Cough syrup, marijuana gain popularity among students

Ontario high school students are drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes less than ever before, but drinking and smoking other intoxicants is on the rise.

Alternative drugs more common as alcohol and cigarette usage reach all-time low

Teen drinking and smoking

9 years ago
Duration 2:01
Teens are smoking less but experimenting more with over-the-counter drugs, according to a new CAMH study.

Ontario high school students are drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes less than ever before, but drinking and smoking other intoxicants is on the rise.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) released its annual survey of drug and alcohol habits among teenagers this week. It showed several new sources of concern for parents and drug researchers.

The family medicine cabinet has become a source for drugs.

Gaining in popularity is a cough-syrup laced drink, which is known by the slang terms "sizzurp," "lean" or "purple drank." 

"It's codeine with some Sprite and some Jolly Ranchers. I've never done it before but it's like a new thing," said Toronto-area high school student Brittney Comeau.

Researchers were surprised by its popularity. 

Liquid cough and cold medicines containing dextromethorphan are the source of the high, said Robert Mann, a CAMH senior scientist.

Students are also experimenting with other over-the-counter drugs. The CAMH survey found one-in-eight students have tried at least something from the medicine cabinet, which is about 120,000 in total.

"These new numbers give us some insight into the use of alternative and emerging drugs among young people," said Dr. Hayley Hamilton, a CAMH scientist.

Still smoking, just not tobacco

Then there are e-cigarettes. This year marks the first time in 36 years of running the survey that researchers have asked about them. Almost 100,000 Ontario students say they've smoked them.

"I see some people walking in the halls smoking them actually," said Roberta Ferrence, of the Ontario tobacco research unit. "It's an aerosol and we don't know enough yet about what's in it or what it does to you."

Cigarette smoking did not show any increase this year, but it's not decreasing either. More than 33,000 Ontario teens still say they smoke every day.

Many more are occasionally smoking marijuana, creating another troubling trend.

About 10 per cent of students with a driving licence reported driving after cannabis use. It's considered impaired driving.


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