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July 8th, 2010
12:19 PM ET

Parents be warned: Your kids may be 'Robo tripping'

There's a trend among kids, dubbed "Robo tripping," and it's not the latest dance. In fact, "Robo tripping" is one of several colloquialisms used to describe getting high from - of all things - cough medicine.  (Get it? "Robo" or Robitussin.)

The high comes from ingesting large doses of dextromethorphan, found in over-the-counter cough suppressants such as syrups and lozenges.

"I was looking for something that was easy to find, easy to do...even though I know...that this is not good, that this is wrong," said Shannon, whose story about abusing dextromethorphan as a teenager appears on the Partnership for a Drug-Free America website.

It is that ease that may be the biggest problem.

"These drugs are very often sitting in the medicine cabinet at home," said Dr. Michael Entrup, an anesthesiologist at Rhode Island Hospital. "What parent would think, 'My kid is abusing cough syrup'?"

Parents seem to be aware of other, more obvious drugs and their  potential risks to children - heroin, cocaine, alcohol and marijuana, for example.  Experts say that many are in the dark about the dangers of "Robo tripping."

"I know of cases where kids who were previously healthy come into the emergency room [after overdosing] with wide blood pressure swings, with disturbances in heart rhythm...problems with motor function," said Entrup, director of the Massachusetts Society of Anesthesiologists. "I have not seen anyone die, but I know of patients who have come close."

It is difficult to imagine near-death at the hands of a cough suppressant, but according to experts, it can happen. The danger comes when dextromethorphan-containing medications are taken with other stimulants such as caffeinated beverages, energy drinks, even prescription drugs to treat ADHD.

"It's playing with fire," said Entrup. "The ingredients in prescribed dosages don't usually cause problems, but when taken in higher dosages, and with other drugs...it could be potentially lethal."

Most often users report hallucinating, feeling dizzy or nauseated, vomiting, confusion, rapid heart beat, even numbness in the extremities.

According to a 2006 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey more than 3 million people age 12 to 25 had used cough medications to get high. Among patients rushed to the emergency room for non-medical use of dextromethorphan, about half (48 percent) were aged 12 to 20, according to SAMHSA.

"I would get nauseous to the point where I couldn't stand up," said Shannon. "I actually would start foaming. It's so gross to say but, when I would be getting sick I was throwing up foam...It was horrible."

And then there is what drug abuse by a teen or pre-teen suggests.

"The fact that someone is looking to abuse a drug, puts them in a category where they're more likely to abuse another drug," said Dr. Daniel Frattarelli, chair of the Committee on Drugs for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "It's not safe just because it's over the counter."

The American Society of Anesthesiologists offers tips for recognizing dextromethorphan abuse: an unusual medicinal smell on your child's breath; empty or missing cough medicine bottles; a sudden change in your child's physical appearance, attitude and/or sleeping habits; and visits by your child to pro-drug websites.

Even with the absence of the more glaring signs, experts recommend parents have a conversation about the potential dangers of "Robo tripping" with their kids.


soundoff (309 Responses)
  1. DEC

    I am 36 now and for most of my life up until about 5 years ago, I took cough syrup to get high. I must have taken over 1000 bottles easy. It got to the point that I eventually became homeless. It is all documented on my website http://www.jesusfresus.com. This drug should be taken off the shelves. There is no drug more sinister than this one.

    July 9, 2010 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • HI

      You don't think that you're to blame? There are many ways to get high, just because your dumb enough to use a drug for purposes other than its intentions doesn't mean that everyone else is that retarded as well.

      August 20, 2011 at 17:45 | Report abuse |
  2. Andy

    Yes, everyone knows this is old news, but a lot of parents are unaware of this. I've seen kids end up in an ambuance from this, benadryl, and other OTC drugs. It's coming back in style. It's a cheap (sometimes even free) way to get high. Kids think it's safe because it is legal. We shouldn't HAVE to educate anyone on the dangers of OTC drugs, but the truth is, we do. My parents know nothing about Robotripping, and I know a lot of other parents don't either. You guys are acting as stupid as the kids downing a bottle to get high.

    July 9, 2010 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JPB

    The death and seizure warnings make me laugh.
    DXM is a dissociative anesthetic, similar to PCP and Ketamine, which are used as animal tranquilizers.
    You will definitely not get seizures from a tranquilizer.

    Overdose would certainly be miserable, but would just make you puke and pass out (much safer than an alcohol overdose, and BTW, you'll feel a little 'slow' but fine the next day).

    The dangers from this are primarily:
    1) Doing something stupid while intoxicated (like driving, taking drugs that don't mix well, etc.)
    2) Overdosing on other possible active ingredients (like pseudoephrine, a potent stimulant that could strain your heart)
    3) Not liking it. Liking it too much.

    July 9, 2010 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jason Turnboldt

    HAHAHAHA...... are you serious????? These people(CNN) are so damn out of the loop its getting ridiculous...... this shit is super super old guys ...... wake the hell up you sheep at cnn... who is telling you what to pay attention to?? ......you reporters.....LOL

    July 9, 2010 at 01:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Damascus

      Jimi Hendrix used to do this back in his day. Greatest drug ever!

      October 17, 2011 at 06:48 | Report abuse |
  5. Eric Holder

    Yeah, we get this non story and not one article on the white hating race baiting cnn.com about how armed black panthers intimidated voters during the Obama election and the Obama administration ordered DOJ attorneys to ignore subpoenas and to drop the charges in the greatest violation of the voting rights act in history. Moreover, the DOJ attorneys were told to ignore any cases of hate crimes involving black defendants and whtie victims. As any rational person knows, a black person is 50 times more likely to attack a white than vice versa, and there is a virtual media blackout regarding the reporting of black on white crime.

    The voter intimidation (hate crime?) case has been reopened. But you wouldn't know that if you read Cnn.com. But, you can expect more articles like "Is your cat racist?"

    Expect to see in coming days more "Black in America" specials and more yellow journalism like "Does your doctor disciminate against you" and "Are babies racist?"

    Keep it up marxists. This has happened before. It didn't go over well.

    July 9, 2010 at 04:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • caliguy57

      Whoa!!! We have a real right-wing moron here whose probably a "birther" or "teabagger" member. Don't you have something better to do with your time than spreading your lies and hate? Why don't you try a little cough syrup? It might just fix your warped mind.

      July 22, 2010 at 09:15 | Report abuse |
  6. Agent Lemon

    There's a right way and a wrong way to do most anything. Regarding DXM, don't use it. The safe way to trip on DXM-containing meds is to make sure that they contain DXM ONLY (i.e. no guaifenesin, pseudoephedrine, acetaminophen, etc.), and to calculate the proper dose according to one's body weight and tolerance. DON'T mix w/ alcohol. First-time users should definitely NOT swill a bottle of maxi-strength Robitussin or Delsym. As with any psychoactive drug there are risks/dangers associated w/ long-term use. Know your product. http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dxm/faq/dxm_faq.shtml DON'T DO DRUGS.

    July 9, 2010 at 05:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Zsa

    Gupta, why are you so behind the times? You call this news? Bildow was doing this back in 1998: http://dxm.darkridge.com/text/bildow.html

    What next, Gupta? Are you going to announce "this crazy new drink called beer"?

    July 9, 2010 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. PiercedPsycho

    Oh my goodness! Oh golly gee, I NEVER knew you could get high off of cough syrup! My word, what earthshattering revelation will you next bestow on us, oh medical prophet?
    /sarcasm

    July 9, 2010 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Agent Lemon

    IT IS BY WILL ALONE I SET MY MIND IN MOTION: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1WNbCjM344

    July 9, 2010 at 20:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. SCallan

    Time to waste more tax dollars to pass laws that regulate cold medicine, all because .005% of the population may be abusing something. It is the American way after all.

    July 22, 2010 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Eric Bishop

    I have breaking news! When you children go to college, they might try marijuana. CNN needs to do a full report on this. The kids call it "getting high", "getting baked" and a number of other strange phrases.

    July 22, 2010 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Blah

    lolhayguysethisstuffisoldnewsWHATDOYOUTHINKYOU'REDOINGCNNOHMAHGAWDGETWITHTHEPROGRAMLOLOL.

    Seriously, 90% of these comments pretty much sounded like that to me. ^^^

    You would be surprised how many parents aren't even aware of the dangers of cough syrup, i.e. the article on here about parents doping up their children on cough syrup and Benadryl in hopes to shut them up, but they end up killing them. Instead of bitching about how CNN is reporting an old story, be glad it's being brought to other parents' attention. Better safe than sorry.

    At the same time, you can get high from anything. Nail polish, nail polish remover, hairspray, rubbing alcohol, permanent markers, dry-erase markers...be glad that the information is out there. All we can do is put the knowledge out there and be educated.

    July 22, 2010 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. DJ Toker

    What was Dr. Gupta on when he thought this was news? Society in general is blind to what the real dangers are while continuing the condemnation of pot. However, looking at the comments here, I can tell that things are improving as far as the public mindset. Let's hope that prop 19 passes in California in September which will be a smack in the face of all the fear mongers out there who continue to preach reefer madness.

    July 22, 2010 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. SZB

    I hope they don't put this stuff behind the counter like they did with more effective cold and allergy meds. It is a pain to have to ask for it , especially when you are really sick and just want to be left alone and get home ASAP. I like to compair lables and buy the meds that exactly fit my symptoms. They get reall upset if you ask to see a whole bunch of products and spend a few minutes compairing the lables.

    July 27, 2010 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Oli

    This is one of the most biased texts I've read in my life. I'm not even going to bother addressing how retarded this is, but, I will address you with one question: What are the potential dangers of 'abusing' Dextromethorphan by itself in sub-toxic (potential LD50) levels? I guarantee you don't know, but you can just go ahead and put whatever you feel like under the 'effects' category, they'll believe you.

    Also, if you did the research yourself instead of portraying whatever doesn't appeal to you as 'bad', you'd find that 'Pro-drug' websites are honest and informative, whether this shit is extremely biased and superfluous. That doesn't matter though, because these dumbasses actually believe everything the media tells them. Enjoy your ratings.

    September 15, 2010 at 05:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Logan

    This definatlwy needs to be stopped. Over the counter please. Thi is especially dangerous to first timers!! I did it. I was with friends and we couldnt get anything else. They wanted weed, i wasnt gonna do it. But then they tol me about robotripping. I did it because i thought, so do many other good kids that its just cough syrup. It not even illegal to by like marijuana or anything. So i did it. I didnt puke r anything but halfway through i was scare for my life i hate it. It can lead to so many things. Please stop this. My friend bought 3 bottles of syrup and 2 bottles of pills and walgreen didmt do a thing because they cant. There needs to be a limit.

    September 15, 2010 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Coola

    Yes dxm is bad, but for any of you planning to try it I know this won't dissuade you, so be shure to purchase only cough syrup with DXM nothing else to avoid OD. Also as for abusing hemp I find nothing wrong with this except that it is illegal, to be honest the demonization of hemp has caused us to lose one of the most useful plants which provided paper,fuel and cloth in our early days as colonists. Our founding fathers grew hemp and this demonization which occurred with the film "reefer madness" is almost completely filled with medically unsupported claims.

    December 27, 2010 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Dextroman

    The only people that manage to end up in the hospital are the retards that don't even look at the liable and end up taking 8000 mg of Tylenol. People who actually look and just take dxm are completely fine. Just because somebodies parents take them to the hospital because they were "acting funny" doesn't mean they ODed and it doesn't mean they HAD to go to the hospital. Robotripping is relatively harmless If you do it right

    May 23, 2013 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.