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What is Purple Drank?

By Jen Venegas
Purple drank goes by many names, but the drink generally contains a prescription cough syrup and soda. Explore this dangerous cultural phenomenon.

Purple drank is a recreational substance that can have some serious effects. It’s normally made by combining a prescription-strength cough syrup with soda. The substance has a presence within contemporary popular culture, which often glamorizes its use. But purple drank contains a powerful opioid, and can cause severe consequences requiring medical attention. Drinking the substance can even prove fatal. Read on for some important details about the cultural phenomenon known as purple drank.  

What are the Common Ingredients in Purple Drank?

“‘Purple Drank’ or ‘Lean’ is the combination of a cough syrup containing codeine and promethazine with the addition of the soft drink Sprite or alcohol,” Lawrence Weinstein, MD and Chief Medical Officer at American Addiction Centers, tells WebMD Connect to Care.  

“Together, codeine (an opioid that is one-tenth the strength of morphine) and promethazine (an antihistamine and medication that prevents nausea and vomiting) simultaneously relieve bothersome coughs, sneezing, runny nose, and other symptoms of allergies and/or the common cold,” Weinstein explains. 

However, it’s important to note that off-label use of opioids, such as the cough syrup used to make purple drank, meets the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s definition of prescription opioid misuse, which has doubled over the recent decade.

Codeine abuse can result in a variety of serious consequences. In fact, Mayo Clinic reports that cough syrup with codeine can even cause the heart to stop. Additionally, symptoms of a codeine overdose include:

  • Bluish lips or skin
  • Chest pain
  • Constricted pupils
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Irregular (fast or slow) breathing
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Swelling of the legs and ankles

According to Medline Plus, promethazine can also cause serious side effects requiring immediate medical attention, including:

  • Wheezing
  • Slowed or interrupted breathing
  • Fever
  • Stiffened muscles
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Uncontrollable body movements
  • Hallucinations
  • An overwhelming sense of fear
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, lips, tongue and throat

Cough syrup combining codeine and promethazine is normally only available by prescription. However, an illegal trade for codeine and other substances exists. In fact, a 2017 article published by the American Journal of Public Health notes that controlled substances are trafficked online using a variety of strategies, including websites and social media accounts.  

Does Purple Drank Have Other Names?

Although the scientific research on purple drank is not extensive, there have been some significant studies of both the substance’s effects and its presence within popular culture. In fact, a 2020 article published by theAmerican Journal of Addiction investigated the use of purple drank among electronic dance music party attendees. 

A 2020 review article published by the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs notes that purple drank also goes by other names like:

  • Sizzurp
  • Doublecup

Purple drank also appears in rap songs by names such as “dirty Sprite” and “2 cups”. Whichever name it goes by, it’s important to know that the substance can be dangerous

A 2020 article published by the International Journal of Psychological Studies notes that, although the non-medical use of opioids is glamorized through popular media, purple drank has resulted in the deaths of a number of hip hop artists in recent years. The glorification of the substance can also influence the young pop music fans, resulting in dangerous health consequences. 

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