I Am Enthralled By This Sort Of Thing

by Noise Pollution

It’s odd that in spite of my current state of sobriety, I find recreational drugs to be such an absolutely fascinating topic. From the scientific aspect of them, such as how the drugs actually interact with your brain, to the cultural aspect of them, like a good drug story, everything about them is just so goddamn interesting.

Perhaps due to my past abuse of it, one of the drugs I am most intrigued by is found in cough syrup.

(Please excuse these disclaimers, but they’re really important. If you have no intention of ever attempting to use recreational drugs, then feel free to skip them. Otherwise, please, please, please give them a read before moving on the the rest of my write-up.)

[Disclaimer: Legally, I need to tell you not to abuse this stuff. Also, as a friend, I need to tell you not to abuse this stuff. It’s really bad for your body, and the only reason I ever enjoyed using it so much is because of the fucked-up place I was mentally when I was using it. Don’t do it, it’s not even an enjoyable experience for most people. Seriously, most people I did it with fucking hated the experience. Don’t do it.]

[And holy shit, by the way: UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EVER ABUSE THIS DRUG WHILE TAKING ANTIDEPRESSANTS. Taking too much over the recommended dose of  any product containing the drug I mention in this write-up WILL ABSOLUTELY KILL YOU. EVERY TIME. IT IS A FATAL COMBINATION. SSRI‘s and DXM are lethal when taken together. Every fucking time. I cannot stress this enough. And if you aren’t sure if what you take is an SSRI, don’t risk it. This is lethal, and the death is slow and painful. Again, COMBINING ANTIDEPRESSANTS, EVEN IF YOU’VE BEEN OFF OF THEM FOR A FEW DAYS, EVEN WEEKS, IS FATAL WHEN COMBINED WITH RECREATIONAL DOSES OF COUGH MEDICINE.]

[Third disclaimer: If the fact that I had to write up three fucking disclaimers of progressively longer and longer length about the use of this drug isn’t enough to persuade you not to attempt to use it, I don’t know what is. But if you aren’t going to be reasonable, than at least heed this last warning. DO NOT TAKE RECREATIONAL DOSES OF MEDICINES THAT CONTAIN ACETAMINOPHEN. That one in particular is important, as the drugs that contain both the “fun” drug and acetaminophen together will always kill you when taken in a high enough dose to get high. And an acetaminophen overdose is not pleasant. It involves bleeding from your fucking eyes. You should always read the other ingredients in your medicines, study them, and make sure you’re not going to die. Seriously, if you insist on trying this drug, do your research and do it thoroughly because this is an extremely dangerous drug to abuse, if you’re stupid about it. If you’re smart it’s actually… relatively safe, as long as you don’t leave the house.]

Okay. Here’s what I actually came here to say.

Did you know that the way that most cough medicine prevents you from coughing is by blocking certain messages from going from one place in your brain to the other? The natural impulse to cough is stopped because the part of your brain that says, “Hey, something’s up with my throat,” never gets a chance to talk to the part of the brain that says, “Hey, if something’s up with my throat, just let me know and I’ll try to violently solve that problem.” The specific drug that does this is called dextromethorphan, and it’s in a lot of over-the-counter medicines.

The thing is, at low doses, it keeps your brain from knowing it needs to cough. That’s fine. At much higher doses, a number of different parts of the brain fail to communicate with each other, and this leads to some pretty… drastic effects. At a higher dose than you would ever take for a cough, but still a relatively low dose (which for the sake of the scale I’m going to use, will just be called a low dose from this point on) the effect is similar to mild drunkenness.


That state of mild drunkenness was the point at which most people found the drug fun to use. Anything past that was a no go for a lot of them, but for my closest friends and I, that wasn’t enough. We were already way past thinking mild drunkenness was fun. We were taking pills in volumes that would normally kill people, and half the time we weren’t even aware of what they were. Someone would just come by with some prescription they got, sell it to us, and we’d be like, “We can probably take, like, eight of these each, right?” and would proceed to get fucked up. We weren’t at heroin levels of desperation, but we were all at least pretty close to the point where we wouldn’t have turned it down if someone offered.

The low-medium dose of the drug was my personal sweet spot, though I didn’t mind edging into the medium dose on most occasions, and did indulge in a high dose a few times. The difference between a low-medium dose and a low dose was pretty huge in terms of effect, though. You see, the hallucinatory/dissociative effects of dextromethorphan (or DXM for short) are often described as having certain “plateaus”. There are generally considered to be four plateaus to the high, though I’ve read tales of a fifth that seems incredibly difficult to achieve without dying and sounds altogether unpleasant. But anyway, they’re referred to as such because while taking more of the drug does gradually increase the effects, there are certain thresholds where the effect of the drug takes kind of a different shape.

Let me break it down for you in a non-illegal way. We’re going to use a twenty-point scale so that I don’t have to actually tell you the dosages we would use, so that you don’t use them yourselves. [Responsible, that’s what I am.] Keep in mind that this is not actually 100% to scale, so don’t try to convert these vague numbers into milligrams; that won’t work. Say that one or two points is what you take when you have  a cough. two is a bit excessive for that, but if it’s Nyquil and you really need to sleep or you’re just a bigger person, it’s fine. No one’s judging you. Three is still not really getting anywhere. It’s like taking four or five Tylenol. Maybe not a good idea for your liver, but it’s not like you’re going to feel any adverse effects from it. Around four you feel something, but you’re still, like, good to drive. No one will notice a difference in your behavior but you, and even then, it’s not significant. Five is about where it’s at. Five matters. You shouldn’t drive. It’s not crazy, but you’re somewhere. I’d say once you get up to six, that’s when you’re really there. You feel a switch flip somewhere in your head; you are pretty plastered. That’s the first plateau. Everything before that affected you, sure, but you would have gone to bed that night thinking that the drug was weak shit.

So, the next time you take it, you think, “That was badass, I’d like to get that way, but, you know, more!” You go to seven, eight. Basically the same thing. Slightly more intense, but it really didn’t change things that much. The next time you do this, you try to hit the number nine, not thinking much of it. You notice something different about this one, but you aren’t quite sure what to make of it. It was a lot harder to move, and you found yourself confused more often than not. Time passes slowly. Weird, right? You’re still basically just drunk, but you feel as though you’re on the precipice of something else. So the next time, out of curiosity, you try to hit ten. Everything is fucking different this time. You definitely don’t feel drunk. This is something entirely new.

We’ll continue our point-scale breakdown a little later. I just wanted to show how the plateau thing worked. You can take more than you did the time previous, but unless you hit a certain threshold, it’s generally going to be the same experience. Until you take a certain amount, the drunkenness of the first plateau is never going to hit you. And until you take a certain amount more than that, the drunkenness is all you’ll get.

That low-medium does I said I preferred earlier? That’s the point when you hit the second plateau. I was so bored of the drunkenness. I would indulge occasionally, but ultimately, I was in this for something more. And holy fuck, did I find it. At the low end of a medium dose, your vision becomes… different. It becomes hard to process what exactly it is you’re seeing. Navigating through menus on a television becomes nearly impossible, because reading becomes nearly impossible. Words look like they’re written in other languages; you see all the letters, but you don’t know what they mean all mashed together. Lights leave behind long traces when you move your eyes. It becomes very difficult to walk. It’s actually impossible to walk normally. You tend to take large strides, and your torso dips and sways around as though it were a ball-in-socket joint. We came to refer to this phenomenon as “spiderwalking”, as the long strides (which would often come with steps taken on all fours) reminded us of the long legs of a spider. Your body has an urge to stretch and contort in weird ways. It’s not uncommon to find yourself sitting in positions that look like if yoga was invented by crack addict. I tend to weave my arms through my legs, or wrap them backwards around my head, or both. Logic breaks down. Once you hit the second plateau, you can’t follow the plot of a movie. Your conversations with your friends become limited, though that doesn’t take away from the feeling of comradery that comes with being in this state together.  Your imagination runs wild; you can live out entire stories inside of your head. When you close your eyes, you hallucinate. My friends and I found that sticking our heads into dark places, like a closet or a laundry basket, causes extremely intense effects. It feels like staring into infinity. Music means more than it ever did. Time goes on forever. What is already a long trip (about twelve to fourteen hours) feels about three times as long due to the effects of the drug.

This might be a good place to mention the vomiting. Oh god. This is where the rubber hits the road; this is what separates the men from the boys. This is why people fucking hate using this drug. But my closest friends and, we had no fucks to give about this. Even though it was truly horrible. The DXM vomiting could easily fall into the top ten most terrifying moments of my life and I did it repeatedly. I’m not sure if it happens to everybody, but the pills we took when we first started abusing DXM contained another substance in them, a substance that caused vomiting it high doses. High doses in this case meaning, like, one pill more than the recommended dose. We were a millennia past that, so you can imagine the horrors that followed. Because of that initial experience, our bodies kind of have an almost Pavlovian response to taking cough medicine. We puke even if it doesn’t have the other substance in it. So these horrific fits of nightmare puke happened frequently, even after our switch to a better pill. If it was just puking, well… that wouldn’t be so bad. But it was violent. My stomach was rejecting the substance with everything it had. It was ready to kill me if that’s what it took. Looking into the toilet bowl while having the DXM vomits was like looking into the eyes of death. Every time, I thought, “This is it; this is the time I overdose. I’m about to die. There’s no way I could possibly be experiencing anything this painful and horrifying if I wasn’t going to die from it.” It was truly a nightmare. And it didn’t ever just happen once. It would happen once, about ten or twenty minutes before it really kicked in. The  it would happen over and fucking over at various points in the night. And it’s so much more terrifying when you’re so high that you can’t even remember your own name.

Oh, and once you hit the second plateau, you can’t sleep. It’s just not going to happen. You’ll be lucky if it happens the next night eve, because the hangover can last about three days, and no matter how fucking tired you are, it keeps you awake.

A medium dose was just a more extreme version of the low-medium dose. It was harder to move at all, and harder to keep your eyes open. The reason I prefer the low-medium dose to the regular one is because the regular-medium dose is a much more solitary experience than the low-medium one. The world going on around you matters a whole lot less, and it can be hard to communicate, and even if it weren’t difficult, it still feels mentally taxing to do so, and once my friends or I hit that point, we’d often forego speech altogether and attempt to communicate solely through body language, which isn’t very effective when your vision is fucked up.

The medium-high dose takes you over the edge of the third plateau. This is an altogether different experience. DXM, being a dissociative, takes a large facet of your personality from you at this point. You feel very distant from yourself; it is as though your body is just a shell and you are controlling it from elsewhere. I couldn’t connect faces to names or memories. There was no past or future, there was only the right then, and even then, it felt as though the right then was barely there at all. Full-blown hallucinations that are difficult to distinguish from reality happen at this point. Talking is almost impossible. Walking can be done with assistance from a less-afflicted friend. Keep a bucket nearby. You won’t be able to get to the bathroom if the vomit comes knocking. This is a very contemplative high, and is no longer “fun”. When you hit the third plateau, it’s because you’re doing some hippie shit and want to explore your own consciousness. Or… you know, you’re doing it as a form of escapism. Like I was. Nothing felt more like an escape from reality than this, an actual, literal escape from reality. I did it pretty frequently, though not as frequently as my second plateau experience. This was also a very solitary trip, and I really enjoyed using drugs as a means to connect to my friends.

The high dose is the fourth plateau. I’ve never been there. I came fairly close once, and I shit my pants and “slept” outside on the grass near an office building that night, occasionally popping my head up to scream in terror at nothing. The fourth plateau is not an easy thing to deal with, and even coming close was kind of too much for me. My friend may or may not have been there. I’m not sure. I know that the effects of this stage involve not being to move at all, and not opening your eyes. To anyone watching, you look dead. You are full-blown hallucinating the entire time. Many people who have experienced this claim to have seen God, or aliens. It seems that this plateau has a tendency to make one believe that they’ve connected to higher plane of existence. I know that’s all bullshit, and that it’s all inside their heads and that it’s all a bunch of druggie nonsense, but it still sounds pretty crazy and intense.

My friend might have hit it. I don’t know. We carved things into each other’s backs that night. It was kind of a “becoming blood brothers” sort of thing, though we never actually mixed our blood with each others’. We were actually fairly sober during the carving. We had a bunch of medical supplies that a friend had stolen, along with a pack of clean, never-been-used X-Acto knives. We were smart about our stupidity, like we always were after we started taking DXM. (We started doing research on pills before taking them after we got hooked on this drug. Maybe DXM saved our lives. Funny, that.)

I remember hearing the sound of the blade cutting through my skin seconds before actually feeling it. I have a pretty noticeable scar now, though that was kind of the point of this whole operation. I’m not ashamed of that one. I’m proud. It still does symbolize my friendship with those guys. And I’m still friends with all but one of them. They’re really important to me.

But that night was the night before they had to take my friend to mental hospital. What he saw that night, he either doesn’t remember or doesn’t talk about it.

Anyways, that was a bit of a tangent. I guess I should finish up that twenty point scale thing now.

Basically, hitting ten was hitting the second plateau. Eleven, twelve and thirteen don’t change much, but thirteen is that high end of the second plateau I was talking about earlier. Fourteen is where things change again, and things won’t change past that until seventeen. Sixteen is where it gets scary, but seventeen is theoretically where you’re kind of never the same again. And eighteen is dangerous. Nineteen is either hospital or brain damage. Twenty is dead.

Not that it was easy to hit that. Hitting the fourth plateau puts you about three-fourths of the way to a lethal dose, so you’d have to take what you were already taking plus a third of that same amount to die. But I can’t imagine pushing it that far would be… y’know. Worthwhile. It just sounds harrowing. I’d rather try heroin. And I don’t want to ever do heroin.

After this is all said and done, you get the hangover. No sleep. It’s not going to happen. A shower is so much sensory input that it actually makes you feel sick. You probably should avoid driving. You won’t want to eat or drink anything, but you should. But you won’t be able to eat anything too dry and anything moist is just going to be sickening, so good luck. Even after forcing it all down, you might throw it up.This hangover is fucked up and can last, like, three days. Not recommended.

I don’t have much in the way of a conclusion, though I can totally see myself going deep on another substance in the future. Not as in using it, but discussing it. Duh. I just find the subject absolutely enthralling.