Suckers for Pain – Lean

Why Lean is Uncool – Downright Dangerous – and will Kill You

Last September rapper Lil Wayne once again had to cancel a show when he was hospitalized for multiple violent seizures. While Weezy has struggled with epilepsy throughout his life, it’s no secret that his addiction to Lean (also known as “Sizzurp” or “Purple Drank”) is largely to blame for his repeated seizures. It’s not the first time either: the star was also hospitalized in 2012 and 2016.

In a 2011 interview, Lil Wayne admitted to abusing Lean, a mixture of cough syrup, sweets and cooldrink, which was popular on the New Orleans scene, partly to emulate his hero Pimp C.

lean Cough syrup contains codeine solutions at Houghton House addiction Rehab

Pimp C died of an overdose in 2008.

In spite of the documented dangers of Lean, it’s still considered cool in some circles, especially on the South African hip hop scene. Artists like AKA sing about “Coming to you live from the third world. Getting high on the purple.” Youngsters who are easily influenced by their heroes make the mistake of trying it for themselves, often with disastrous results.

So, what is Lean? And why are so many people – especially school kids – using it?

What’s in it?

Cough syrup contains codeine (an opiate that is used as a painkiller) and promethazine (a neuroleptic with sedative effects). Used according to a doctor’s prescription, it can be an effective medicine. Unfortunately, when it’s mixed with cooldrink and drunk as Lean, it’s a dangerous cocktail with potentially lethal effects. Typically, half a bottle of cough syrup is mixed with 2 litres of fizzy cooldrink (Sprite being the most popular). Local brands that contain codeine include Broncleer, Myprodol and Mybulin, Benylin C, Syndol, AdcoDol, Tensodol, Sinutab C and Sinumax Co. As abusers become used to the mix, typically they will opt for stronger concentrations. In some cases, they may be ingesting doses exceeding the prescribed dosage by up to 25 times, putting their health at major risk.

What does Lean do?

Drinking Lean produces a somewhat euphoric state – you feel a bit dizzy and extremely laid back. This is the combination of the painkiller and sedative effect of the codeine and promethazine. In Jamaica, where Lean/Sizzurp abuse has become a major problem among young people, it’s also known as “Liquid Heroin” because of the way it dulls your mind and impairs your motor function. After drinking it, you’ll be drowsy and lethargic. You will struggle with coordination. In fact, a user has pointed out that the name Lean can be tied the way it “dampens” your walk.

The side effects of Lean are far less “chilled.” Excessive doses of codeine can damage the liver and may cause heart and respiratory problems.


Risk of Seizures

Promethazine affects the central nervous system. Consuming way more than the recommended dosage can put a person into a hyper-excitable stage which increases the odds of potentially suffering a seizure. Promethazine alone is risky enough, but if you combine it with other narcotics, including alcohol, it’s a recipe for trouble.

How Addictive Is Lean?

The trouble with Lean is that abusers start off using it for its anti-depressant or de-stressing effects. But when the effects wear off it can lead to depression and anxiety – which causes a craving for more Lean. Codeine is one of the most commonly used opiates and can lead to serious opioid addiction. How serious is opioid addiction? Deadly serious. In the US, between 1999 and 2015, 183,000 people died from overdoses related to prescription opioids – 59,000 last year alone.

The School Epidemic

The Lean craze has spread quickly in South Africa, with reports of pupils as young as 10 addicted to the mix. One of the reasons Lean is so popular is it’s relatively cheap and very easy to get hold of. Prescription cough syrup is readily available and winds up in medicine cabinets in homes everywhere. Over-the-counter cough mixture is even easier to get hold of. It contains lower doses of codeine but still creates a similar high – which teenagers in the US call “robo-tripping” after the popular Robotussin brand. As regular users become used to the effect, the chances of them seeking a more powerful high (prescription cough syrup or other opioids) become more and more likely.

Symptoms of Lean abuse

Parents and family members are urged to keep a lookout for the following warning signs:

  • Drowsiness and lack of coordination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Regular, continual use of cough medicines even when the user is not sick

Other indications of abuse are behavioural changes brought on by craving codeine. Teachers have noticed that pupils may display hyperactivity, irritability, lack of concentration and aggression.

Don’t be a “Sucker For Pain”

As Lil Wayne battles with his addiction, keep in mind the rapper’s own words: “I don’t do this to be cool. I did it because I was sick.” If you, your family members or your friends are drinking Lean, it’s important to know exactly what you’re in for –  and to get help right away.

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If you or a loved one wants the best chance of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, Houghton House provides two outstanding Halfway Houses – both within close proximity to their Inpatient and Outpatient facilities.

We recommend this as a continued form of reintegration back into society.

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