December 15, 2023

What Is DXM? The Over-the-Counter Hallucinogen Popular Among Teens

DXM, or dextromethorphan, is a common active ingredient in over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines. It’s used to suppress coughs, but when taken in large doses, DXM can produce psychoactive effects, which has led to its misuse, particularly among teenagers.

Understanding DXM

DXM is found in various forms, such as syrups, lozenges, and capsules, in many cough and cold medications. At recommended doses, DXM is effective and safe for relieving coughs due to colds or flu. However, at higher doses, it can alter consciousness and produce hallucinations.

Why DXM Appeals to Teens

Several factors contribute to the popularity of DXM among teenagers:

  1. Accessibility: As an OTC drug, DXM is easily accessible to teens. They can purchase it in pharmacies and grocery stores without a prescription.
  2. Perceived Safety: Being a legal, non-prescription medication, DXM is often perceived as safer than illicit drugs.
  3. Affordability: Compared to many illicit substances, DXM products are relatively inexpensive.
  4. Internet Influence: Online forums and social media may glamorize or provide information on how to misuse DXM to achieve a high.

The Effects of DXM Abuse

The effects of DXM depend on the dose. Users describe different ‘plateaus’ ranging from mild stimulation to full-blown hallucinations and dissociation. High doses of DXM can lead to:

  • Altered sensory perceptions
  • Hallucinations
  • Dissociative sensations
  • Impaired motor function
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Euphoria

Health Risks

Abusing DXM can lead to serious health risks, including:

  • Overdose, which can be life-threatening
  • Heatstroke or hyperthermia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Liver damage, especially when combined with other medications like acetaminophen
  • Psychological dependence
  • Risky behavior due to impaired judgment

The Social and Legal Implications

Misuse of DXM, especially among teens, has social implications. It may affect academic performance, relationships, and lead to risky behaviors. Legally, while DXM is legal to purchase, some states in the U.S. have enacted laws restricting its sale to minors.

Preventative Measures

Preventing DXM misuse involves several strategies:

  1. Education: Parents, schools, and community programs need to educate teens about the risks of DXM abuse.
  2. Monitoring: Parents should monitor the purchase and use of cough medicines in their homes.
  3. Policy and Legislation: Implementing policies to limit the sale of DXM-containing products to minors.

The Role of Healthcare Professionals

Doctors and pharmacists play a crucial role in prevention. They can provide guidance on the safe use of cough medications and be vigilant for signs of misuse.


While DXM is a valuable medication for treating coughs, its potential for abuse, especially among teens, raises significant concerns. Understanding the risks, effects, and preventive measures is essential for parents, educators, and healthcare professionals to mitigate the misuse of this OTC drug.

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