Purple drank

Close-up photo of a metal spoon filled with a viscous, clear purple fluid
A spoonful of promethazine/​codeine syrup showing the characteristic purple color

Purple drank is a slang term for a concoction which includes a prescription-strength cough syrup as a recreational drug. The mixture became popular in the hip hop community in the southern United States, originating in Houston.[1]

The prescription-strength cough syrup used in purple drank contains codeine and promethazine (not to be confused with dextromethorphan; DXM).[2] The cough syrup, used in doses much higher than medically recommended, is typically mixed with ingredients such as the soft drinks Sprite or Mountain Dew and optionally "a Jolly Rancher hard fruit candy thrown in for extra sweetness."[1] The purplish hue of purple drank comes from dyes in the cough syrup. The amount of cough syrup used "can exceed up to 25 times the recommended dose."[3] The concoction is "Typically consumed out of Styrofoam cups".[3]

There are numerous slang terms for purple drank, including sizzurp,[4][5][6][7][8] lean,[2][5][6][9] syrup,[5][7][10] drank,[7][11] barre,[7] purple jelly,[6][7] Texas tea,[11] dirty Sprite,[12][13] and Tsikuni.[14]


  • Effects 1
    • Hazards 1.1
  • History 2
    • Popularization 2.1
    • Notable deaths from use 2.2
    • Other notable incidents 2.3
  • Ingredients 3
  • Mentions in hip hop 4
  • Commercial products 5
    • Criticism 5.1
  • References 6


The physiological effects of purple drank on the user is to produce mild "euphoric side effects", which are accompanied by "motor-skill impairment, lethargy, drowsiness, and a dissociative feeling from all other parts of the body".[3] Houston author Lance Scott Walker noted that the super-sweet combination of soda, cough syrup, and Jolly Ranchers provides a flavor and mouthfeel which stays on the tongue for an extended duration. This phenomenon is often appealing to first time users.[15] Purple drank is often used in combination with alcohol and/or other drugs.[3]


In an article following the hospitalization of the rapper [16]

Dangers arise in higher dosages because promethazine is a depressant of the central nervous system and codeine is a respiratory depressant. When codeine is taken in very large amounts, it can cause one to stop breathing.[16] Using alcohol and other drugs alongside purple drank increases the chance of problems.[16] Fallieras stated that the concoction does not cause seizures itself but increases their likelihood in those susceptible to them.[16] The drink includes a "massive" amount of the opiate codeine, which can be addictive in high doses, and Fallieras states that "promethazine has at least anecdotally been noted to intensify the euphoric effects of codeine in the brain."[16]

The addictive nature of the drink means that trying to discontinue regular usage can bring about symptoms of withdrawal.[16] In a 2008 interview with MTV News, Lil Wayne described the withdrawal as feeling “like death in your stomach when you stop. Everybody wants me to stop all this and all that. It ain't that easy."[17]


According to Houston-based author Lance Scott Walker, purple drank developed in that city around the 1960s when blues musicians would take Robitussin and cut it with beer. Later when wine coolers came onto the market, they substituted for beer.[15] These blues musicians lived in Houston's Fifth Ward, Third Ward, and South Park neighborhoods and the practice was taken up by the generation of rappers growing up in the same parts of the city.[15] In the 1980s and 1990s the formula changed to using codeine promethazine cough syrup, lemon-lime flavored soda, and Jolly Ranchers.[15]

Professor Ronald Peters, also a Houston resident, points out that purple drank remained a local Houston phenomenon until the 1990s rapper DJ Screw released several tunes mentioning the drink in his mixtapes which were extremely popular in the Houston area.[15]

Walker holds that DJ Screw's music was particularly appropriate for Houston's climate. Due to the heat and expanse of the Houston area residents spent long drives in their cars, "the music that most appropriately complements that has always been the music of DJ Screw, it's slowed down - and when I say slowed down I mean he would record sessions in his apartment with rappers freestyling over beats and he would make these big mixtapes and then he would actually slow them down even further on his cassette recorder."[15] DJ Screw's invoking purple drank in his lyrics and his use of slow tempos, has caused his style to be characterized "As if the song itself has taken too much codeine promethazine".[15] Rappers outside of Houston soon adopted aspects of his style.[15]

Walker points out that purple drank had never been stigmatized in Houston, but with the apparently purple drank related early death of DJ Screw, the concoction became the focus of law enforcement in the Houston area with felony charges being applied for some aspects surrounding it.[15]


Houston producer DJ Screw popularized the concoction, which is widely attributed as a source of inspiration for the "chopped and screwed" style of hip hop music.[5][18] The promethazine and codeine concoction first gained popularity in the underground rap scene in Houston,[18] where musician Big Hawk said it was consumed as early as the 1960s and 1970s, becoming more widely used in the early 1990s.[19] Because of usage by rap artists in Houston, it became more popular in the 1990s.[20] Its use later spread to other southern states.[5]

In June 2000, Three 6 Mafia's single "Sippin' on Some Syrup," featuring UGK, brought the term "purple drank" to a nationwide audience.[4]

In 2004, the University of Texas found that 8.3% of secondary school students in Texas had taken codeine syrup to get high.[5] The Drug Enforcement Administration reports "busts" involving syrup across the southern United States, particularly in Texas and Florida.[5]

As of 2011, the price of purple drank in Houston is twice the price as it is in Los Angeles.[20]

Notable deaths from use

Purple drank is confirmed or suspected to have caused the deaths of several prominent users. Respiratory depression is a potentially serious or fatal adverse drug reaction associated with the use of codeine, but mainly the danger lies in the much more potent and CNS-depressing phenothiazine-related antihistamine promethazine. This depression is dose-related and is the mechanism for the potentially fatal consequences of overdose: respiratory or cardiac arrest. As with most CNS depressants, mixing with alcohol greatly increases the risk of respiratory failure and other complications.[21]

DJ Screw, who popularized the codeine-based drink, died of a codeine-promethazine-alcohol overdose on November 16, 2000, several months after the video to Three 6 Mafia's single debuted.[10]

Big Moe, a DJ Screw protégé whose albums City of Syrup and Purple World were based on the drink and who has been described as having "rapped obsessively about the drug,"[22] died at age 33 on October 14, 2007, after suffering a heart attack one week earlier that left him in a coma.[23] There was speculation that purple drank may have contributed to his death.[24][25]

Pimp C, widely influential Port Arthur, Texas rapper and a member of rap duo UGK, was found dead on December 4, 2007, at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, California. The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office reported that the rapper's death was "due to promethazine/codeine effects and other unestablished factors." Ed Winter, assistant chief of the Coroner's Office, said the levels of the medication were elevated, but not enough to deem the death an overdose. However, Pimp C had a history of sleep apnea, a condition that causes one to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. A spokesman for the coroner's office said that the combination of sleep apnea and cough medication probably suppressed Pimp C's breathing long enough to bring on his death.[6][22]

Other notable incidents

In September 2006, Terrence Kiel, a San Diego Chargers player, was arrested during practice for the possession with intent to sell prescription cough syrup for use in making the drink.[5] Kiel was caught trying to ship a case of syrup to a friend via FedEx. Kiel was charged with two felony counts of transporting a controlled substance and three counts of possession for sale of a controlled substance.[26]

On July 8, 2008, Johnny Jolly, a Green Bay Packers player, was pulled over in his car for excessive music. The officers found a Dr Pepper bottle in a holder next to two Styrofoam cups containing soda and ice. The officers said the cups and the bottle all emitted "strong odors of codeine."[27] The case was dismissed,[28] but charges were refiled in December 2009 after the Houston Police Department acquired new equipment that allowed the police to test the evidence again. Jolly faced a possible maximum sentence of up to 20 years in jail, but as a first time offender he would be eligible for probation.[29]

On July 5, 2010, former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was arrested at his home in Mobile, Alabama, for possession of codeine syrup without a prescription. He was arrested as part of an undercover narcotics investigation. Russell was booked into city jail and released soon afterwards after making his bail.[30]

On March 15, 2013, Lil Wayne was hospitalized with seizures after a sizzurp binge.[31]

On June 11, 2013, just days after being robbed at gunpoint in San Francisco, rapper 2 Chainz was arrested at Los Angeles international airport on charges of possessing promethazine and codeine (the primary ingredients of purple drank) along with marijuana.[32]


The most popular type of codeine syrup is promethazine-codeine, a prescription cough syrup. The active ingredients are codeine, a narcotic, and promethazine, an antihistamine. When taken in large quantities, both medications can lead to sedation and altered levels of consciousness.[2] The inclusion of the antihistamine is intended to deter abuse, as doses higher-than-recommended can produce extreme somnolence, clinical weakness, and ultimately, fatal hypoventilation (inadequate breathing to sustain life). In lower doses, the antihistamine targets cold symptoms through reducing both swelling and vasodilation; it also acts to potentiate the opiate codeine.

Prescription cough syrups containing hydrocodone are also used to make similar drinks, though they are less popular.[33] Songs like "Sippin' on Some Syrup" by Three 6 Mafia refer to Tussionex, a yellow cough syrup containing extended-release hydrocodone and chlorpheniramine (another antihistamine).[34] Other hydrocodone-containing syrups such as Histinex HC, Hycotuss, and Hycodan may also be used, but Hycodan has added homatropine to deter abuse.[35] Syrup also is made with over-the-counter cough syrups such as Robitussin DM, which contain dextromethorphan as the cough suppressant. Although dextromethorphan is used recreationally, it has dissociative effects as opposed to narcotic. Dextromethorphan is a synthetic morphine analog,[36] although without opioid activity that morphine has, that has been on the market in the United States since the 1950s.[37] It is a cough suppressant in small doses, but in large doses it can result in a disassociative state, with hallucinations, similar to that produced by PCP or ketamine.[33]

Promethazine-codeine contains 10 mg of codeine and 6.25 mg of promethazine per 5 mL.[38]

Some users report that the large amount of sugar in drank causes them to experience weight gain, tooth decay, and other medical symptoms.[24]

Mentions in hip hop

Notable references to purple drank have appeared in several hip hop tunes, these include:

  • DJ Screw featuring Big Moe, "Sippin' Codeine" (1998)[39]
  • Jay-Z featuring UGK, "Big Pimpin" (1999)[39]
  • Three 6 Mafia, "Sippin' on Some Syrup" (2000)[39]
  • Three 6 Mafia featuring Lil Flip, "Rainbow Colors" (2003)[39]
  • Beanie Sigel featuring Bun B, "Purple Rain" (2005)[39]
  • Paul Wall, "Sippin' Tha Barre" (2005)[39]
  • Macklemore, "Otherside" (2010)

Commercial products

Advertising for one commercial product with marketing based on purple drank.

Several legal commercial products loosely based on the concept of "purple drank" are marketed in the United States. In June 2008, Innovative Beverage Group, a Houston, Texas-based company, released a beverage called "Drank." The commercial product contains no codeine or promethazine, but claims to "Slow Your Roll" with a combination of herbal ingredients such as valerian root and rose hips as well as the hormone melatonin.[40][41] Similar "relaxation" or "anti-energy" drinks on the commercial market use the names "Purple Stuff", "Sippin Syrup", and "Lean".[42][43][44]


These commercial products have been criticized for their potential to serve as gateways to the dangerous illegal concoction.[43][44][45] At a mental health conference in February 2010, Dr. Ronald Peters, Jr., of the University of Texas Health Science Center said of "Drank": "They're taking the name, and they're trying to market it to young people." He described the beverage as "the worst thing I've ever seen on the street since the making of candy cigarettes."[45]


  1. ^ a b Tamara Palmer (2005). Country Fried Soul: Adventures in Dirty South Hip-hop. Outline Press Limited. p. 188. 
  2. ^ a b c Peters Ronald J. Jr.; Steven H. Kelder, Christine M. Markham, George S. Yacoubian, Jr., Lecresha A. Peters and Artist Ellis (2003). "Beliefs and social norms about codeine and promethazine hydrochloride cough syrup (CPHCS) onset and perceived addiction among urban Houstonian adolescents: an addiction trend in the city of lean.". Journal of drug education 33 (4): 415–25.  
  3. ^ a b c d Melissa Leon (March 17, 2013). "Lil Wayne Hospitalization: What the Hell Is Sizzurp?". The Daily Beast. 
  4. ^ a b Walker, Yolanda (2006-10-20). "Drug-laced cough syrup tempts Texas teens".  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Leinwand, Donna (2006-10-18). "DEA warns of soft drink-cough syrup mix".  
  6. ^ a b c d "Cough syrup cited in rapper Pimp C's death". LATimes.com. 2008-02-05. Retrieved 2008-03-15. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Bryan Robinson, Cough Syrup Abuse in Texas Takes Center Stage, ABC News, August 17, 2005
  8. ^ The Daily Fix The Wall Street Journal, David Roth. July 9, 2010
  9. ^ Richard Klemme, USE OF PROMETHAZINE WITH CODEINE SYRUP: COUGH/COLD EPIDEMIC OR SIGNIFICANT ABUSE?, Texas State Board of Pharmacy Newsletter, Volume XXV , Number 2, Spring 2001. The name "lean" refers to "abusers’ propensity of having difficulty in standing up straight."
  10. ^ a b Demby, Eric (2001-01-11). "Codeine Overdose Killed DJ Screw, Medical Examiner Says". MTV.com. Retrieved 2006-10-28. 
  11. ^ a b Shaheem Reid, Lil Wayne On Syrup: 'Everybody Wants Me To Stop ... It Ain't That Easy', MTV.com, February 28, 2008
  12. ^ http://www.newsms.fm/dirty-sprite-lean-purple-drank-teens-need-stay-away/
  13. ^ http://www.wcyb.com/news/dirty-sprite-gains-popularity-among-teens/28236066
  14. ^ Arizona Officer Safety Bulletin, [3], Public Intelligence, June 24, 2011
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Marah Eakin (March 26, 2013). "Learn all about the long, lean history of "sizzurp" with this 7-minute audio primer". A.V. Club. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f Amina Khan (March 18, 2013). "Doctor explains sizzurp's powerful high -- and deadly side effects". 
  17. ^ Allison Samuels (March 18, 2013). "Rapper Lil Wayne and His Struggle With Sizzurp ‘Drank’". 
  18. ^ a b [4]Corcoran, Michael Joseph (2005). "The Geto Boys and DJ Screw: Where the Dirty South Began". All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music (1st ed.). Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 23–26.  
  19. ^ Joseph Patel, Chopped & Screwed: A History, page 2, MTV.com. Accessed January 7, 2010.
  20. ^ a b Schiller, Dane. "Purple Drank scheme allegedly made millions for smuggling ring." Houston Chronicle. Wednesday October 19, 2011. Retrieved on October 23, 2011.
  21. ^ "Alcohol Interactions with Other Drugs". Alcohol and Other Drugs Program Public Health Division, Health Department of Western Australia. 1999. 
  22. ^ a b Kristie Rieken, Cough syrup found in Pimp C's hotel had no label, Associated Press, February 5, 2008
  23. ^ DJs – Rapper Big Moe Dies, contactmusic.com, 15/10/2007
  24. ^ a b Leslie Casimir, Rapper's death leads teens to re-evaluate lifestyle; Fans and friends wonder whether drug was a factor in his heart attack, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 20, 2007
  25. ^ Houston rappers remember Big Moe, by Eyder Peralta, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 16, 2007
  26. ^ Chargers safety Kiel arrested on drug charges, USA Today, September 28, 2006
  27. ^ Jolly faces unclear future – Trial on felony charge of drug possession awaits Packers defensive lineman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 11, 2009.
  28. ^ Case against Jolly dismissed, "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel", July 16, 2009
  29. ^ "540 ESPN Milwaukee". Espnmilwaukee.com. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  30. ^ 2010-07-05
  31. ^ "Lil Wayne Hospitalized - In Critical Condition After More Seizures". TMZ.com. 2013-03-15. Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  32. ^ "2013-11-06". News.radio.com. 2013-06-11. Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  33. ^ a b Maxim W. Furek, "Lean" Abuse Creates Strange Musical Genre, Counselor: The Magazine for Addiction Professionals, 20 November 2008
  34. ^ "Tussionex (Hydrocodone and Chlorpheniramine) drug description – FDA approved labeling for prescription drugs and medications at RxList". Rxlist.com. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  35. ^ Papich, Mark G. (2010-11-03). Saunders Handbook of Veterinary Drugs: Small and Large Animal. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Health Sciences.  
  36. ^ Mason, Robert J.; V. Courtney Broaddus, Thomas Martin, Talmadge King Jr, Dean Schraufnagel, John F. Murray, Jay A. Nadel (2010-06-09). Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. Elsevier Health Sciences.  
  37. ^ Miller, Richard Lawrence (2002). "Dextromethorphan". The encyclopedia of addictive drugs. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. pp. 110‒113.  
  38. ^ "Phenergan with Codeine medical facts from Drugs.com". Drugs.com. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  39. ^ a b c d e f "A history of 'sizzurp' in song". LA Times. 2013. 
  40. ^ Slow Your Roll' With DRANK From Innovative Beverage Group – the World's First Extreme Lifestyle Relaxation Beverage"'".  
  41. ^ Adventures in Press Releases: The Anti-Energy Drink By Sarah DiGregorio in Edible News, June 4, 2008
  42. ^ 'Sippin Syrup' being sold in stores creates controversy, theGrio website, 09/25/2009. Retrieved November 27, 2009.
  43. ^ a b Jemimah Noonoo, Anti-Energy Drink Fuels Concerns Over Marketing, Houston Chronicle, November 28, 2008; retrieved from commercialalert.org website on November 27, 2009
  44. ^ a b Boyce Watkins, Company Makes Money from Deadly Urban Trend: "Sipping Syrup", AOL Black Voices, September 29, 2009
  45. ^ a b Kim Horner, Anti-energy drink hard for some mental health experts to swallow, Dallas Morning News, February 18, 2010
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