Purple and sweet with a somewhat funny name, sizzurp sounds playful, but the purple drank is no laughing matter. Sizzurp is a concoction made from prescription-strength cough syrup, soda, and Jolly Ranchers that first became popular among the hip-hop community in the South in the 1990s. Since then, sizzurp use has become more widespread, crossing cultural boundaries, and becoming particularly attractive to teens and young adults, who can more easily access cough syrup than other recreational drugs. Dyes in the cough syrup turn the drink pink or purple, and different colored Jolly Ranchers can add a rainbow effect.

Codeine and promethazine, the active ingredients in prescription cough medication, create a potent high when taken in large doses. They are also addictive and can lead to an overdose. Sizzurp is frequently mixed with alcohol, and sometimes users will soak marijuana in the syrupy drink before smoking it. Especially when they are taken with alcohol and other drugs, codeine and promethazine can cause dangerously slowed breathing, coma, and death.

Hip-Hop Connection and Beyond

Also called purple drank, lean, syrup, purple jelly, and Texas tea, sizzurp is referred to in many hip-hop songs and videos, including, most famously, Three 6 Mafia's “Sippin' on Some Sizzurp" and Lil' Wayne's “Me and My Drank." Lil' Wayne has spoken publicly about his addiction, explaining that he started drinking sizzurp because his music idols drank it, and that he continued to drink it because he was “sick." Sizzurp is frequently drunk from Styrofoam cups, and the frequent presence of white Styrofoam cups in many rap and hip-hop music videos is a visual reference to the drug. Sadly, several artists have died from sizzurp overdoses, including rapper Pimp C, who died in 2008, and producer DJ Screw, who first brought the drink to a wide audience and died in 2000.

In the past few years, a few NFL players have also been arrested for possessing codeine cough syrup without a prescription, including the Packers' Johnny Jolly and the Oakland Raiders' JaMarcus Russell.

Robotripping

Although sizzurp is typically made from prescription-strength cough syrup, it is also sometimes made with over-the-counter cough syrup, which contains dextromethorphan. At extremely large doses, dextromethorphan also has mind-altering effects. It can create hallucinations and out-of-body experiences and a host of dangerous side effects, including slowed or stopped breathing, vomiting, seizures, and even death. Abusing dextromethorphan can lead to addiction and psychological disturbances. Robotripping is the practice of guzzling over-the-counter cough syrup, such as Robitussin.

Drank

Purple drank is not to be confused with a legal commercial drink called “Drank." Marketed as an “anti-energy" drink for relaxation, Drank comes in a purple can and contains melatonin, as well as herbs like valerian root and rose hips. Because Drank is clearly designed to gain an edgy appeal based on its affinity with sizzurp, many observers have criticized the commercial drink for making sizzurp seem harmless.

Sizzurp's image matters. Its youthful, edgy connection with hip-hop culture and its frequent glorification in music creates a seductive, destructive pull.