you have information on this topic, especially related to the use of DXM in the form of RomilarTM prior to 1975, please contact me.

12.1   Is There, or Was There, a DXM Drug Culture?

The answer is an overwhelming yes, although DXM use has always been deeply underground. For example, in the late 1980's, DXM was widely popular with the hardcore/punk movement, and in the 1970's, there seemed to be other groups of users. DXM users in the late 1980's, and possibly in other times, had a sort of "network" that stretched across the USA and into parts of Europe. The total number of users was probably less than 10,000. An interesting characteristic of their DXM use was that it was a group activity, whereas many DXM users today regard it as a solitary experience.

There seem to be (rare) medical references indicating DXM recreational abuse dating back to the 1960's. I'm trying to get more on this. I have talked to a few people who have said that recreational use of DXM in the form of RomilarTM tablets was extremely common. If so, then DXM's recreational potential may be the best-kept secret in the recreational drug world.

Some cities seemed to have considerable DXM use activity, notably with youth; in one town, there were empty bottles of cough syrup littering the street, and sale of cough syrups were restricted to people 18 and up. However, these incidents seem to be few and far between.

12.1.1   DXM in the 1960's

RomilarTM was released in the US in as a non-narcotic cough suppressant to replace codeine, which was already being used recreationally. Although there is no evidence of this, I would assume that people who were familiar with codeine's recreational potential decided to try to "overdose" on the new product and see if it had potential.

I have received a few letters from people who were involved with the drug culture of the late Beatnik era, and who used DXM. Most seemed to consider it something to use when better drugs (primarily opiates, although eventually LSD) were unavailable. A few, however, preferred DXM, and eventually its reputation as a recreational drug led to RomilarTM tablets being taken off the market in the US.

It appears that nobody formal studies of recreational DXM use were published during its use, which many people have told me was widespread. A few who knew about its potential then have told me that the medical community was neither educated about, nor particularly interested in, DXM; there were larger drug problems to confront. Furthermore, drug use was still isolated to minorities and social outcasts, and most white Americans regarded the Beatniks as the latter. Remember, this was before drug use had become popular among the youth counterculture of the later 1960's and 1970's.

I am still looking for information about DXM use during this time, but I suspect it will be several years before I can make any sophisticated analysis of the phenomenon.

12.1.2   DXM in the 1970's

DXM-containing cough syrups replaced RomilarTM in the 1970's, and its use declined as most people were unwilling to drink a bottle of cough syrup to get high. Besides, in the late 1960's and 1970's, LSD, peyote, and a limited number of other psychedelics were widely available. Those who liked DXM probably turned to these, and eventually to PCP when it became available.

There doesn't seem to have been any particular subculture associated with DXM in the 1970's. Some of its users were ordinary people who enjoyed lower plateau experiences. From letters I have received, this has ranged from young drug enthusiasts to bored housewives. A fair number of Vietnam veterans evidently used DXM overseas and continued using it when they returned.

12.1.3   DXM in the 1980's

I have considerably more information about the use of DXM in the 1980's. With the backlash against the drug culture of the 1970's and 1960's, and especially the accelerating War on Drugs, psychedelics became generally less available, especially in rural areas or smaller towns. There seem to have been clusters of DXM users, many (but not all) in rural or small urban areas, isolated in location or by subculture. I have the most data on DXM use among the hardcore punk culture of the late 1980's.   DXM in the Hardcore Punk Community

I don't know who among the hardcore punks first thought of drinking a bottle of cough syrup for fun, although conversations with former residents of punk warehouses has given me some ideas. In one case, the user's father had used DXM during the Vietnam war, and continued to use it when he returned (and in fact his wife had divorced him because of DXM). In another case the brief mention of DXM in the Anarchist's Cookbook started the individual on DXM use. Once people were familiar with its use, it spread widely among the community. It does not seem to have spread far beyond it, possibly because the entire community prided itself on isolation from the general culture which it viewed as socially deranged.

Someone somewhere must have done some medical research, because the community generally understood which preparations were safe and which were not. It certainly wasn't from the Anarchist's Cookbook, which is in general full of mistakes, misinformation, and lacking in safety precautions; some have even gone so far as to suggest that it was put out by the government in an attempt to get would-be anarchists to blow themselves up.

Robitussin DMTM and generic equivalents, then containing 3mg/ml of DXM, were the preparations of choice. Rarely people would return from foreign countries with tablets (especially ContacTM tablets from Canada). The typical dose was 4oz (360mg), 8oz (720mg), or 12oz (1080mg).

People among the subculture would use DXM primarily in group environments, at people's houses and in the warehouses where many of them lived. Often a theme was chosen for the DXM trip (although the term "vacation" was sometimes preferred to "trip"). Themes included locations, historic times, fantasy environments, emotions, and abstract concepts. DXM was almost never a solitary activity.

Not everyone in the subculture used DXM; some preferred other drugs, some were totally straightedge (drug-free). Nearly all seemed tolerant and even accepting of an individual's choice to use or not use a particular drug (except in the case of heroin and cocaine, which were shunned, at least among the people who have contacted me). Among those who used DXM, it was often a part of the sense of membership in the community.

Some have told me that DXM use was already beginning to decline before the subculture itself fell apart (due to a variety of factors including the rise of neo-Nazi skinheads, increasing violence, and the maturation and reintegration of its members into society). Some simply became tired of drinking cough syrup to get high, and noted increasing nausea and side effects, and decreasing pleasure, with its use. However, in a few cases DXM developed a bad reputation as individuals had problems with the drug.

DXM addiction seems to be isolated to particular individuals, and it is not known whether susceptibility is due to genetic factors, psychology, environment, use patterns, or other factors. However, rumors of suicides among chronic DXM users began to circulate, and many people were unwilling to use a drug which might lead to depression, addiction, and suicide. To what degree these rumors were true, I do not know, although I do have reliable evidence of at least one suicide attempt by an individual who became addicted to DXM and used it daily.

Because daily users often retreat from their social environment, they were often viewed as valuing the drug above their social network. Since use of the drug among most was intimately integrated into the social network, this isolation was an indicator that DXM may have a serious darker side. In a community that prides itself on its social cohesiveness, anything which threatens that is bad news.

In any case, the subculture eventually deteriorated, although to some degree there are (typically isolated) elements of it remaining. One example is provided in (

12.1.4   DXM in the 1990's

During the early 1990's DXM remained isolated to subcultures according to users. It would sometimes spread among a group of friends, but never far beyond that. However, the increasing reach of the Internet, especially among college students, is totally changing the face of DXM use.

This change started before the FAQ was published, and I have no doubt that it would have occurred whether or not I had chosen to publish the FAQ. There are numerous Usenet newsgroups dedicated to discussion of drugs, and people who were familiar with DXM were eager to discuss it and point out its good qualities (unfortunately, many neglected to bring up safety precautions and side effects).

The Usenet drugs newsgroups were initially poorly distributed and its members formed a somewhat isolated community consisting of drug enthusiasts, psychonauts, former drug users, and the curious. However, as the Internet expanded beyond the domain of computer users and professionals, many college students began to investiage these drug newsgroups (and, later, the numerous drug-related webpages).

Numerous undergraduate students have told me that their interest in drugs started when they discovered that marijuana wasn't the evil demon-weed as they were taught, and that their brains didn't turn into fried eggs from smoking it. Nor did it take over their lives, as most who used marijuana maintained their grades, and restricted its use to weekends. If I had to make a generalization I would say that college marijuana users may be a lot more responsible with their drug use than college alcohol users.

I don't believe in the "gateway" theory that marijauna use leads to use of other drugs. Instead, I think that it is the propaganda about marijuana that leads to experimentation with other drugs. People don't enjoy being lied to, and anyone with two hours of free time and the barest of scientific knowledge can go pick up medical journals and learn that marijuana is one of the safest recreational drugs known to man. Many have told me that once they knew they'd been lied to about marijuana, they were curious to see if other drugs weren't the evil chemicals they'd been portrayed as.

Thankfully, most seemed to confine their experimentation to psychedelics, including mushrooms, LSD, MDMA (ecstasy), DMT, 2CB, and others. Since these drugs induce profound and often puzzling experiences, users would turn to the Internet to find experienced users, discuss how to use them best, what to do under the influence, philosophies of the Universe, and so on. So it was inevitable I believe that DXM would become known among college students, at least among those who used illegal drugs.

Currently, as I write this, the FAQ has become the definitive source of information about DXM among users on the Internet. However, the spread of DXM use still seems to occur through networks of friends and those who share common interests. What the Internet has done is to transcend geography and allow people around the world to share their interests and knowledge, and provide a mechanism for the near-instantaneous spread of new interests and ideas.

This is in my opinion an undeniable good. You can now find an FAQ about most any drug, and most of them are well-written and discuss both the good and the bad sides of drugs. Often current and former users make well-presented cases for why not to use the drug. As an example, most heroin users are extremely critical of the media's attention to, and glamorization of, the drug, and will actively discourage people curious about it from taking it. Psychedelic enthusiasts are often equally discouraging of people who wish to use psychedelics but are not emotionally and mentally prepared.

However, it is inevitable that whenever a taboo subject is brought out into the open, the curious will try it. This is why I wrote the FAQ in the first place, to give the curious a good look at the good and bad sides of the drug.

12.1.5   The Future of DXM Use

I believe a sort of threshold has been passed in that DXM use has now entered the mainstream of drug users. I suspect its use will continue to rise until either it is taken off the market, or it reaches a natural plateau. DXM is not, in my opinion, addictive enough to explode into popularity like cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin; instead, I suspect that, like most psychedelics, it will be popular among a limited number of people who will use it for a year or two and then stop. Fortunately DXM use does seem to be self-limiting, as the pleasurable aspects of its use decline and annoying but harmless side effects increase with time.

I don't think DXM will be taken off the market entirely; instead, it will probably be restricted to preparations containing other ingredients. My guess is that guaifenesin will be used, since it induces nausea with overdose. There will still be DXM enthusiasts willing to tough out the nausea, but most people, I think, will be unwilling to repeat the experience and unwilling to suggest it to others. The worst possible response, in my opinion, would be to add acetaminophen; while it would stop DXM use, it may do so at the expense of numerous deaths.

My greatest fear is that some "pop news" show will become aware of DXM and decide to do a feature on it. I have no desire to bring awareness of DXM to the overall public; I suspect that teenagers across the country, looking for a cheap buzz, would rush down to their nearest drugstore, buy a bottle of cough syrup, and take it without adequate knowledge of dosage, drug interactions, or side effects. DXM would probably be pulled from the market, and people with an actual need for it would be worse off. While many DXM users would of course stop using it, some would probably turn to ketamine or (even worse) PCP, attempt to find DXM "on the street", or find worse drugs to use.

If you really want to limit the use of DXM, the best response would be to consider those who are using it casually. Serious psychonauts are not, in general, using DXM on a regular basis, or if they are, they are at least aware of the risks. However, many young people who use DXM are simply looking for a cheap high. There are very few drugs which provide a cheap high and carry a low risk; the safest among these is marijuana. And more than one young person has told me they have used DXM because marijuana is illegal. You can draw your own conclusions.

12.2   Why Haven't I Heard About DXM Drug Culture?

There are, I think, four factors which have combined to keep DXM out of the public eye and limited to subcultures:

  1. Only about 1/3 of people who try DXM enjoy the experience enough to repeat it.
  2. The public is unaware of DXM, and most people are skeptical of the idea of getting high off cough syrup.
  3. Many people who traditionally use DXM do not, in general, discuss their use outside of their social group or clique.
  4. Medical authorities are either ignorant of DXM or unwilling to discuss it, either professionally or with the general public.

As a consequence, when someone uses DXM and does enjoy it, and tells his or her friends, many will dismiss the idea, and among those who try it, most won't repeat the experience. In tightly-knit social groups, both clusters of friends and larger subcultures, DXM use may expand to saturate the group (and involve from 30% to 60% of the group, as near as I can tell with my limited data). However, members outside of these cliques and groups do not typically hear about DXM, or if they do, they aren't willing to try it on the suggestion of someone who is obviously outside the social norm.

As far as the silence of medical authorities goes, my hunch is that at some point (probably when Romilar became popular as a recreational drug) the medical authorities and manufacturers of DXM-based preparations realized that they had two choices: take DXM off the market, or convince people they couldn't get high off of it. They took the latter approach, getting rid of DXM-only pills and leaving cough medicines in which DXM was combined with other ingredients. The majority of users decided it wasn't worth the effort of gulping down cough syrup (and possibly vomiting due to guaifenesin), and the public remained ignorant.

12.3   DXM "Drug Slang"

DXM doesn't have a drug slang like most other drugs, since its use has never been widespread. Instead, particular groups of users will make up their own terms for DXM and its phenomena. Here are some slang terms I have heard about. Keep in mind that my information is far from complete.

1) n Plateau. Thus, first base, second base, etc.
Evidently developed as a similar classification method for DXM dosage levels, independently of the FAQ's suggested terminology.

blue velvet
1) n Nitrous while on DXM c.f. velvet.
Probably a reference to the the David Lynch film of the same name and the use of nitrous oxide by one character, influenced by same derivation as velvet.

1) n DXM.
2) n Any DXM-containing preparation, especially Robitussin DM[TM] and generics.
3) v.i. To take DXM, esp. as cough syrup. c.f. robo.
From Robitussin DM[TM] and generic equivalents. These typically contain DXM and guaifenesin and probably became popular for recreational use in the early 1980's.

dex (also dextro)
1) n DXM
2) n Any DXM containing product
2) v.i. To take DXM.
Short for dextromethorphan.

1) n DXM, especially Drixoral Cough Liquid Caps[TM]
Fairly recent, and may be dated now that the brand is generally unavailable.

1) n An eight-ounce bottle of cough syrup. c.f. sixteener.
Used (evidently independently) among clusters of DXM users.

1) n 4-methylaminorex
2) n DXM (rare). Was evidently in very limited use before 4-MAR because known as a recreational drug.

1) v.i. To take DXM. Typically frying. c.f. fryarrhea.
Currently popular

1) n DXM-induced diarrhea c.f. fry.

1) n DXM
From the use of gelcap forms of DXM, also influenced by the feeling of "swimming through Jell-O[TM]".

groove c.f. vibe.
1) n DXM.
Possibly from DXM's effect on music and the sensation of being "in a groove", and riding with the flow of one's environment.

1) n The hangover effect of high-dose or binge DXM use, characterized by amotivational syndrome and avoidance. ex. I don't want to go to class; I still have the heebie-jeebies..
1980's hardcore punk subculture term.

Invisible Hat
1) n A feeling of light pressure partially or fully encircling the skull, very similar to the sensation of wearing a hat. Might be due to altered perception of one's hair.

1) v.i. To take DXM-containing cough syrups and ride up in down in elevators.
Evidently dates to the late 1960's and hasn't been used since then.

1) n DXM
Used only by one group of DXM users; suggested due to DXM's ability to "bring light" to one's memories and unconscious thoughts, not necessarily in a pleasant way. Unfortunately there are some rather negative connotations (added by Christianity) to this particular deity.

1) n DXM
German. "Persil Mega Perls" is a washing powder (detergent?) which resembles the little beads in the "tuss hustenstiller retard kapseln" DXM capsules produced by Dr Rentschler.

1) n 2-CB
2) n DXM (rare). Occasionally coined by DXM users unaware of the use of the term for 2-CB.
From the sensation of being at a temporal or cognitive "nexus point" where meanings, events, etc., begin to merge in nature, experieced on upper plateaus. Also influenced by the "nexus" in Star Trek: Generations, a region of space where "time has no meaning".

1) n DXM
Possibly from the movie Liquid Sky and the perceived similarities between DXM and the psychotomimetic aspects of heroin.

1) n DXM
Used by a small group of DXM users; derives from the sensation of rising into the air characteristic of the DXM rush.

1) n A DXM user

1) n DXM
2) n Any DXM-containing preparation, esp. Robitussin[TM] cough syrup. ex. Hand me that bottle of robo..
3) v.i. To take DXM, usually by drinking cough syrup. ex. I roboed last night..
From the popular brand Robitussin[TM], possibly influenced by the robot-like behaviour sometimes characteristic of DXM intoxication.

robo-cop (also robocop)
1) n Any store employee who keeps track of DXM purchases and/or requests proof of age with purchase. ex. You go buy; the robo-cop there recognizes me..
A pun on the movie of the same name, from "robo" + "cop" (English slang for police officer).
2) v To shoplift a DXM-containing preparation. Transitive or intransitive. ex. I just robo-copped a bunch of bottles for this weekend..
Again, a pun on the movie of the same name; from "robo" + "cop" (American slang meaning to steal or grab)
3) interj A "code word" exclamation made to indivate that one uses DXM; such drug "code words" are often used where open discussion is unwise.

robo-dose (also robodose)
1) v.i. To take DXM.
From "robo" + "dose" (to take a drug). Noun form does not seem to be used.

Robo Itch (also The Itch) (also Tussin Itch)
1) n A usually transient phase of intense itching that some people experience on DXM.

Robo Ring
1) n The tamper-evident plastic ring present on some bottles (typically glass) of cough syrup. Placed on the finger, it is a "covert" signal of familiarity with DXM to other DXM users.
The practice seems to be fairly recent, dating to later 1980's.

robo-shits (also roboshits)
1) n Diarrhea from drinking cough syrup.

Robo Shuffle (also The Shuffle) (also Tussin Shuffle)
1) n Disturbance in gait consisting of rigidity and "robot-like" movements, often involving slow, shuffling movement. Typical with high doses of DXM.

1) n DXM
Recent; meaning "red", this term refers to the usual color of syrups and gelcaps containing DXM. Interestingly similar to "robo".

1) n The desire to roll around, do cartwheels, spin, or otherwise engage in motions that alter one's perception of gravity and position; the roly-polies occur to some people during or after a DXM trip. Probably due to altered processing of signals from the middle ear (vestibular signals).
1980's hardcore punk subculture term. Singular is not used.

sea legs
1) n Disturbance in gait and balance somewhat like walking on land when accustomed to ocean balance (or vice versa). Differs from the "Robo Shuffle" in that this disturbance usually involves large, fluid, sweeping motions. Typical with low doses of DXM.
Late 1980's/early 1990's DXM users.

1) n A sixteen-ounce bottle of cough syrup (rare). c.f. eighter.

spacing (also skying)
1) adj. Intoxicated on DXM at third or fourth plateau level.

1) adj. At third plateau or above.

1) v.i. To take DXM. c.f. tussin.

1) n DXM
2) n DXM-containing cough syrup. c.f. robo.
From generic brands called "Tussin" after Robitussin[TM].

Tussin Toss (also "tossin' the Tussin")
1) n The act of drinking cough syrup.

1) n DXM c.f. blue velvet.
Probably from the sensation of being wrapped up in velvet that some experience on DXM.

vibe c.f. groove.
1) n DXM.

worm, the (also skinworm)
1) n The sensation of having something (described as an "invisible worm") crawling beneath one's skin, typically on the arms, chest, or face; appears rarely with DXM use.

12.3.1   Non-American DXM Drug Slang

I have a little bit of information on (modern) drug slang in Germany. Please forgive (and make me aware of) any typoes. The following phrases are, according to one person, used among his group of DXM users. "Rentschler" refers to the manufacturer of the DXM capsule brand tuss hustenstiller retard kapseln.

Other German DXM users refer to DXM As "Mega-Perls" (see above).

12.4   How do I Tell My Friends I'm Getting High off Cough Syrup?

Good question. Lots of people consider DXM to be a "second-class" drug, good only for people who can't get the real thing. Here's some things to try and point out:
* Heroin was originally marketed as a cough suppressant. Nobody's calling it a kiddie drug now!
* DXM is in the same drug class as PCP and ketamine ("Vitamin K" or "Special-K"), with an added stimulant effect functioning like that of Ritalin or cocaine. Oh goodie!
* DXM's recreational use potential has probably been purposefully hidden by the medical community. So not only do you get a drug, you also get conspiracy theory material as well!
* DXM may have been a popular psychedelic before LSD was.
* DXM targets five different receptor sites - that's five times the complexity of most drugs.
* So what if you puke from drinking cough syrup? Peyote can make you puke, too!
* DXM is a three-letter acronym just like PCP, LSD, DOB, DOI, and THC (not to mention FBI, CIA, NSA, FEMA - oops, sorry, that's four letters).
* It must be interesting, because some neuropharmacology geek (yours truly) has now spent over 3000 hours researching and writing a book about it.
Note: In response to one criticism about this section ... get a fucking sense of humor! Believe it or not, people do seem to trust you more when you show yourself to be a normal human being and not a dry, humorless paragon of virtue.