What Is DXM? A Brief Overview

Dextromethorphan – more commonly called DXM – is an FDA approved substance that is the active ingredient in most over-the-counter cough medicines. When taken according to the instructions on the label, it is considered safe and effective for suppressing coughs and allowing those suffering from congestion to get some rest and relief. Some users take DXM in excess, though, and this can be highly dangerous.

Drug Details – What Is DXM?

DXM is the main ingredient to suppress coughing in most over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. Like ketamine and PCP, it falls in the category of dissociative anesthetics. This makes it highly effective in small doses, giving an anesthetic effect to calm a persistent cough and relaxing the user so that they can rest and recover.

Unlike other drugs, DXM has only one known delivery system – swallowing. Those looking to abuse the drug may buy it as cough medicine and ignore the recommended dosage. It is also available in pure powder form, which is most often found on the Internet or on the street.

Another thing that sets DXM apart from other illicit drugs is that the DEA does not schedule it. However, some cough medicines (those with “less than 200 milligrams of codeine per 100 milliliters”) are DEA Schedule V drugs. Thus, some medicines containing DXM may be scheduled, although DXM is not. In most cases, though, DXM is used as a substitute for codeine in cough medicine, so most Schedule V cough suppressants do not contain DXM.

A Brief History of DXM

DXM was first synthesized and used in cough medicine in the 1950s. As we mentioned a moment ago, it was first developed to replace codeine in these drugs, as there had been a rise in the abuse of cough medicines containing codeine. There was no known abuse of DXM for a few years, but by the 1960s, there had been some reports of abuse.

DXM abuse did not become widespread until the late 1990s. At that time and since then, most users seem to be adolescents seeking an easily accessible high. DXM is inexpensive, readily available, and unscheduled, making it potentially the easiest mind-altering substance for teens to get their hands on.

  • Answered by:
  • Published: 09/16/2016
  • Updated: 03/14/2023
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