Over the counter “paranormal” drug used by 3.1 million Americans to get high

Drug Policy — POSTED BY David Luke on April 12, 2010 at 11:18 am

According to a recent report from the US based on SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “…the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM) is found in more than 140 over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications. In 2006 about 3.1 million persons aged 12 to 25 (5.3%) had ever used an over-the-counter cough and cold medication to get high; that is, used it nonmedically. Nearly 1 million persons aged 12 to 25 (1.7%) had used an over-the-counter cough and cold medication to get high in the past year.”

What isn’t popularly known is that at high enough doses the dissociative drug DXM causes subjective paranormal effects similar to those of ketamine, such as out-of-body experiences (OBEs), near-death experiences, a loss of the sense of causality, a sense of presence, encounters with entities, and the occasional experience of extra-sensory perception (White, 1997, Price & Lebel, 2000). These reports were also corroborated by a recent survey on paranormal experience with psychoactive drugs that I conducted with Dr. Marios Kittenis of the University of Edinburgh. We found that several of our survey respondents acknowledged having experiences of clairvoyance, psychokinesis, OBEs, mystical-type experiences, and telepathy in particular (Luke & Kittenis, 2005). Several respondents also independently reported using DXM with others for the explicit purpose of having group telepathic experiences, which they believed to be real and recurrent.

DXM remains a legal drug at the present time, and with increasing numbers of people taking it for non-medical purposes the prevalence of subjective paranormal experiences occurring amongst the public due to this drug must be becoming quite considerable, though no statistics are currently available. Furthermore, no research to date has tested the possibility that these reported telepathic and other experiences with DXM might actually be genuine. Previous research testing the efficacy of psychedelic agents in the production of ESP, mostly conducted throughout the 1960’s with psilocybin and LSD, showed some promising results, despite frequently using novice trippers (Luke, 2005). By the same token, however, much of this research also needed much better controls but certainly encouraged the idea that these drugs may be able to induce genuine psychic experiences, as claimed by shamans across continents and since antiquity. The latest such research project of this kind, using psilocybin and cannabis, was conducted with seemingly adequate controls at the University of Amsterdam by Prof. Dick Bierman and generated very interesting results, partially supporting the apparent efficacy of these substances in stimulating legitimate psychic (i.e., telepathic, clairvoyant or precognitive) phenomena (Bierman, 1998). Further research is certainly begging at this time.

David Luke

(Thanks to James Kent at DoseNation.com for reporting on the SAMHSA paper)


Bierman, D. J. (1998, October). The effects of THC and psilocybin on paranormal phenomena. Paper presented at Psychoactivity: A Multidisciplinary Conference on Plants, Shamanism, and States of Consciousness, Amsterdam.

Luke, D. P., & Kittenis, M. (2005). A preliminary survey of paranormal experiences with psychoactive drugs. Journal of Parapsychology, 69 (2), 305-327.

Luke, D. P. (2005). Paranormal phenomena and psychoactive drugs: Fifty-years of research Bulletin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, 15 (3), 15-16.

Price, L. H., & Lebel, J. (2000). Dextromethorphan-induced psychosis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157 (2), 304.

White, W. E. (1997). Altered states and paranormal experiences. In W. E. White, The Dextromethorphan FAQ: Answers to frequently asked questions about DXM, (version 4). Retrieved April 2, 2002, from http://www.erowid.org/chemical/dxm/faq/dxm_paranormal.shtml

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  • David Luke says:

    Following on from this an article published recently in the Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies investigates the spiritual aspects of DXM use. Based on reports from users about their use of DXM, the author of the article, Joseph Gelfer, argues that some DXM users specifically use the drug for spiritual and neo-shamanic purposes, qualifying the drug as a sacramental, or “entheogen”.

    Whether or not this substance can induce genuine (i.e., scientifically-tested) paranormal phenomena such as telepathy, as claimed by some users, remains to be seen. What remains apparent, however, is that with the criminalisation of traditional shamanic inebriants, such as psilocybin-containing mushrooms, would-be urban shamans in developed nations are finding new ways to circumvent the law to maintain archaic traditions, proving that necessity breeds ingenuity.

    Towards a sacramental understanding of dextromethorphan

    Dextromethorphan (DXM) is an ingredient of some cough suppressants which, when consumed in large amounts, can have dissociative and psychedelic effects. Some people within the DXM-user community use DXM to facilitate what they perceive to be spiritual experiences. This paper argues that DXM can therefore be understood within the DXM-user community as a sacrament, and its use located within the neo-shamanic tradition.

    Abstract taken from the full article – Gelfer, J. (2007). Towards a sacramental understanding of dextromethorphan. Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies, 3, 80-96.


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