For parents that suspect their child is using drugs, it is important to know about the dangers associated with “robotripping”. Robotripping is the recreational use of large doses of over-the-counter medication containing DXM (dextromethorphan). Dextromethorphan is the active ingredient found in many over-the-counter cough syrups and cold medicines, but when taken in high quantities, DXM can produce a hallucinogenic stupor and severe psychoactive effects.
Cough and cold medications containing dextromethorphan are found in Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid locations across the country, making them extremely easily accessible. While some people might not take dextromethorphan abuse seriously, or think it’s a simple way to get high, robotripping can lead to some serious health risks including dependence and serotonin syndrome. This article will help you learn about the dangers of robotripping and dextromethorphan abuse, and how to recognize it in your child or loved one.
What is Robotripping?
The term “robotripping” refers to the recreational use of large doses of over-the-counter cough medicines containing DXM (dextromethorphan). When these cough and cold medications are taken in higher than recommended doses, they can result in intense high and hallucinogenic effects.
The “Robo” in the name comes from the popular cough suppressant brand, Robitussin, which contains DXM. However, this drug is found in many other over-the-counter cough suppressant medications as well. Some of the many products that contain Robotripping and that carry the potential risk of substance abuse include:
- Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold
- NyQuil LiquiCaps
- Triaminic Thin Strips
- Vicks DayQuil
In addition, many non-brand name products in your local pharmacy might contain DXM combined with other active ingredients like acetaminophen and pseudoephedrine. Prescription medications given to your child might also contain DXM. To know whether or not a product contains DXM, check the active ingredients listed on the box.
Is Robotripping New?
Unfortunately, robotripping is not a recent trend. DXM abuse and abuse of OTC medications in general have existed in the US for quite some time. Surveys showed that robotripping peaked in 2006, but has only slowly dwindled since 2011. Still, many states are not regulating DXM and it remains a potential danger to anyone abusing it.
Who Abuses DXM?
In 2006, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded the campaign known as the Monitoring the Future survey. Results from this survey showed that the group that abuses DXM the most are teenagers aged 12-17. The survey revealed that 5.4% of 8th to 12th-grade students reported having abused dextromethorphan at least once in the past year.
The effects of DXM abuse can range from mild to extreme, depending on the amount taken and the user’s physical and mental condition. Therefore, it’s vital for parents to recognize the signs of DXM abuse in their teens. In addition, a person can clandestinely consume DXM, so it’s essential to watch out for the signs of cold medicine abuse in your loved ones.
How Are Children Abusing This Drug?
You can find a plethora of stories online about the psychological and physical effects, reduced pain perception, and auditory and visual hallucinations that a person experiences during a robotripping experience. In many cases, teenagers or young adults are separating the pills from their packaging and swallowing dozens of capsules at once. Others might take higher doses of liquid over-the-counter medications in order to get a greater effect. Some of the many ways people consume this drug include:
- Drinking bottles of cough syrup
- Swallowing large doses of gel capsules or pills
- Mixing powdered DXM with food or drinks
- Snorting crushed tablets
- Mixing cough medicine with soda or other liquids (such as in the popular “lean” drink)
The higher the doses, the higher the risk of dangerous side effects like serotonin syndrome, toxic psychosis, overdose, or drug addiction.
Teens and young adults might take anywhere between 100 mg to 1,500 mg or more to achieve a high. At this level of substance abuse, dextromethorphan turns from cough medicine to a dangerous hallucinogenic, deliriant drug.
Abusers of cough and cold medicines usually refer to the large doses they take as a means to achieve a certain “plateau” of intoxication.
- First Plateau: Mild intoxicating effects and inebriation after consuming 100 mg to 200 mg.
- Second Plateau: Feelings similar to alcohol intoxication and, occasionally, mild hallucinations. Short-term memory impairment and mildly slurred speech after consuming 200 mg to 300 mg.
- Third Plateau: An altered state of consciousness. Senses, such as depth perception and vision, can become impaired after consuming 300 mg to 450 mg.
- Fourth Plateau: Mind and body dissociation or feeling detached, having an “out-of-body” experience after consuming 450 mg or more.
Unfortunately, with so many stories and information online, it can be quite easy for teens and young adults to learn how to abuse medications containing dextromethorphan. Information on dextromethorphan toxicity and substance use disorders are less common online.
What are the Dangers of Robotripping?
Robotripping can lead to a range of dangerous health risks due to the large doses taken by users. The effects of robotripping can be unpredictable, and the way a person’s mind and body might react to the substance can vary greatly. Taking too much can result in serious health risks. The effects of robotripping lead to dangerous symptoms such as:
- Intense Hallucinations: Dangerous levels of DXM can lead to intense visual and auditory hallucinations. These can be extremely disorientating and can lead to erratic behavior.
- Nausea: Abusing DXM can also cause intense nausea and vomiting, further leading to dehydration.
- Seizures and Brain Damage: High doses of DXM can lead to seizures, brain damage, liver toxicity, and coma.
- High Blood Pressure: Taking higher doses of DXM than recommended can cause rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and drowsiness.
- Respiratory Depression and Lethargy: It is not uncommon for people who have abused this drug to experience slowed breathing and lethargy.
- Paranoia: High doses of DXM might cause paranoia, anxiety and in worst-case scenarios, psychosis.
- Organ Damage: High doses of DXM can lead to severe liver damage or even failure. In addition, it can put a strain on the kidneys leading to potential organ failure. That’s because cough syrup is often mixed with other medicines such as acetaminophen, which can be toxic to the organs.
- Death: It is possible for people to die from Robotripping due to an overdose or mixing other drugs with the medicine.
- Serotonin syndrome: Dextromethorphan is a serotonergic drug, and consuming too much DXM, or consuming DXM while on SSRIs or other antidepressant medications may result in serotonin syndrome.
Why Do Teens Abuse DXM?
There are many reasons teens might abuse DXM. While surveys now show that number of teenagers abusing DXM has decreased since the 2000s, there are many who use this drug to experience a high. Teens may abuse DXM for the following reasons.
Adolescents sometimes take part in risky activities or experiment with drugs to fit in with their peers. Around 8% of teens have reported using substances within the past month, with many wanting to “experiment” with cold medications or other substances.
Experimentation might seem innocent, and parents might even think it’s a normal part of growing up, but it can lead to more serious substance misuse if not addressed. Experimenting and mixing DXM with other substances can also lead to more dangerous consequences, such as overdose, organ failure, and death.
Many teens and young adults abuse drugs as a form of self-medication. Teen dextromethorphan users may have been prescribed DXM for a medical condition, such as a cold or allergies, but may become accustomed to the numbing, deliriant sensations that robotripping provides.
Additionally, teens might also be using this drug as an escape from their everyday life. For example, if they are facing peer pressure in school or problems at home they might take DXM as a way to temporarily escape the situation through robotripping effects.
Thinking It’s Safer
With so many deaths from opioids, some teens may think that DXM is a safer drug to take. Although not as risky as other forms of pain medicine like heroin or fentanyl, abusing dextromethorphan can be very harmful when consumed in excessive doses. They may not understand the potential consequences of taking large doses and could be risking their health by using it.
It’s important for parents to explain to their children the dangers of robotripping, such as hallucinations, nausea, depression, paranoia, dextromethorphan overdose, organ damage, and DXM overdose. Parents should also emphasize the importance of not mixing DXM with other drugs, as this could lead to more serious health risks.
Ease of Access
Unfortunately, not every state bans access to DXM, making it easier for teens to access this drug. Even with restrictions in place, it’s possible for teens to purchase DXM over the internet or even find it in a local store without an age limit.
It’s important that parents are aware of the dangers of robotripping and provide support for their children if they think they might be abusing DXM.
Know the Warning Signs
It’s important to know the warning signs of teens misusing DXM, in order to be able to intervene and help them if needed. Using DXM can, eventually, lead to the use of other illicit drugs or even substance use disorder.
Some warning signs include:
- Changes in behavior, such as mood swings or aggression
- Becoming withdrawn from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite, sleeping patterns, or lack of focus
- Engaging in risky behavior
- Getting caught with drug paraphernalia, such as empty cough syrup bottles
- Withdrawal symptoms such as stomach aches, nausea, high blood pressure, and tachycardia
If you notice any of these signs or suspicious activity, it’s important to talk to your teen and seek professional help so they can stop using before it becomes a serious problem.
It’s also important to educate your teen on the dangers of robotripping and ensure they know the risks involved, such as potential organ damage or death. Encourage them to talk to you about any issues they might be facing and build a supportive environment for them.
End Robotripping and Seek Help
Robotripping should not be seen as a harmless activity. It can lead to severe health problems and even death. If you think your teenager is abusing DXM, seek help immediately.
There are many resources available to help struggling teens get back on track and learn healthier coping mechanisms for dealing with stress or anxiety. Treatment centers, counseling sessions, and support groups can help you or your loved ones find relief. At Clear Behavioral Health, our team of certified addiction specialists can help guide you or your teen through the recovery process and provide support every step of the way. Our program will provide the tools and resources needed for a successful recovery journey.
If you or someone you know is struggling with Robotripping, don’t wait to seek help. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment program and get started on the path to sobriety.