Last updated: April 5, 2021
Illicit drug use is on the rise, including those you’re probably familiar with such as marijuana, cocaine, and LSD, but an increasing number of abusers today are turning to synthetic and prescription drugs.
One is a highly-addictive drug cocktail called “lean,” which is especially popular among teens.
It is a simple combination of prescription-strength cough syrup containing codeine and promethazine, mixed with Jolly Rancher candy dissolved in a soft drink such as Sprite or Mountain Dew. Cough syrup containing hydrocodone can also be used to make this drug, but it is less popular.
To make matters worse, lean is often made with over the counter cough syrup, such as Robitussin DM, which contains dextromethorphan—a synthetic morphine analog. This causes a dissociative state with hallucinations similar to that produced by PCP or ketamine.
Also known as syrup, sizzurp, purple drank, Texas tea, Tsikuni, barre, or purple jelly, lean is just as deadly as it is easy to make. It is directly responsible for the deaths of several prominent users in the music industry due to its powerful effect as a central nervous system depressant, which results in respiratory or cardiac arrest. As with other CNS depressants, mixing it with alcohol greatly increases these risks. It also may cause tremors, loss of consciousness, brain damage, coma, seizures, cerebral hemorrhage, and brain damage. Statistics indicate that about 3.1 million people ages 12-25 have used an over-the-counter cough and cold medicine to get high. That number increases when you include the prescription versions of cough syrup.
Lean, which has been around since the late 90s but remained largely under the radar, has become so popular among that it spawned a new type of music, taking hip-hop beats and slowing them down to reflect the sleepy, tranquil feeling the drug induces. It was even the inspiration for a Top 10 song by the Oscar-winning group Three-Six Mafia, “Sipping on Some Syrup.” Ron Peters, a professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health, says the drug and the music have grown together.
“One of the studies did show that a lot of children found out about what codeine promethazine was through the music,” he says. “And some of them stated that their first time finding out about it was through the messages that were in this screw music.” But, Peters says, the music is a way to make parents and the community aware of what is happening. He instructs parents to “always listen to some of the music some of our kids listen to,” he says. “Whether they like or not, it can give them insight into what’s happening in their kids’ lives and open up dialogue.”