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Learn What's on the Street

May 1, 2006
by Maxim W. Furek, MA, CAC
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Professionals should be aware of prominent drug trends

Over the past several decades, the landscape of recreational drug use has continually changed, with various substances rising and falling in popularity. Our modern-day street pharmacopeia includes some older drugs suddenly back in favor and other substances that are relatively unknown to the masses.

Despite the dangers, some curious drug takers will fearlessly embrace many of these substances with cult-like fascination. The pattern of introduction, experimentation, and use will be a constant for some. The drug and alcohol professional has a challenge in remaining aware of evolving drug trends.

Listed here are descriptions of seven substances that are prominent in current drug trends and need to be part of drug and alcohol professionals' vocabulary.


On the market since the 1960s, dextromethorphan is used in small doses for cough suppression. About 100 varieties of this product are on the market, with most containing dextromethorphan hydrobromide. Examples of dextromethorphan hydrobromide products include DexAlone gelcaps 30 mg, Robi-tussin Maximum Strength cough suppressant 15 mg, and Vicks 44 LiquiCaps Cough, Cold and Flu Relief 10 mg.

Around 2000, druggists began to notice that their bottles of over-the-counter Coricidin (30 mg dextromethorphan hydrobromide) and chlorpheniramine maleate (the active ingredient in the antihistamine Chlor-Trimeton) were flying off the shelves. Some people were beginning to cook down the contents into a powder that then was inserted into a capsule. The one-hit blast, more concentrated than the medicinal cough suppressant, provided a potent hallucinatory, dissociative experience.

Brain damage and death have been reported as a result of recreational use of dextromethorphan. The death of an 18-year-old Nevada man in November 1999 became the first known death associated with use of the substance. Last year the FDA issued a warning about abuse of the drug after the deaths of five teenagers who had consumed capsules containing the powder. On the street the product is known as “robo,” “DXM,” “dex,” and “triple C.”


Fresh khat leaves, which are shiny bright green or reddish-green, are chewed like tobacco to produce an amphetamine-like high. Khat has been used for centuries, and is a cultural staple for immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Yemen.

Use of khat is legal in East Africa and in many parts of Europe. It has been illegal in the United States since 1993, and is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I drug. Cathinone, the active ingredient, stimulates the central nervous system, producing mood swings, euphoria, and a mild high.

According to the DEA, long-term use of this substance can lead to violence and suicidal depression. Medical re-search from the United Kingdom has cited heart problems, stroke, mental illness, and bladder problems associated with this drug.1 Khat in a synthetic powder form has emerged in the U.S. rave scene. Khat is often called “African tea” or “African salad.”

Fry cigarettes

The trend of smoking embalming fluid has been around since the 1970s, but the current variation on this dangerous behavior has PCP added to the wicked brew—usually unbeknownst to the users.

Fry cigarettes are usually marijuana joints dipped in embalming fluid (a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol, or ethyl alcohol and other solvents) and PCP. The smoked concoction is absorbed into the lungs almost instantly and goes straight to the brain. Loss of orientation, judgment, and short-term memory is usually the first effect of intoxication.

The reported high lasts from 30 minutes to an hour. Possible consequences of smoking include violence, irrational behaviors, hallucinations, and unconsciousness. This substance also has been used as a date rape drug, with a disconcerting pattern of sexual assaults currently being reported in the United Kingdom.2 A Connecticut epidemic peaked in 1993 and 1994. Use appears most prevalent in urban settings. The drug combination is known as “fry,” “illy,” “drank,” “wet,” and “wetdaddy” in various regions of the country.


Also known as Piper methysticum, this plant has roots that have been used for thousands of years to concoct a ceremonial beverage. The substance, popular in the South Pacific, promotes feelings of relaxation and well-being. Some studies suggest that kava may be effective in the short-term treatment of anxiety and insomnia and to help prevent seizures. The FDA classifies kava as a nutritional supplement.

Use of the drink has spurred a police crackdown on kava-intoxicated motorists in California. Side effects include loss of motor skills, drooling, and trance-like symptoms. The combination of kava and alcohol increases the risk of toxicity. In March 2002 the FDA issued a consumer advisory about kava product consumption, citing a rare but potential risk of liver problems and recommending that kava be used only under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional. Kava products have been removed from the marketplace in Canada and several European nations.

Marijuana-flavored lollipops

Chronic Candy, a California-based company, describes eating its product as “like taking a hit.” The confections, marketed under names such as “Chronic” and “Acapulco Gold,” are imported from Switzerland. The distributors claim that their marijuana-flavored candies contain no THC but do contain hemp oil.