Lean – The Devastating Addiction Made “Cool”

Lean – The Devastating Addiction Made “Cool”

The high rates of prescription-strength painkillers dispensed since the 1990s have fuelled the opioid epidemic in the United States. Opioid misuse affects people of all ages, and for many, addiction starts early. Easy access to painkillers has resulted in many young people having access to dangerous doses of opioids in their own medicine cabinets. 

Given what we know about the addictiveness of drugs in the narcotic family, this already paints a risky picture in a country where over 70% of drug overdose deaths are opioid-related. Still, the first mental images of someone addicted to opioids doesn’t tend to be minors, and parents may not even link their children and these substances. 

Enter Lean: a sweet codeine concoction with a cool appearance that drags many young people into addiction. 

Codeine is an opium poppy plant derivative, specifically made from the extracted opiate morphine. Codeine taken in standard doses is a moderate pain reliever with mild euphoric effects, although Lean can contain up to twenty-five times the recommended amount. 

What is Lean?

Lean, also known as Sizzurp, Purple Drank, Texas Tea, Dirty Sprite, Barre, or Purple Stuff, is a potent narcotic party drug. The medium to light purple drink is made by combining codeine cough syrup (often also containing promethazine) and soda. While specific recipes differ, alcohol and colorful hard candies such as Jolly Ranchers are frequently added. The name Lean originates in users’ tendency to lean or slouch to the side – a tell-tale sign of the slump associated with opiate use after the euphoric rush.

Lean in Pop Culture

Lean originates in the Houston area, where musicians’ circles concocted various recipes for codeine cocktails that have been traced back as early as the 1960s. Thirty years later, the drink was popularized nationwide in songs such as  Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin’ on Some Sizzurp”. More recently, Lil Wayne’s “Me and My Drank” and Future’s “Dirty Sprite” are both based on the drink, and it is referenced in lyrics such as Lil Nas X’s “Old Time Road”.

Lean is responsible for the deaths of many hip-hop artists, and many musicians and producers have come out with authentic stories about their struggles with the drug. Even so, it is still being popularized among other high profile celebrities on social media, such as Justin Bieber and Soulja Boy. This messaging, combined with countless glamorized lyrics in songs, has only served to promote drinking Lean. 

Young people and teenagers are especially sensitive to social trends, and pop culture interest starts to break down their defenses long before ever being offered a cup.

How Dangerous is Lean?

The short answer is very. Lean is unique in that its a mixed party drug. Many users are not aware of what it is they are consuming or in what amount. In one study of EDM party attendees in New York City, 36.8% of respondents who had taken it before believed it rarely contained codeine, 11.2% believed it didn’t contain codeine, and a troubling 13.3% of users reported simply not knowing if it contained codeine at all. 

However, whether or not users know that the effects of the drink are coming from a potent narcotic, it can still swiftly bring about dependence, tolerance, and addiction. After just a few drinks, users may find themselves wanting to up their dose for the same feeling or mix it with other substances, which can be hazardous. 

Side Effects of Lean

While ignorance is especially dangerous, the situation isn’t much brighter for informed users. Even a single occasion of opioid abuse can have life-threatening consequences. Drugs in this class flood the nervous system, slowing down heart rate, body temperature and breathing – easily bringing them down to dangerous levels. Respiratory depression (an inability to breathe) can begin to kill the brain within minutes. 

Consequences of Lean abuse can include:

  • Depressed breathing
  • Constricted pupils
  • Reduced motor skills
  • Instability/difficulty keeping balance
  • Lowered body temperature
  • Drowsiness
  • Semi-conscious or unconscious state
  • Coma
  • Death

There may be a drive to stigmatize or even dismiss sufferers of Lean addiction due to the drug’s cool status or younger slant. However, this substance use disorder can have devastating side effects, and people suffering are stuck in a dark, painful corner of the opioid epidemic. Taste, color, and lyrical endorsement don’t make that fact any less true – they only make it easier to get caught in the fog. The most effective thing that can be done for a person habitually abusing Lean is guiding them towards the help they need to stop. 

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