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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 (313 Responses)
  1. PKRBKR

    This is all the result of drug prohibition. People will find a way to get high somehow, raiding the medicine cabinet is just easier than getting ahold of weed or shrooms. You're kid won't overdose on marijuana, but he could screw himself up pretty bad on cough syrup, paint thinner, glue, asphyxiation, prescription meds, or whatever else is more readily available around the house. America has wasted a lot of time focusing on saving people from the wrong kind of drugs.

    July 8, 2010 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CalgarySandy, Calgary, AB

      Yuppers. My mom worked in a small town drug store during the Great Depression. She had a list of people who were not allowed to buy aftershaves, canned heat, or shoe polish. People WILL get high. That is the only indisputable fact of the whole drug thing. All animals get high. Little kids spin until they fall over. It is was past time to take drug use seriously by looking at and accepting the facts. Anyone with a tiny bit of intelligence and knowledge knows that using lies does not get you a suitable solution. The fact is: Mammals get high and nothing will stop them in that pursuit. We need to make it safe not try to abolish it or think we can control it. The war on drugs has been a war on people and it has done nothing to keep people safe and everything to make the cartels stronger. If marijuana had just been treated like alcohol then many people would never have met a drug dealer and never been offered hard drugs. There are likely thousands of kids who are dead because they wanted to try this getting high thing. They wanted weed but got crack. That would not happen with a bootlegger. The company store is always open. 🙂

      July 8, 2010 at 17:29 | Report abuse |
    • Agent Lemon

      Aqua Velva used to have so much alcohol in it that sailors used to drink it back in WWII. Then there's always Listerine and vanilla extract! Fun times. X-D

      July 9, 2010 at 05:45 | Report abuse |
  2. Joe

    After reading this report, kids will want to try it. If it's dangerous, illegal, and freaks the parents out, it will be first on your kid's "to do" list. Now, this is old news. Anyone who's been alive since the 60's knows about this. So, what are you trying to do, CNN? Are you just making sure that this generation of teenagers is fully aware of an easily obtainable, over the counter dug that gets you "high" when consumed in mass quantities? Will we be seeing this report again in 2020? Don't let us down, CNN!!!

    July 8, 2010 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • George

      I'm in my 40s and I never heard of this, but if it's half as good as CNN says it is, I'll definitely give it a whirl.

      July 8, 2010 at 16:14 | Report abuse |
  3. D

    Yea...did this in college a few times..better trip than shrooms...the only bad part is the horrible taste of cough medicine..We would drink a bottle and fight to not throw up from the taste of it..but its a hell of a trip. Go for it..lol

    July 8, 2010 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Gary

    I guess what is frustrating is I remember back in the mid80s when we were teenagers there was just weed... Simple, couldn't OD, and cheap. So much for the good ole days...

    July 8, 2010 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. David

    that is great i love the creativity coming from younger generations. now if we could apply that to having actual news coverage of real things that matter and not this stupid crap we will be ok\

    July 8, 2010 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. davec

    How in the world do you turn this into a gun tirage?

    July 8, 2010 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. davec

    Jibber jabber. All Augsbee is is jibber jabber.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Todd

    Spare me. This crap has existed for years... kids have been 'robo tripping' since the creation of Dextromorphan was found to help "coughing".

    July 8, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. relians

    i think it is ludicrous that i cannot purchase non-alcoholic beer without showing my id, but anyone can buy these and other much more dangerous articles without restriction.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Allan

    This was about as common as pot use when I was school 20 years ago... a little behind the times, CNN?

    July 8, 2010 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Alex Winter

    Kids have been doing this since the 1960s. Old, old, old news.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Alex

    Wow..Leave it to the Conservative Right Morons to bring Guns, the Bible and their Paranoia of the GOP taking away their rights.

    But who ever thought of kids abusing Cough Syrup. Wow. And I thought I heard everything!

    July 8, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. MikinAZ

    As far as abusing "other dangerous drugs" the article refers to...what drugs are more dangerous than the ones produced by big pharma? heroin maybe – but marijuana? you gotta be kidding – Plllleeeaz. Legalize the illegal (natural) ones (tax and regulate) then criminalize the ones that may cause death, deadly infections, uncers, and nausea, blindness (per the commercials) and unwanted hair growth on the palms – someone taking an allergy or depression medication is nauseaus and now needs to smoke one to get better. Who is behind all this lunacy – oh yeah follow the money to big pharma

    July 8, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Eric

    LOL, everybody tried robo tripping in the early 90's. They usually tried it when the pot supply was dry.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Mike

    Captain America... You're an idiot!

    July 8, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Adam

    First this is not news at all. Kids have been Robo tripping for a LONG time. I for one have always stayed on the natural side of these things but I heard a few years back that it was really hard to robo trip because there was something in put in them to make you sick. Appearently some poeple are so desperate for a legal high that they will fight through the sick just to feel that way.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. tasha

    People comment on CNN's topics and 'fearmongering' in reporting such as this....but I would be interested in anyone who can name one news agency/outlet that doesn't have bias and by default doesnt do the same thing? I like how people make it seem like CNN is the only news agency reporting on outdated issues and using 'fearmongering' of which I don't think this article does. This may have been done 10, 20 + years ago but the point is its being done STILL and if one teen reads this and thinks twice about doing it...then I'm all for recycling "old" news.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Coltfourfive

    I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Edub

    This is nothing new at all. I'm 32 years old and know people who did this when I was 16...16 years ago. So much for timely news! Lol

    July 8, 2010 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. NY'er

    Robo tripping is not NEW. I hate to admit it, but when I was 15 or 16, 60 minutes ran a piece on kids using DM to get a high. I recall going to the store and drinking a 16oz. bottle of it. I was lucky that all that happened was a rash, but this has been known for well over 20 years. We do not keep it in the house and it should be under lock and key in pharmacies. Back then it was called a ROBI TRIP...again, this is NOT NEW, just more sensationalized. The bigger problem is parmacies letting kids buy needles to satisfy heroin habits. They would rather them use clean needles instead of sharing. NO QUESTIONS ASKED ON THAT ONE and no parental consent needed!!

    July 8, 2010 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. A. Goodwin

    So, people 21-25 are choosing to drink cough syrup over alcohol? Now THAT is crazy. Go buy some Bud Light people and stop puking foam!!

    July 8, 2010 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Coltfourfive

      If you drink bud light, you will be puking foam. Buy a real beer, no light crap.

      July 8, 2010 at 14:41 | Report abuse |
  22. Matt

    "I have not seen anyone die, but I know of patients who have come close." - So we're not reporting any cases of this being lethal, but we're more than happy to treat it's killing kids left and right. I mean, no, you shouldn't let your kids do this kind of crap, but this is the same kind of hysteria inducing tripe that keeps medicinal marijuana off the ballots.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mr man

      Exactly. CNN can (should) be doing a better job with stories like these.. I'm sure there is some real news out there somewhere that isn't celebrity related or scare tactics.

      It's been a REALLY long time since I have seen any intelligent articles. If you write dumb articles, you are going to have dumb readers. Believe it or not, I think many CNN readers/ watchers are pretty smart. Except for the Conservative Republicans... Just kidding.. actually Im not.

      July 8, 2010 at 14:49 | Report abuse |
  23. Jason

    Wow and they say marijuana is bad. At least you don't see people going to emergency room from an overdose on that drug.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Ray

    This has been going on for years, people have been doing this since I was in high school and I'm 41 lol .... If you can get a buzz from it people will do it.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Chris

    This comes up like every 5-7 years. Give me a break, are we that short on news items that we are freaking out parents over this.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Howee

    This is nothing new. I can remember kids doing this in the early 1980's. I love that the auther calls this a "new trend" and attempts to sell scary news. This is what happens when CNN runs out of news to report. If anyone thinks this is a new trend they are an idiot.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Kevin Brosien

    This is not a new trend at all. In fact, I wrote a feature article about this while a student at Kent State University. You can read it here. http://www.burr.kent.edu/archives/1997/spring/cough/cough.html

    July 8, 2010 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. jimm

    Is this really news? Its very sad that CNN get find important and modern stories to fill up their website with.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Reena

    I remember kids did this when I was in high school, called it "roboing." didn;t south park do an episode on this years ago too? Way to be up on the times CNN. What's next, teen pregnancy?

    July 8, 2010 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Sniffit

    The only people screaming about gun control are the people opposed to it. Obama and the Dems have done NOTHING to increase gun control and have, in fact, reduced controls, making it possible to carry concealed weapons in state parks and on Amtrak. Moreover, the SCOTUS has recently shot down stricter gun control statutes. The whole "controversy" is a fabrication...it's just knee-jerk right-wing script for when they're not in control to say that there is a grave threat to gun rights, because it angers the mulletheads.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. OnlyRationalHumanLeft

    Umm, this was old news when I was a teenager 25 years ago. Dr. Panic is getting kinda desperate for ways to frighten you!

    July 8, 2010 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. magooo

    The main ingredient in a "Flaming Homer" is cough syrup. That weasel Moe tried to take all the credit for it though.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. GoodByeLebron!

    This is childish. Has the person that wrote this article ever robotripped? Its the coolest thing ever and nothing bad comes of it. Its not cocaine! Its DXM you cant OD on this stuff. You will just puke it up. So to all you people who think that you know every single BAD thin that drugs will do to you, please, go get hit by a train. Drugs are better for you in so many ways.

    Robotripping is for people that are too afraid to take mushrooms because all the antidrug people mention poison poison poison when they talk about mushrooms. Its like people taking adderall instead of cocaine because people talk so bad of cocaine when it is undoubtedly the greatest drug ever made.

    O and Lebron is going to Chicago

    July 8, 2010 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Dave

    This is so old, 15 years ago we were dealing with this issue in Alaska, kids were drinking upwards of 5 bottles in an hour to get the high. It kills brain cells, short term memory loss is the most reported after symptom, emotional damage comes later – frontal lobe damage. This is not a new thing.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Joe

    Way to be at least a decade behind the story. Will you be reporting on Marilyn Manson or the death of Kurt Cobain next?

    July 8, 2010 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      Wait, Cobain is dead?

      July 8, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse |
    • gen x

      Have you seen that new show Friends?

      July 8, 2010 at 15:06 | Report abuse |
    • Jason Turnboldt

      Ya theres this great place down the road from my house called "Starbucks"

      July 9, 2010 at 01:53 | Report abuse |
  36. Jennifer

    This is not a new concept. I am 35 and I know that this was a popular event amongst kids my age when I was in middle school.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. john

    good god this is old school stuff. I am 42 and when 14-15 yrs old we used to down 2 bottles of robotusin and have the best times ever. we called it "robing" 30 years later a story comes out on it?? way to be current and up to date on the goings on of teens

    July 8, 2010 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Matt

    Agreed, pretty stupid CNN. Way to go making me laugh at all the responses this has had.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. jeoj

    LOL!!!!
    Robo Tripping isn't new! I did this back in High School 11 years ago!
    Since dextromethorphan isn't illegal you can buy it in a pure powder form (typically purchased by caugh suppressant manufacturers) then take that powder and put it into capsuls for a cheap legal trip and you don't even have to consume large amounts of that nasty caugh syrup.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Jeff

    Robo Tripping has gone on forever and recently has been referred to as the C-Train as Corcidin HBP has been used since it contains dextromethorphan. This is geared towards those with high blood pressure, as you can imagine, taking a whole box would probably thin your blood. I can say that the best way to fight this trend is to educate teens on how this is not a FUN trip. I tested the drug to acid in college, the trip is comparable to a bad acid trip... all the paranoia without the thrills... it's absolutely pointless. Most of the time teens do drugs as it is euphoric or a life changing experience, this is not... Any teens reading this – This is not somethin worth trying and is very dangerous.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Buster Bloodvessel

    Darwin awards for everyone!

    July 8, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. molly

    This article is retarded.

    Most users report.... getting high and feeling good... That's why they do it, and have been for as long as I care to remember.

    This article is targeted at overly-fearful parents that themselves need to grow up and face their insecurities by having a serious face-to-face with their child.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. MML

    Yes leave it to CNN to find something "new" to scare parents with. This was common when I was in HS 20 years ago.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. thefrumpeter

    This isn't a new trend, just an attempt to make headlines. Kids have been trippin' on tussin' for years. What a piece of investigative journalism this is...NOT!!

    July 8, 2010 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Jason

    Brainwaves states achiveable by religious shamen and conciousness pioneers are not consistent from every trip inducing catalyst such as robo dm. When I recorded my album for Uncarved Block in 1994 I was swaying with the rolling breeze upon the flowers. It ruined my voice instead of improving it and did not create the exact aspect of magic I was trying to induce and record. I can say this because I know Robo is legal in this country just like flying on Ambien or other FDA approved change of focus in emotion or even the stagnant daily affairs that a person waits before passage to freedom or "a better state of living" (which also implies not throwing away your life on safe or dumb "drugs"). The reason I sang on robo was to complain about the local drug company in the town where we live, they make whatever for who ever no questions asked it's just a business. Right now there are several magical pills that may work one day for one person but for another on another day. I think if younger people who can't drink and are excited to safely find out about life's more inteligeable facets they should read mystical religions gifts and turn to a greater community on and offline. Once I was in my twenties I realized how amazing life could be and never took robo again, but I still love my band loosley based on the Tao of Pooh (Winnie "not physics") like a few other artists battling the drug problem in ther community. What can people do for fun, adults go to the bar but because children and teens don't have money from allowance or gifts and teens usually are tired from early school schedules so no business cater to their low money intrest in going out on weekends instead of playing video games. 02

    July 8, 2010 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. McCluck

    What is interesting is that Dextromethorphan is metabolized by one of the cytochrome p450s (enzyme family). The type of cyp you have is extremely variable in the population. In different individuals the function of this enzyme ranges from extremely poor metabolizers all the way up to the ultra rapid metabolizers. Depending on which type you have, some people convert more dexromethorphan to toxic metabolites than others. Here at our hospital, we see children who have taken a normal dose of dextromethorphan yet are tripping as though they are on PCP. These children are extremely intoxicated and can actually die. Because of the close structure to PCP, dextorphan (a metabolite of dextromethorphan) causes a false positive in drug screens and shows up as Phencyclidine. PCP can cause similar effects as robotripping. If you robotrip and you are a poor metabolizer, you are going to be in bad shape and may die.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Internet Research

      Thank you, Wikipedia!

      July 8, 2010 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
  47. The Jackdaw

    I'm robotripping right now.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brunt

      Seeing this headline on CNN must be kinda trippy then. Have a good trip, my friend. Listen to some good music.

      July 8, 2010 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
  48. mr man

    New trend?? Really? This was hardly new when I tried it around 12 years ago when I was about 18 years old.

    The experience was so awful that I never considered doing it a 2nd time, I think pretty much all of my friends felt the same way.

    The experience with about a 2/3 red wine glass full was that it completely threw off my depth perception. One second a friend that was sitting about 8 feet from me looked like he was 50 feet from me, then another second he would appear to be very close to me. Or I would be standing in the hall with friends and they all seemed shorter than me even though they were all at least 5 inches taller than me (I'm the short guy).

    Then I would get extremely nauceous and sweat profusely as my body tried to purge the toxins..

    That's about it really..

    Honestly, kids are gonna try to get high off everything and anything so I would recommend parents just tell the truth and do the best they can to explain why they shouldn't do drugs but unfortunately there is no sure way to keep them from ever experimenting.

    As far as the journalism aspect of all this – using scare tactics is a really cheap way to deliver news, CNN. Aside from the awful editing of website articles, you guys sure are sinking low in getting the "non-news, not-even-tabloid-worthy" stuff out there a lot as well. Have some self respect, don't have a main headline be an article about some B list celebrity's month and a half old run in with some criminals, and that is far from the weakest "news" I have seen on the site. You can do better than that, CNN, have some self respect!

    July 8, 2010 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Wayne

    There is NOTHING NEW about robotripping. I knew kids doing that when I was in school, and that was decades ago. Heck, early this decade, MC Chris wrote a song about it, and it was old/well-known then.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. himminy

    PURPLE DRANK!

    July 8, 2010 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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