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 (1,216 Responses)
  1. Audrey

    This article is pathetic.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Texas Pete

    South Park already did an episode on this, so there is no way this is new.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. clutzycook

    Great, just one more thing you'll practically have to supply a DNA sample in order to purchase. What happened to just using good old-fashioned crack?

    July 8, 2010 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jason

    Yeah, new trend. I remember doing this in 1993, throwing up and getting incredibly itchy. Mild hallucinations at best. Not a good buzz. My advice to kids out there would be to just go straight for the good stuff and get it out of your system while you're young.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Noyb

    Once again, another teenage trend that would have been news years ago.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. pedro

    i thought you invented this!

    July 8, 2010 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Julia

    Heyhey 10 years late to the party. Next they'll be warning us about the "new" trend of kids huffing the methane gas from their own s**t to get high...but that's been around forever as well. Seriously, though, bet you did give some preteens an idea they never had before.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Mike

    Good job CNN, your only 15 years behind. This was popular in the 90's. This is no "New" trend. Way to be up with the times.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. CATom

    Let them drink as much as they want. Natural selection...we really need to weed out the dumb ones just like in the cowboy days. The dumb ones never survived in the old days. It goes against nature to keep the dumb ones alive via good healthcare when by all rights they should be dead and not a burden on society anymore.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ghest

      I used to do this maybe 3 times when I was young and poor. When you want to get high, you find a way. Thankfully, I found out LSD is much better and WAY safer. Now, I'm 26, work 6 days a week and have a Bachelors degree. My point is, drug use does not equal stupidity. It just means you're curious about experiences available to you in life. You only have 1 life and you can make your own choices on what you choose and choose not to experience. You can't group everything into one big bad DRUG category (LSD vs. Meth = not even near related) and assume they're all evil and have no point. If you have self control, you can do whatever you want.

      July 8, 2010 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
  10. big meech

    as Wayne said, this is not new. my friends and I did this in high school in the mid 90's, but we didn't have a silly name for it

    July 8, 2010 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Chris

    Echoing other comments............................ this is HARDLY new. I have been aware of it for 15+ years. I saw someone else say 20... Way to be on top of things CNN.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. ashley

    @realians There are many types of cough syrup that require an ID check, since you have to be 18 or older to puchase them. There are restrictions. And this article is ridiculous... "new trend?" Hardly.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. wally

    dey took r guns! gub'ment better naught take my guns.

    July 8, 2010 at 14:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. gen x

    I graduated high school in 1991 and I remember kids doing this. We called it "robotized." So, it's certainly not a "new trend." I can't imagine there are droves of kids drinking the stuff - it's fantastically disgusting.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jeff

    There is nothing new about saying there is nothing new about getting high on cough syrup. People have been doing that for over an hour...

    July 8, 2010 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. rev_cletus

    "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."

    "Visits...to pro-drug websites"??

    What – like PDR Online?

    Jeepers...sure hope 'rents aren't as *dumb* as this cluck makes 'em out to be...

    July 8, 2010 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Kristian

    Robo new? How about this was old news in the 80's when I was in high school. The editor of this column should be fired.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. REPOST

    'A new trend'? Kids have been robo tripping for years. Stop working your scare tactics on America CNN, go put coverage on something RELEVANT TO TODAY

    July 8, 2010 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. ytom

    um kids weere doing this 20 years ago when i was in middle school. this isnt a "new trend" at all

    July 8, 2010 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • person75

      no kidding this was around in the early 90s for sure. i knew people who did this.

      July 8, 2010 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
  20. Norm

    Wow this has been going on for decades. "A new trend".
    How about making me another "Flaming Moe"

    July 8, 2010 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      Ok, you're another Flaming Moe.

      July 8, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse |
  21. kevin John Gil

    This was a SouthPark episode – kids needed ideas for their school TV News show.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Susan Neely

    Last November I had a bad cough so I went to the cough medicine aisle at a local Walgreens. I used to be in the biz so I was rather shocked to find ten facings each for the grape and orange flavored Delsym in two different places. DM is useful for dry hacking coughs, but the Delsym dosing is very tricky. The directions say 10 ml(2 teaspoonfuls) every 12 hours. This is NOT the cough medicine of the past. Even the two teaspoonful dose produced unwanted buzzing in my brain. I was actually awake all night. Once ingested, the effects of this medicine could last up to twelve whole hours. I can only imagine how horrible it would be to swallow the whole bottle. There are places that require ID to buy Delsym, but it is not the law,yet. I believe dispensing should be done by the pharmacst as with psuedoephedrine. Yes..I have told the government.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dexter

      Actually, Delsym is a bad choice for recreational use... Dextromethorphan Polystirex is used to make it a time-released drug. Unfortunately, it also gives you the runs in high doses.

      July 8, 2010 at 16:22 | Report abuse |
  23. Michael Wong

    The APA should define a new disorder called "NRA Tourette's Syndrome", where the sufferer blurts out NRA talking points at random, even if they have absolutely nothing to do with the subject of discussion.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Hilarious

    Took my first 8oz trip in 1987...sounds like a new trend. Stephanie Smith needs to get out more!!!

    July 8, 2010 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Michael S

    Way to be behind the curve on this one.... As a product of the late 80's and the 90's, I knew about robo tripping 10-15 years ago. I never did it, but I knew people who did... 1 guy even got his hands on some refined dxm and tripped bad enough to have medics and police called... they supined him because they thought he could be on something like PCP....

    July 8, 2010 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Buster Bloodvessel

    So, we're against alcohol, drugs, guns, cough medicine, possibly gay marriage, and what else? I say Pit Bulls; they kill more people than gay marriage does for sure. And cars; everyone knows cars kill people. So cars, alcohol, guns, drugs, gay marriage, cough medicine, and Pit Bulls. Let's make the world a better place and ban everything all at once. Who's with me?

    July 8, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Jon Jon

    Ummm wow, maybe we should make something legal that, something that has no history of causing overdoses, one with no synthetically created chemicals, something natural that doesn't kill kids, I used to do crazy shit like this sometimes, luckily I have wisened up with age and recognize id rather face going to jail smokin pot, than to end up dead from anything else, JUST FYI if ur kids gettin high u cant stop them, U get high too, every one gets high some how, for some its food for some its money for some its sex, if your Kid is getting high using substances, You should probably steer em towards pot, and if you worried about their poor little lungs get em a vaporizer.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Ghest

    Wow this is news to me, now if they can just tear down that damn Berlin Wall.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • db

      Ha Ha Ha.. that's just plain old awesome right there.

      July 8, 2010 at 17:29 | Report abuse |
  29. Bubba

    There used to be a county in Texas where alcohol was banned and drug laws were severe, and the kids all snorted spray paint to get high. The toilets were all smeared with paint that went through their systems and was excreted.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. KT

    Wow....nice to see your on top of it...we were robo tripping in high school AND middle school. i graduated in 04....amazing....

    July 8, 2010 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. 139

    New? Kids've been doing this a long time.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Andrew

    This is a new trend? I did this like 8 years ago. Big deal, move on, let the kid trip for 8 hours.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. D'oh!

    Sure you get to fight in the breastriary, and swim in the Fountains of Varnoth with the Ittytitty Fairies of Mammary Mountain. Then you fight the boobgoblin in the gazongas cave, and the girl may thank you. But she isn't real...and you never get a good look at her naked b00bs anyway.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Daood

    With more kids Robotripping(TM), I'm sure there will be more gun violence in Imagination Land, and even more incoherent babbling and drooling on pillows in reality. Lets hope the Machine Elves are ready.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. thedoc

    this is not new
    10 year or more has this been going on
    d u m b reporter
    DO research

    July 8, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Longstar

    I don't think "Gun" is a proper noun.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. DSessom

    This is not news. I'm 40 and kids were chugging Nyquil and Robotussin when I was a teenager in the 80's.
    They also like to get "high" on Benadryl, night time Tylenol, and any assorted cold medicine.
    If you want to see something really scary – go to Youtube and search for "Salvia trip". That's a type of sage that is concentrated into a powerful hallucinogen and smoked. The trip lasts only 5-10 minutes, but some types are more potent than acid or mushrooms, and it's still legal in most of the US states.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Monica Gee

    What is wrong with our society? Do we have to get these kind of "kicks" to be happy? What about natural highs? The problem is that there is this culture of drug use and it's very destructive. I never used drugs and I never will. I don't need them. I can find many ways to amuse myself that don't involve messing with my neurons. We need to change the way people think about drinking and drugs. The kids here are not to blame. They are young and stupid. They are also just reflecting the culture around them. No one is teaching them that they will have a great life without the " experimental" drug phase. That is a load of S***. We need the country to wake up and stop being so stupid. Millions of lives are ruined every year through addiction. Billions of dollars are spent. Why ? Because people are fundamentally foolish. If you ask a 6 year old if drugs are bad they will tell you yes. Education is doing its job. If only I could find the magic solution to make people wise. This hurts not only the people using illicit substances, but it funds the most evil people in the world. I hate drugs and everything that comes with it. I wish people would simply grow up and wake up. This is a national responsibility and this sadly, is a country of self absorbed infants.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DSessom

      You mean to tell me that you have never had a beer, a glass of wine, any kind of alcoholic beverage, or a cigarette?
      If so, you are in a tiny minority. 99% of all adults have consumed alcohol to the point of intoxication at one point in their lives, and alcohol IS a drug. In fact, it is one of the more dangerous drugs in human history.
      It is simply a fact that we as humans enjoy the effects of cirtain chemicals, and that will never change. But instead of having archaic drug laws like we do now, we need to decriminalize drugs, educate the youth and the public, and treat those with addiction problems.

      July 8, 2010 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      Monica, if you don't want to do drugs you don't have to. That's what it means to live in a free country. The other side of that coin is that you don't get to tell everyone else how to live their life if it isn't harming yours. The vast majority of the damage caused by drugs is due to do-gooders making everything they don't like illegal. It creates the black market and the drug dealers and the massive profit motive. That is the end result of the nanny state.

      But you should know, if most of humanity didn't enjoy using drugs, we'd still be hunter-gatherers living in caves. It was the discovery of alcohol that caused farming to become widespread. And from farms came civilization. So when you go home to your non-cave house and electric appliances, thank those who enjoyed messing with their neurons.

      July 8, 2010 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
  39. Norm

    Go jump off a bridge and put an end to our sufferring....

    July 8, 2010 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. BlackCat

    SouthPark did an episode on Robo tripping, and an episode on "cheesing" (male cat urine).

    July 8, 2010 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Mike

    Well, part of the problem is that too many parents love money, and worry too much abut losses, no jobs, and that creates an unhappy family, which makes kids look to entertain themselves otherwise. Money is OK, living it is not. It makes no one really happy, never has and never will. Yet we never learn, do we?
    I know that children cannot have 24 by 24 supervision, there will always be times when no one is around. Now, since human beings love to copy behavior, kids who get high often know those who use drugs, read about drugs, and see it on the TV, and since no one talks with them in a way to help them think, they go off an edge.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eric from RTP

      how about.. it is human nature... and what is good and bad depends on your view....

      July 8, 2010 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
  42. Random Anonymous Blackmail

    Some of my friends used to do drink a bunch of Robitussin and trip out 20 years ago, I feel so naive for not knowing it was called "Robo Tripping".

    July 8, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Jeremiah

    Robo-Tripping is not new. I am 33 and I knew of kids that would Robo-Trip in the mid 90's. In fact, it was a fad to Robo-Trip while watching the Wizard of Oz and listening to Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Eric from RTP

    This is not new... call it what you want Robo-tripping, Happy-training, using codeine or simply using narcotics.. it is all the same and has been done by drug users for decades....

    July 8, 2010 at 15:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Mike

    A low economy makes so many people angry, sad, depressed, yes people just love to do strange things, we love to see what our bodies can take, and that happens mostly when we forget that God is our heavenly Father.
    When we let the flesh be stronger than the spirit. The flesh seeks destruction, likes pain, defacement, loves lust, and addictions.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. BALTY

    Like they said before, nothing new. I had friends that did this in the mid 90's. I had always heard it started in the Navy on the submarines because they had no access to alcohol, so they drank cough syrup and tripped.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Tylox

    This has been going on forever, which is why cough syrup has that nasty flavor to discourage chugging.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. robertmarlie

    hahaha kids have been robo-tripping for YEARS, this is not news...and if you are a young teen who can't afford legitimate narcotics, but you treat cough syrup as a pseudo-psychadelic, then you deserve to overdose. and the journalist who wrote this should probably find a new job.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. CheckThisOut

    Robo-Tripping is so yesterday, the real fun is in the land under the kitchen sink

    July 8, 2010 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Franni

    Like Balty said, military people used to do the same thing for decades. The cough syrup had so much alcohol in it, it was called "G.I. Gin". Kids would fake a cold to get it from the dispensary all the time.

    July 8, 2010 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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