What is sizzurp?

Dear Alice,

Is sizzurp bad? And what are the effects?

Dear Reader,

Sizzurp is a recreational drug, usually derived from mixing prescription-strength cough syrups (though sometimes over-the-counter varieties) with soda and hard candy. Also called lean, purple drank, or dirty sprite, sizzurp was created in Houston when blues musicians mixed Robitussin cough medication with beer. In the 1980s, Houston rappers popularized the drink and modified the recipe to include codeine, soda, and Jolly Ranchers for added flavor. Since then, sizzurp has crossed ethnic and cultural boundaries in its growing popularity and is often found today at electronic dance music (EDM) parties and festivals. Given its rapidly growing popularity, in the 1990s the United States Drug Enforcement Administration rescheduled codeine, the active ingredient in cough syrup, to require a prescription. Sizzurp users run the risk of developing dependency and overdosing on the main ingredients, codeine and promethazine. These drugs, particularly when combined with alcohol or other drugs, may lead to fainting, difficulty breathing, coma, and even death.

Codeine, similar to morphine, is a type of opioid extracted from a poppy plant. Though it's one of the weaker ones, it’s still highly potent at high doses. Typically, it takes about 30 to 45 minutes for the effect of codeine in sizzurp to kick in. People often report experiencing feelings of euphoria at its peak 1 to 2 hours after ingestion, with effects lasting about 4 to 6 hours. The negative side effects of sizzurp can include dizziness, constipation, impaired vision, memory loss, and hallucinations. When too much codeine is consumed, the brain is flooded with opioid molecules that override its natural ability to regulate physiological responses. This could cause a person’s heart rate and breathing to slow down, which would ultimately affect the proper flow of oxygen to vital organs such as the heart and lungs. Mixing codeine with alcohol or other drugs, as is often the case in sizzurp, significantly increases the risk of an overdose that could lead to a coma or death.

Regular sizzurp users build up a tolerance, requiring increased doses to experience a high. This is because the body becomes dependent on the external supply of codeine and produces less of its own natural opioids. Ultimately, this makes sizzurp highly addictive. Signs of addiction include a constant craving or seeking out of sizzurp and the loss of money or legal troubles associated with increased sizzurp consumption. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms can include pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Overcoming an opioid addiction can be a difficult process. If you're experiencing signs of addiction, a medical or mental health professional can help you seek appropriate care for your recovery.

If you're considering using sizzurp, you may consider reflecting on what exactly appeals to you about this drug: the ease of getting it? The taste or the high? The idea of trying something new? Are your interests in trying this drug influenced by any pressures or social norms that you may feel as well? Considering what you value and what is "cool" to you may be a clarifying place to begin. As is the case with any choice to use drugs, weighing the potential consequences with the desire for the high will help you make the wisest decision.

Last updated Jul 29, 2022
Originally published Jan 16, 2009

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