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Lil Wayne seizure puts spotlight on 'sizzurp'

By Docta, Mar 24, 2013 | | |
  1. Docta
    View attachment 31768 Often mixed with fruit soda and sipped from oversized cups, the fortified cough syrup is highly addictive — and technically legal. The powerful narcotic popped up on the cultural grid around the turn of the millennium. A Texas producer-remixer named DJ Screw paid homage to its woozy, heavy-lidded high by dramatically slowing down beats and vocals to replicate the drug's sleepwalker euphoria.

    Among Southern rappers, the chemical mixture — called "sizzurp" on the street — soon became as ubiquitous as gold jewelry.

    This wasn't some exotic new hallucinogen. In fact, it was usually mixed with fruit soda and sipped from oversized plastic foam cups. A cough syrup, fortified with codeine and promethazine and bought with a prescription, it was highly addictive — and technically legal.

    Over the last dozen or so years, sizzurp has become a quietly pervasive cultural force that has infiltrated the Top 40 by way of the hip-hop genre Chopped and Screwed, pioneered by DJ Screw. The sound has turned up on tracks by elite hit makers including Beyonce, Kanye West and, most notably, dreadlocked rap superstar Lil Wayne, who found an unlikely muse in the drug's chemical composition.

    When news that Wayne was hospitalized after suffering a seizure on a music video set March 12, many thought sizzurp might be to blame. Spokespeople for the rapper denied it, and he was released from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center six days after he was admitted. Stress, not substance abuse, caused his hospitalization, said Bryan "Birdman" Williams, co-chief executive of the chart-topping rapper's label Cash Money Records.

    But sizzurp has long existed in the shadows of the music industry, and is even suspected in several deaths.

    Followers of Lil Wayne (Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.) know well his affection for "sippin' on syrup," as the phenomenon is known.

    As far back as 2005, Lil Wayne rapped affectionately about his favored cocktail — sizzurp with fruit soda to mask its unpleasant medicine taste — on the song "Lock & Load": "I'm probably drinkin' that syrup/Thinking I won't slip/Even though I'm leaning like a broken hip."

    Sizzurp has also provided a street-cred-bolstering talking point in lyrics for star rappers Rick Ross and Far East Movement. And syrup provoked a minor media frenzy in February, when pop star Justin Bieber was photographed at a party in close proximity to what looked like a bottle of codeine-fortified meds (Bieber has denied taking drugs).

    Chopped and Screwed music is front and center on R&B diva Beyonce's newly released single "Bow Down / I Been On." The genre's signature sound — slowing the singer's vocal pitch to a molasses-y growl — is used to showcase Beyonce's artistic risk-taking. As well, hip-hop luminaries Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, T.I. and Drake have made repeated use of the genre's slo-mo phrasing techniques.

    That Lil Wayne, one of hip-hop's cash kings, would find escape in something as down-market as prescription cold medication may seem at odds with the genre's blinged-out excesses.

    PHOTOS: Rapper Lil Wayne a.k.a. Dwayne Carter

    "Codeine is an opiate," said Jane Maxwell, senior research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin's Addiction Research Institute. "When you're sipping on syrup, you're sipping on a synthetic narcotic analgesic."

    Lil Wayne is seen guzzling what appears to be sizzurp — also known as "lean," "purp" or "purple drank" thanks to the cough syrup's synthetic pastel hue — in the 2009 documentary film "The Carter." (He sued to block the movie's release, accusing its filmmakers of fraud by intentional misrepresentation, but the suit was thrown out by a judge.)

    After serving 242 days on Rikers Island in 2010 for gun possession, Lil Wayne continued to pledge allegiance to sizzurp — never mind probation terms stipulating more prison time should he test positive for drugs prior to November 2013: "I'm purple drank forever," Wayne raps in last year's "Turn On the Lights."

    Call it the multiple Grammy-winning rapper's cultural prerogative, a byproduct of his New Orleans upbringing. Within the gritty environment that spawned Lil Wayne and Southern hip-hop, purple drank provides a cheap, legal, often medical-insurance-subsidized alternative to dangerous street drugs like crack and heroin, especially for those below the poverty line, according to "Leaning on Syrup," a report on opioid cough syrup abuse from the Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

    Recreational users generally mix two ounces of codeine-promethazine cough syrup with a 12-ounce can of soda to achieve a high. Habitual abusers with a high opioid tolerance have been known to take up to 25 times the recommended dosage over the course of a day.

    In a videotaped public service announcement Lil Wayne posted to the Web in 2011, the multi-platinum-selling Louisiana rapper addresses his complex relationship with cough syrup:

    "I don't do this to be cool," Lil Wayne explains, holding up a container of promethazine codeine syrup clearly bearing his given name. "I did this because I was sick."

    The risks of sizzurp certainly seem to outweigh its intoxicating benefits.

    In 2000, just as he was coming to prominence for the Chopped and Screwed sound, DJ Screw died from an overdose on cough syrup and other substances, including marijuana and alcohol, a medical examiner concluded.

    DJ Screw's protege and member of his Screwed Up Click crew, MC Big Moe, died at 33 in 2007, after a heart attack and a weeklong coma. No direct connection was made to sizzurp, but Big Moe, whose music was a psychedelic take on Chopped and Screwed mixes, was not shy about discussing his use of codeine cough syrup. His best-selling song was "Purple Stuff" on his Purple World album.

    Also in 2007, Pimp C of the Texas rap duo UGK died at age 33 in Los Angeles after overdosing on codeine cough syrup in conjunction with a preexisting sleep condition, according to the Los Angeles County coroner. Ironically, the rapper may have helped popularize the substance that sped his demise. He provided a guest rap on Three 6 Mafia's underground hit "Sippin' on Sizzurp," which spread the gospel of recreational cough syrup use in 2000.

    Florida MC Ross made his syrup feelings clear on 2011's "The Boss": "Back to the thuggin', now I'm sippin' sizzurp/All my niggaz love it, baby, that's my wizzerd." Although he has not publicly addressed the toll purp drank has had on his health, Ross suffered unexplained seizures twice in 2011 and another seizure last year.

    Sizzurp also gets a notable shout out on Far East Movement's 2010 smash hit single (and ode to private jet travel) "Like a G6."

    In October, Lil Wayne experienced two seizures on private planes in as many days and was admitted to a Louisiana hospital. A representative said the performer was suffering from dehydration and migraines.

    Regardless of what triggered those seizures or his most recent episode, medical experts say the codeine in sizzurp — an opiate in the same family of drugs as heroin and morphine — makes the habit hard to kick.

    "There's a misconception that codeine is a weaker formula of the same class of medicine" as heroin, said Dr. George Fallieras, an emergency room physician at Los Angeles' Good Samaritan Hospital. "But the amount of codeine these guys ingest with the syrup is massive.... It's just the same as someone being addicted to heroin, except they're not using needles."

    By Chris Lee, Los Angeles Times
    March 23, 2013
    Times staff writer Amina Khan contributed to this report.
    Image by theheraldng.com


  1. Potter
    That is one scary looking man.
  2. timkanu
    (before I start id just like to say promethazine and codeine are available seperatly without prescription over the counter where I am from.)

    When ever I have taken promethazine along with a codeine cwe. the next morning/day I had really weird seizure like effects (best way I can describe it)

    My neck and eyes would sort of feel like they lock into place when trying to have a conversation with someone with a kinda electric shock type seizing feeling/effect. I tried promethazine with my cwe 3 or 4 times and each time the next day I would have these horrible mini seizure like effects. The higher the dose of promethazine with the cwe the stronger the neck/head/eye seizures would be.

    I worked out it was derectly linked to the promethazine, as out of all the hundreds of times I have had codeine this disturbing side effect only happened on the handfull of times I took promethazine with it. It disturbed me so.much I chucked all the vile promethazine away and never agained tainted any opiates with it!

    All this was from mixing no more than just 30mg promethazine with 300mg of codeine or dihydrocodeine

    (taking promethazine on it's own never had the horrible next day seizure effect)

    Anyone know why this would be? scientifically.

    all in all promethazine feels like some kind of horrible dirty drug to me, esspecialy mixed with opiates. After my experiments with it, I find it hard to belive any one would go out of their way to tarnish their opiates with it.
  3. Cash.Nexus
    "Codeine is an opiate," said Jane Maxwell, senior research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin's Addiction Research Institute. "When you're sipping on syrup, you're sipping on a synthetic narcotic analgesic."^^^

    Just being pedantic, but is codeine a synthetic? That would make it an opioid.

    From Codeine wiki: "Codeine is an opiate, a naturally occurring alkaloid in opium."
  4. MikePatton
    It always fascinated me how Codeine cough syrup became such a luxurious drug in these hip hop circles. I mean those rappers can probably get any drug they want at the highest quality possible in a blink of an eye, why would they resort to such a cheap legal high?

    And how easy is it to get a prescription for it, anyway? I mean Codeine is only available OTC in microscopic quantities here and only mixed with paracetamol/Ibuprofen and caffeine, usually 10mg codeine on 500mg paracetamol and 30mg caffeine. Pretty hard to abuse those since you need at least 20 pills for a decent CWE and thw caffeine completely ruins the high, like who the hell wants to drink 15 cups of coffee with his Codeine?
  5. timkanu
    My previous post was on topic as I took the time to give my experience of promethazine and codeine seizure like phenomenon, which is directly in reply to the opening post. It was in no way "completely off topic".

    I feel quite agrevied to have been given negative rep for trying to add somthing interesting that was directly related to the 2 drugs in question as well as the specific nature in which the article was written specifically about (cod prometh and seizures)...

    Utterly unjustifyed and misuse of the rep system. I feel quite disappointed that I even botherd to add my own experiences relating to the article at all if its just thrown back in my face with negative rep.
  6. runnerupbeautyqueen
    I thought the same thing. Of all the drugs...cough syrup? Really? It just doesn't seem worth it to me to have to drink a ton of nasty liquid to get a little bit of one of the weakest opiods there is.

    What about pain medicine? Oxy, Fentanyl, hell even suboxone has a better risk to reward ratio then cough syrup.

    To each his own I guess. Just weird when a guy in a million dollar car leaving his million dollar house is getting high on the cheapest/weakest (relatively) drug there is.
  7. derpahderp
    Going under the segway between putting a spotlight to the very real on pink stuff and 'dranks in red cups'(as Macklemore had pointed out in his album).. Idk if it's really a red light on something that's been around since back in the late 90's and early 2000's.

    -it's more so that the public was made aware of the opiate side of the said mixture and the reasons they spoke of 'ills' and 'numbing the pains'.. Least that's what I could understand off some of the lyrics. Rubyq even makes a good point to why it could have been something under the radar.
    Sometimes it's the first drug people have tried and makes it tough to quit because the relative availibility and almost legally accepted club sneak drink to spike(for ones own personal usage). Granted I've not known that aspect IME.. But I could relate to the reasons why they'd started or how they'd talk about it in their songs/flows. Imho, it does make a bit more sense why it would be difficult to quit.. with such a lower range of opiate effect if youre mixing it as that were your drink of choice. Cheap thrills and longterm ills..

  8. SublimeTrip
    (My opinion)

    Lil' Wayne's seizures had nothing to do with promethazine/codeine(Sizzurp).

    He takes a ton of Xanax. It was from Xanax withdrawal.

    I am addicted to many things(Heroin, Xanax, Alcohol, Amphetamines, etc.) and I have been both prescribed to and also abused "Sizzurp" many, many, many times.

    Anyways... Opiate withdrawal(although horrible) have NEVER caused me, or anyone else I have ever heard of to have seizures. There is only two classes of drugs that do that... Benzodiazepines and Alcohol. They are also the only withdrawals that can kill you.

    My theory is that he was for some reason unable to get any(or enough) Xanax. When you are extremely addicted to Benzos(Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, etc.), quitting them cold turkey without medical attention is extremely dangerous. You have to taper down slowly or VERY bad things can happen, even death.

    Please comment on this and let me know your opinion.

  9. derpahderp

    Interesting. Well, I hand't really gone into an in depth thought.. but the previous poster did make me put up some research and came up with this:

    also noted that Im not an expert in opiates but can feel why they'd say, 'leaning on the syrup'- possibly a taper method off of the more heavier or myriad of use from either heroin or some form of poly-abuse.
  10. runnerupbeautyqueen
    I have a friend (who is also on the forum) who has had seizures resulting from heroin detox's. So while it may be unlikely and uncommon it isn't completely unheard of. But if seizures are rare even for heroin I think it would be even more rare for seizures to be caused by a weaker opiate/oid. But weirder things have happened...

    I wonder why the article didn't mention anything about his benzo use. It's a pretty big piece of the puzzle if you ask me.

    This may sound stupid but the article mentions that the cough syrup is mixed with soda. Is it also mixed with alcohol? I mean, even if it was you would have to drink a lot more than just that (the amount mixed with cough syrup, that is) to have withdrawals but rappers aren't exactly teetotalers. If you're drinking a cough syrup/vodka mix all day every day that might do it.
  11. Moving Pictures
    Seizures are actually one of the symptoms of a codeine overdose. (here) Codeine acts differently that regular opiates in the case of overdose. I don't know the specifics but I've known for a long time that seizures are a symptom of a codeine overdose.

    So without knowning his medical background, looking at the facts it's fairly obvious to me what happened. He was abusing 2 drugs known for the possibility of causing a seizure (promethazine and codeine) and I too have heard he is a heavy Xanax abuser, so there's a third drug with seizure risks thrown in. No way to know exactly what happened but if he was regularly using Xanax, stopped abruptly and tried to compinsate with the codeine syrup, that could eaisly cause a seizure.

    Of course his spokespeople aren't going to come out and say, "yeah, he ODed on syrup". That would cause him to possibly go back to prison.

    From everything I've read, Lil Wayne is a multi subsatnce abuser. He uses syrup, marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, hydrocodone, and Xanax. (He was arrested in possesion of all those things)
  12. Docta
    Terns out there is a drug in 'sizzurp' called BTD-001 that may actually make the user smarter and faster thinking. Its a Polio drug from the 1920's that got discontinued in the '70s when all the drug company's had to do clinical trials on drugs to make sure they did what was claimed. Polio was long gone and BTD-001 got lost along the way as a brain drug, it only survived as a respiratory stimulant in cough syrup. Maybe its a smart drug?


    An ingredient in cough mixture could hold the key to improving language skills for people with Down Syndrome.

    Researchers from Monash University believe BTD-001 - an ingredient in cough syrup which was first discovered in the 1920s - could improve the memory, language and learning of people with the condition.

    Associate Professor Bob Davis, who is the head of the centre for Developmental Disability Health at Monash University, says throughout the last century BTD-001 has been prescribed for everything from persistent coughs to Alzheimer's disease.

    "In the 1950s and 60s it was used ... as an ingredient for a drug for people with dementia," he said.

    "People with dementia seemed to improve their memory and ... cognitive ability, so the ability to think.

    "At that stage the medication had been shown to be safe and while there were some small studies indicating that it seemed to work, it didn't have the large drug trials that are required nowadays."

    Since then, Prof Davis says it has been established that BTD-001 improves the conductivity of the nerves in the brain.

    He says a US research foundation discovered that in comparison to the general population, the nerves in people with Down Syndrome have less conductivity and a diminished ability to store information.

    His study, which is based in Australia and New Zealand, is aimed at identifying how memory and cognitive ability is affected by the medication.

    Catherine McAlpine, head of Down Syndrome Australia, welcomes the research but has some reservations.

    "There are very few research projects into helping people with Down Syndrome and the primary area of research is in prenatal testing which has its own ethical boundaries and ethical issues," she said.

    "Clearly, if we can do things that help people with Down Syndrome be more independent, then that's a good thing for everyone.

    "But it can be a little bit complicated when we are talking about quality of life and increased cognition being one and the same because they're not the same thing."

    There are about 6 million people with Down Syndrome worldwide.

    By Sarah Dingle, ABC
    March 26, 2013,
  13. Rob Cypher
    that's what constant opiate use will do to you...and I'm pretty sure he's doing more than codeine syrup...a couple of his rap friends from back when he started rapping ended up washing out on heroin; wouldn't surprise me if that was in the mix along with 'molly' and god knows what else.
  14. seaturtle
    It's clear that they do lots of other drugs such as benzos, alcohol, and stimulants, so perhaps they prefer a weaker opioid since they don't want to overwhelm the effects. It's marginally safer too, but I'm not sure these sort of dudes even consider safety in their decisions.
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