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. KDUB

    Wow robo tripping has been around for at least 10 years now, way to pull up old information and call it news.

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

    Robo-tripping, skittling, etc. is very, very, very old news. There is no story here. Kids used to wander into 7-11, grab a bottle of robitussin DM, and chug it way back in the 90s, yes.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jim

    This article should have appeared 15 years ago. I'm 28 and I can recall hearing the word 'robo-tripping' used more than once when I was a young teen. I knew teens who would chug a bottle of this stuff and laugh uncontrollably for hours. This is nothing new, let me make that very clear. It's funny to read; "There's a new trend among kids, dubbed "Robo tripping," because the belated subject of this article is absurd.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. AKchic

    Wow – anti gun is anti drug? So, by that logic, my pro RESPONSIBLE gun means I am pro drug? Funny since I work in rehab.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Gina

    this is definitely not a new trend. they did an article about DXM back in 2003's Teen People magazine, and it started a new wave of 'robo-tripping' among people my age(16 back then).

    July 8, 2010 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Dan

    Oh my god, really? This is not a new trend people. CNN arrived to the 20th a bit too late. I had friends in high school and grade school in the early 90's doing this stuff and they learned it from older siblings/friends/relatives. Give me a break this is not news worthy.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dan

      *20th century.

      July 8, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Oh, just to be clear, this type of abuse shouldn't be ignored, but to call in a new trend is absurd.

      July 8, 2010 at 16:08 | Report abuse |
  7. bonzi65

    One thing they forgot to mention is robo tripping can have the opposite effect on a child with ADD/ADHD. We just spent a Sunday in ER with my 15 year old. She would stop breathing every time she started to fall asleep. We had to constantly wake her up so she would take a breath. The only thing the ER can do is start an I.V. and monitor B/P and EKG. I'm hoping she has learned a valuable lesson.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. DOM


    July 8, 2010 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. weallgotone

    What's next, toothpaste?

    July 8, 2010 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Matt

    Leave it to the media to pump even more paranoia and panic into parents abroad. Now we have to lock our medicine cabinets because Billy wants more than just Flintstones vitamins. This article is just so stupid and misleading. If kids want drugs all they have to do is make friends and live through highschool. The more precautions parents try and take, the more rebellious and annoyed their kids will end up being. If anything, this article belongs in some prison newsletter.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Justin

    This makes me laugh. I was doing this like 12 years ago. Southpark did a whole epidsode about robo-tripping like 3 seasons ago. This is old news. I would be more worried about the rittilan and adderol that doctors give to every kid out there.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. mARK

    Whoever the journalistic pratt is that wrote this nonesensical, outdated piece of trash of an article, needs to be troutsmacked as soon as humanly possible.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Kurt

    This isn't 'new'.....this has been around for over 15 years....get with the times.

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

    If people want to do drugs it should not be the government's responsibility to try to stop them. If they live a shorter life as a result, so what; it was their choice. Parents should teach kids why not to use drugs. It should not be expected that they won't do drugs due to the legal system. If someone harms or potentially harms someone as a result of doing drugs, (like driving) then they should face legal consequences.

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

    A.... NEW... TREND.... omg. Is Larry King in charge of this website now that he is retiring his show? This is seriously "last century" news - DECADES old "trend."

    July 8, 2010 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Jason

    Wow, welcome to 2002 CNN!

    Did you guys REALLY just hear about this?

    July 8, 2010 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Razzington

    This is not a 'new trend' – this has been going on for years. Don't see any new information here. BTW, I robotripped years ago and it was cool, but no where near as cool as tripping on acid!

    July 8, 2010 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. petergw11

    whatever happened to kids taking good old fashioned LSD?

    July 8, 2010 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • T

      Why would kids risk getting arrested and thrown in jail for LSD when the can legally go to the local drugstore and purchase a botlle of cough syrup for $5 and get a similar effect. Has anyone else noticed that the only businesses that are going up faster than banks, are drugstores???

      July 8, 2010 at 16:38 | Report abuse |
    • Anon

      T – I think he was being sarcastic.

      July 8, 2010 at 17:03 | Report abuse |
  19. Trevor, Austin, TX

    People have been drinking cough syrup to get high since the 70s. This is hardly a "new trend".

    July 8, 2010 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. TexasBoi

    That's funny that people up north are talking about this like it's new. Mix it up with some Sprite or if you are lucky enough to get it where you live BIG RED. My grandaddy was pourin' it up when he was a stank @ss kid.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Harrington D

    University of Delaware – Harrington D – 1990.

    Thank you Robotussin for some of the most fun I've ever had. "ROBO NIGHT!" Woo Hoo!!!

    July 8, 2010 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Harrington D

      There would be a group of 8 or so of us all walk up to the local CVS – each buying a bottle of Robo.

      We also demonstrated fiscal responsibility at our young age. We opted for the CVS brand tussin over the pricier Robo brand tussin. Not only did we save a couple of dollars, we got more bang for our buck. Through investigative research we discovered that the CVS brand tussin contained .15 mg DM (the stuff that makes you feel funny) as opposed to .10 mg DM contained in the Robo brand tussin.

      Shrewd consumers, us Blue Hens.

      July 8, 2010 at 16:48 | Report abuse |
    • Gabby's two step shuffle

      That was Happy Harry's with the 15 mg of the DM. NEVER EVER mix with weed. We called it flatlining. Killed the fun every time.

      July 8, 2010 at 17:23 | Report abuse |
  22. robhat

    as others have pointed out this "fad" has been around since the late 90's. why is this suddenly being brought up now? journalism fail. an interesting fact is that kids also refer to robotripping as "cheesing". Why? Because it's fon to do

    July 8, 2010 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. j.r.

    Sorry folks, but this is not new or news. Getting "high" on Robitussen and Romilar CF go back to the 60's. Once again right on top of the trends aren't you folks.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Hensley Roberts

    I don't known why this is just now in the news. Back in 1983 we were doing this. You have to get the Robitussin DM (for dextromethorphan). I had just assumed that they had banned this particular cough syrup but evidently not.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. T

    We need to legalize all drugs and immediately release all non-violent drug offenders from prison. The "War on Drugs" is not and could not ever going to stop people from taking drugs. It sole purpose is to make money for the governments and create a need for more prisons and prison workers. Open your eyes people. Drugs are not the problem. Drug laws are the problem.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Privacy Preferred

    "a new trend among kids, dubbed "Robo tripping'"
    I LoL'ed. Guys, I can confirm that people were Robo tripping a decade ago. Must be a slow news day. How much dust did you have to brush off before you posted this story?

    July 8, 2010 at 16:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Mary

    Sorry to hear this, but kids do dumb stuff and that is what parents are for- to watch them.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Mike Dywat

    The 'NEW" trend????? When I read that in a story, it shows just how out of touch the person writing it is, and makes me believe that they probably have some stupid agenda, religious or otherwise. This has been going on for as long as there has been DMX on the market. For you to report on it as a new trend makes me insanely curious as to whether you really know what the real problems are. Do a story about how religion poison's everything and that we should instead advance the HUMAN race, not just the humans that believe in the same adult imaginary friendship.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. lulu

    Can I have some robitussin with a side of sudafed please?

    July 8, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Jessica

    Anyone else ever have issues with the floating banner at the bottom landing here in the message box? Surely someone at CNN can write better code than this, to get the darn thing to not tick off the readers who come here? Or maybe its intentional? They cant even proofread – I should not assume they are smart enough to do this intentionally...

    July 8, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Tom

    this is not new. its been around for awhile. lil wayne has been high on robotussin for the last 10 years.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Anon

    There's a new 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.

    ???? WTF ????

    I have 3 kids. Not only did I do this as a kid, but my mom did as well. Something that has been going on for the last 40 years can hardly be called a new trend.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jessica

      wow. i mean...so what do you think your 3 kids are gonna do?

      July 8, 2010 at 16:47 | Report abuse |
  33. Jessica

    This is not a new trend, grocery stores have been requiring ID to purchase cough syrup for quite some time...which means the trend of idiot kids getting high on cough meds was LONG before they started checking id's. When you raise stupid kids, this is exactly what happens. I remember this kid I knew in 8th grade named james – dead beat dad never around, drunk mom rarely around...and he was a sweet boy, but tended lack a lot of smarts. I remember going over to his house more than a couple of times and he and his friend Ricky would be huffing spray paint in the shed. They would always ask me if I wanted to – but guess what, I had brains and realized how STUPID that was. Yep, in 8th grade...can you believe it? Now, as an adult, I will admit to smoking that which is of the earth...but again, such a gateway drug that it is...its the only "illegal" drug ive done. Science isnt fair when it comes to these things...if we were being honest, every parent SHOULD prefer their child smoke a little dope rather than ingesting spray paint or cough meds, prescription pills or paint thinner.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Dr. H.

    I am a psychiatry resident, and when I was doing a rotation on the inpatient child and adolescent psychiatry unit, a teenage boy got admitted to the unit for becoming psychotic after abusing dextromethorphan. He was there for weeks, thought that his parents had been murdered, and was very suspicious of everyone. He was given antipsychotic medication and gradually improved over the course of a few weeks before being discharged, only to return a few months later with the same issue. You'd think he would have learned his lesson.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Amunaka

    Jeeeze ...I remember doing this more than 40 years ago ...awful stuff I can still taste it reading this ...yuck

    July 8, 2010 at 16:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. jesse

    only a problem if you take way too much or take the kind with other really bad things in it like tylenol. now oding on tylenol will kill you, dm on it's own won't.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Matt

    Is this *really* news, CNN? Kids have been doing this for years. I'm also shocked to see no mention of the real danger of "robo-tripping": most OTC formulations contain additional ingredients that (in quantity) make DXM look harmless. Acetominophen, for instance, can cause catastrophic liver failure when overdosed, and several of the other decongestants aren't much better.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. C Reighton

    Since when is this new? Do you even live in this country?

    July 8, 2010 at 16:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. OldNews

    Next thing you know, they'll be reporting that kids a huffing glue and smoking banana peels.

    And if this news to any parent out there, God help your kids.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. mother of four

    I grew up with parents who did drugs and had friends in college who got high on acid, pot, coke, etc. Because I'd seen the effects of it upon my family and it had resulted in my being abused, I chose only to do a little drinking in college (tried getting drunk twice–hated the hang over and never repeated it), but that was it. I have zero personal experience with getting high. I was aware of robotripping, but had forgotten about it until seeing this article. So whether this is old news or not, as a mom, I appreciate the reminder.

    Strangely, I do remember nearly losing a friend to it. She had a stroke after a "robotrip" and spent two years reclaiming her life. And a male friend of mine blames some of his recall problems on ODing on it repeatedly in college (which he didn't finish). He talks about blank spaces between thoughts, difficulty putting words to objects, etc. In other words, he has mild brain damage. He didn't do other drugs as he thought he was being careful because robotripping wasn't illegal. It's a shame really, he's brilliant man if you catch him on the right day. Before anyone calls it harmless just because they didn't get hurt doing it, they really should at least read up on the people who did and count themselves lucky. (Like the kids in Sioux Falls who had the seizures last month after a robotripping "party").

    Some here have suggested that legalizing pot would solve problems like this. I'm not going to argue that one way or another, because I don't really have an opinion on it. But I do know that it's not really going to solve any problems either. Making pot legal only empties the jails and saves some tax paper dollars. But it doesn't eliminate the long term side effects like BiPolar Disorder and certain cancers, which are prevalent among "old hippies" like my parents. Ask me how I know this. Fun. Fun.


    July 8, 2010 at 17:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. db

    Prohibition does not work.
    We are genetically hardwired to alter our consciousness. We have been doing it since time immortal and will continue to do it until the human race turns to dust. Some scientists have even argued that the long term consumption of psychoactive plants and fungus may have played a role in the development of some of our higher brain function.

    Recreational drugs need to be regulated and taxed for adult consumption just like alcohol. By making drugs illegal you create a social taboo and kids can't resist testing social boundaries. Its just a fact.. kids are prone to getting in trouble and will do what you tell them not to do just because you told them not to do it. The more "wrong" we say something is the more they want to try it. Now if you present the same thing but make it a "legal lifestyle choice", followed up by a healthy dose of education about the dangers and health risks involved in making that choice... well then it becomes something else entirely.. it can be come uncool... and kids don't want to be uncool.. the illegality of drugs in the country is what makes them cool. The less cool something is the less kids will do it.

    Drinking large doses of cough syrup is potentially deadly... there are many recreational drugs that are much safer to consume. Marijuana being the first on that list.

    Drug prohibition really only benefits the corporate prison machine, pharmaceutical companies, and the petrochemical companies. The USA has 5% of the world population, and 25% of the worlds prisoners.. Most of which are non-violent drug offenders and most of those are housed in for-profit corporate prisons.

    Cannabis cultivation could help the United States immensely, if you have any doubt read "The Emperor Wears No Clothes", by Jack Herer. Cannabis could solve our energy problems. It can grow over 14 ft. tall in one season and contains more
    bio mass that can be converted to fuel than any plant out there. It grows well on marginal soil, and it's fiber is one of the strongest and softest known to man.
    Not to mention its medicinal qualities and the fact that the buzz is actually quite nice and relaxing and doesn't turn people into raving lunatics contrary to popular belief.

    People and society at large would benefit from a more robust drug education and rehabilitation program, instead of prison terms which keep addicts from being able to get good jobs when they get out of prison and being contributing members of society when they are cured of their addiction. Instead they end up getting released as convicted felons and therefore unable to get good jobs, and many end up turning to more serious crimes to earn money.. Not to mention putting someone in an environment where they basically are surrounded by criminals for years introduces them to a lifestyle that is less than ideal.

    It would cost us as taxpayers way less money to fund outpatient treatment for addicts, than it would for locking someone up for several years because they have an addiction. Money that we end up paying to PRIVATE COMPANIES that run our prisons! These are the people funding the anti-drug lobby and putting out all of the misinformation and propaganda.

    If you want to stop your kid from drinking cough syrup.. throw them in the car and drive down to a methadone clinic.
    Let them see what the people who are strung out on Heroin look like..Let them see what that lifestyle choice has done to their health and well being. Ask them if that's what they want to be when they are older. You'll solve the little cough syrup problem right then and there.

    July 8, 2010 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Khan

    Seriously, what's your definition of "new trend"? Anything that is new to you? So the ignorant have finally opened their eyes and realized their little babies are getting high like the rest of the world. 'Paging Dr. Gupta' has never held any credibility. Take a look at the massive misinformation and number-twisting done with the teen smoking article a couple months back. According to that, being aware of and liking cigarette ads, meant you were a new smoker. Make absolutely no sense? That's exactly what I said.

    July 8, 2010 at 17:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. CalgarySandy, Calgary, AB

    Good grief. Kids have been doing cough meds for fun since at least the mid-sixties. Codeine meds were available over the counter for years in Canada and then they had to be asked for from the pharmacist. Before we did weed we did codeine. We tried everything to get high until weed came along and then we stopped doing other stuff. If my Dad were alive he could probably tell me what his generation did. Probably drink shoe polish or Bay Rum.

    Getting high is something most animals will do if they can. Cats like catnip and honeysuckle. Rats will endure nearly anything to get at cocaine. It is part of being a living being to want to alter your consciousness. Weed is safer than cold meds or alcohol.

    July 8, 2010 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Gabby's two step shuffle

    The best was killing all the lights and Roboing in the dark. Sounds counter intuitive but the best tripping was in the dark.

    July 8, 2010 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. genius

    Hmmm... i just turned 40. Everyone was doing this stuff when I was in school. Today its news? Wow.

    July 8, 2010 at 17:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. tony

    lol @ new trend

    My 80 yr old grampa told me me he used to do this when he was 13 years old

    July 8, 2010 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Terri Orr

    This story appears to have been written by a 12-year-old. Did you steal it from a middle school newspaper, or do you just hire crappier writers than you used to?

    July 8, 2010 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Nemo Crets

    I suppose the next article will be about nutmeg?

    July 8, 2010 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. MC Chris

    The Tussin, The Tussin, robocop couldn't stop me from puking and flushing.

    But yes, LSD is wayyyyy safer, yet illegal. go figure

    July 8, 2010 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Child and Adol Psych Doctor

    I am the doctor on an in-patient child and psychiatry unit.

    Last year a teen went into coma for 5 days after taking alcohol, robitussin and xanax. He was sent to an in-patient rehab unit for many months at government expense at $12,000/month. 3 months after discharge he died from drug use.

    A few months ago another teen had to be 4-point restrained and given 6 shots of antipsychotic to calm him after taking robitussin. He mentioned standing outside his parents' bedroom with a knife in his hand wanting to kill one of them. After 5 hospitalizations, he took Xanax and went after his family with a knife. He has legal charges now.

    I've treated a few adolescents with psychosis that developed after long term pot use. If they end up schizophrenic, the government will pay all their medical expenses and approx $800/month for the rest of their lives.

    July 8, 2010 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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