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The Effects of Dextromethorphan Use

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Dextromethorphan (DXM or DM) is commonly used to suppress coughing. You’ll find it in a number of cough syrups and in cold medications (both over-the-counter and prescription).

It is also sold on the street under several different names, including:

  • Skittles.
  • Dex.
  • Triple C’s.

Is Dextromethorphan Harmful?


Most drugs that can be easily abused have negative effects on your body, and DXM abuse is no different.

Taking high doses of DXM, for example by ingesting excess amounts of cough syrup, can lead to:

  • A variety of negative side effects.
  • Life-threatening overdose.

In addition, research has shown that repeated administration of high doses of DXM to rats in their adolescent stages has led to:

  • Cognitive dysfunction.
  • Impaired memory.

This is alarming when you consider that young people are some of the more common abusers of DXM, due to its availability and affordable cost. Abusers of DXM often underestimate the dangerous effects of DXM, as it is advertised as safe for use. However, its safety for use in therapeutic doses does not translate to safety for recreational use.

If you are struggling with DXM addiction, please call to discuss treatment options. Our trained treatment admissions specialists will evaluate your situation and give you information on the best possible rehabilitation for you.

Drug Mixtures

Dextromethorphan is common in many different kinds of cold medication sold over the counter at pharmacies and grocery stores, and is normally mixed with many different kinds of drugs. These other drugs contained in the cold medicine can be harmful to your health if taken in high dosages. For example, acetaminophen, an active ingredient in many medications, can significantly damage the liver in high doses.

In general, the most severe effects of DXM use tend to come when users intentionally combine DXM with other drugs such as stimulants, opiates and/or alcohol. For example, mixing DXM with amphetamines or cocaine can cause a dangerous rise in blood pressure and heart rate.

Dextromethorphan Short-term Effects

“Robo-tripping,” or taking dextromethorphan in large amounts to get high, can produce short-term effect such as:

  • Euphoria/drunk feeling.
  • Sedation.
  • Detachment/dissociation.
  • Hallucinations.

DXM is increasingly recognized as a problem, especially among younger users. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has expressed concern over the instance of abuse of this drug and the fact that pure powder forms are available for purchase on the Internet.

When DXM is snorted or injected, it can act on the body in an immediate and strong manner and can produce effects such as those seen with “dissociative anesthetic” substances, such as PCP (“Angel Dust”) and Ketamine (“Special K”).

Side Effects

There are a number of different dextromethorphan side effects depending on any other chemicals the DXM might be mixed with. You may notice the following effects associated with DXM use:

  • Dizziness.
  • Feeling faint.
  • Nausea.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Restlessness.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Fatigue.

Long-term Effects of Dextromethorphan

The long-term effects of Dextromethorphan are not known; however, it is believed that sustained, habitual use can result in:

  • Agitation.
  • Delusions.
  • Mood changes such as depression and mania.
  • Problems with attention and memory consolidation.
  • Liver damage.

Dextromethorphan Dependency


Building up a dextromethorphan tolerance is similar to any other drug; the chances of experiencing dependence and tolerance will vary depending on the frequency and dosage of each use. With regular abuse, users can develop:

  • Physical tolerance to the drug (needing more and more to experience the same intended effects).
  • Cravings for the drug.
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when not using DXM.

“Megadosing” (taking large doses) of DMX on a regular basis can quickly lead to addiction and put the user’s mental and physical health in danger.

Dextromethorphan Withdrawal Treatment

Further, a survey of long-term dextromethorphan users revealed that more than half of them have experienced withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue.
  • Insomnia.
  • Restlessness.
  • Compulsions to get the drug.
  • Bone and muscle aches.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Impaired ability to think clearly.
  • Hypersensitivity to allergens in the environment.

While the detox process from DXM can be tough to get through, you can stop using DXM and find recovery. If you need help to get through the process, consider detoxing and seeking treatment in an inpatient rehabilitation facility where you can be assured you’ll be monitored and cared for by professionals around the clock.

If you want to learn more about the safest and best ways to withdraw and get treatment, call to speak to one of our supportive treatment representatives.

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Patrick Condron, M.Sc., M.A.C., is an addiction specialist and drug and alcohol counselor. He is Executive Director of Lazarus House, Inc., a transitional residential program for men and women who continue to work on their recovery towards independent living.
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