Purple drank — more dangerous than you might thank?

You know how, sometimes, you don’t quite know the precise lyrics of a song, but you sing along with your best approximation of the words? Of course you do. Take, for example, the Christmas classic, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas“: it’s a song often sung by people caroling, and the lyrics imply that the carolers have a really intense hankering for some “figgy pudding.” I don’t know anyone who’s ever prepared or eaten figgy pudding, and I’m assuming kids today don’t even know what figs are. So I’m not surprised that a hilarious misconception of these lyrics is “Now bring us some friggin‘ pudding!” (a much more 20th-century adaptation).

In any case, I recently found myself in a position of song lyric uncertainty that ended up being extremely enlightening. Last year, the song “Like A G6” by the group Far East Movement was a huge hit in clubs. Since my classmates and I love to dance (hey, grad school can be fun!), I ended up singing along with this song, like, all the time…especially since one could interpret a “G6″ to be a private jet or a sixth-year grad student with strong hopes of finishing her Ph.D. Anyway, when it came time for me to exuberantly proclaim that I was “Sippin’ sizzurp in my ride!” I would just sing along and give a self-deprecating laugh because, obviously, “sizzurp” couldn’t be a real word, but we were all just yelling and having fun, so what was a missed lyric here or there?

But (to make a long story short), I found out that sizzurp is real, kids. I wasn’t mistaken about those lyrics. Sizzurp is an actual concoction that people drink as a recreational drug to have a good time… but it’s surprisingly dangerous, so I’m going to do a quick breakdown of sizzurp aka “purple drank” in this post.

As for what it means when this song talks about “gettin’ slizzard,” that’s anybody’s best guess, so leave a comment if you think you know.

1. What is sizzurp? Chances are, you may have at some point ingested all of the components of sizzurp without knowing it, but you probably had them separately. The formula for sizzurp is quite simple, actually:

While the soda and candy combination sounds like an innocent flirtation with diabetes, the recreational use of prescription cough syrup is not innocent at all. Prescription cough medicine contains codeine and promethazine, an opiate and an antihistamine, respectively. Since cough syrup often has purple dyes in it, sizzurp tends to be purple, and is perhaps more commonly known as purple drank.

2. What’s so bad about sizzurp? So, about those opiates and antihistamines: they’re no joke. Codeine, like its more potent cousin morphine, is frequently used to treat pain. While codeine can make people feel a sense of euphoria, it can also cause itching, vomiting, and constipation, which are definitively un-fun things. Most serious, though, could be the fact that codeine can cause hypoventilation, a potentially fatal inability to breathe properly. Abuse of codeine can lead to physical dependence on the drug, which comes with a whole host of nasty withdrawal symptoms once someone tries to stop using it.

Promethazine is the element of prescription cough syrup that you may not have heard of, but it’s just as dangerous as codeine, if not moreso. Promethazine is an antihistamine that is typically used to fight nausea and to induce sedation. In low doses, promethazine can enhance the effects of codeine, causing more euphoric feelings than codeine alone. However, high doses of promethazine can also cause potentially deadly central nervous system depression and hypoventilation, extreme weakness and drowsiness, and constipation.

My version of euphoria does not involve constipation.

3. Who uses sizzurp? Sizzurp was first conceived in Houston, TX, but has since spread in the form of song references throughout hip hop music. On a basic level, it can seem as though sizzurp is “glorified in lyrics by hip-hop artists and rappers.” Name a rapper and he’s probably mentioned purple drank at some point. The most prominent face of sizzurp is the rapper Lil’ Wayne:

“I’m not a rookie, I’m a pro…methazine fiend.”

“I’m used to promethazine, in two cups, I’m screwed up.”

” I’m like a turtle, when I sip the purple.”



The trendy princess of rap, Nicki Minaj (you know, the one who was just at the Kids’ Choice Awards over the weekend), has an affinity for the purple drank as well:


“…and when I come, they better lean like promethazine.”



And now I’m getting to my point: “sizzurp” aka “purple drank” aka “lean” should not be considered something that’s isolated to the big, bad rap community. Many of the rappers who are touting this drug have fans listening even more closely than I am, and they are very often in the suburban, middle-class demographic. Indeed, I think these two girls have proven themselves her Minajesty’s biggest fans:

They may not look a thing like these rappers who’ve died from sizzurp overdose:

But they clearly have access to rap music, just like the rest of suburbia does:

Maybe they're singing Lil' Wayne songs...?

I’m definitely not saying that hip-hop and rap music should be banned in any way;  First Amendment rights, rah rah rah, and all of that. But I do think it’s up to the listeners of any kind of music to think about the meaning of the words they’re singing. Especially if you have a kid or even know kids who have access to pop radio, see if they’re picking up on drug/alcohol references, and talk with them about the ugly sides of these topics…the sides that probably won’t be talked about in the songs.

Because whereas I can hear a song and think “Sizzurp? Sounds weird,” Google it, and see that it’s dangerous, I wouldn’t trust an 8-year-old Nicki Minaj fan to Google “sizzurp” and not think “Mmm, tasty!”



Karamatic R, Croese J, & Roche E (2011). Serious morbidity associated with misuse of over-the-counter codeine-ibuprofen analgesics. The Medical journal of Australia, 195 (9) PMID: 22060082

Page CB, Duffull SB, Whyte IM, & Isbister GK (2009). Promethazine overdose: clinical effects, predicting delirium and the effect of charcoal. QJM : monthly journal of the Association of Physicians, 102 (2), 123-31 PMID: 19042969

Peters R Jr, Yacoubian GS Jr, Rhodes W, Forsythe KJ, Bowers KS, Eulian VM, Mangum CA, O’Neal JD, Martin Q, & Essien EJ (2007). Beliefs and social norms about codeine and promethazine hydrochloride cough syrup (CPHCS) use and addiction among multi-ethnic college students. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 39 (3), 277-82 PMID: 18159781

This entry was posted in General Interest and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Purple drank — more dangerous than you might thank?

  1. Pingback: Purple drank via Try Nerdy | Sound Matters Music Therapy

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great Article I’m glad you took the time to inform us. I googled it because
    I saw all of my friends from Instagram putting up pictures
    Of their “purple drank!”
    Very sad and depressing to see young people in their teens and early twenties
    To take this as a joke.

  3. smart girl says:

    there are so many idiots out there in the world…the sad part is when they get wealth and a following they have no sense of social responsibilty. Nicki Minaj cares about no one but herself. That is more clear every day.
    That she has any following is proof of the dumbing down of America’ young people.

    When I was in jr high, the cheap thrill among the boys was guzzling a bottle of Robitussin. That’s when cough syrup and mouthwash had 14% alcohol by volume. Not any more. And I grew up white, upper middle class.

    You abuse, you die. You choose.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>