Lean is the new recreational drug making its rounds amongst young people; promoted by rappers and musical artists as a source of creative inspiration. With its candy-like taste and ease of access, it became popular in the UK in the mid 2000s and now more and more young people are becoming addicted to this recreational drug. This blog examines the effects, examples of addiction in young people and the warning signs. 

What is Lean? 

Lean is known by many names including Purple Drank, Sizzurp, Barre and Texas Tea. It is made from codeine and additional ingredients such as cough syrup, fizzy drinks, sweets and sometimes alcohol. 

This mixture results in a sweet drink which can also be mixed with promethazine, an antihistamine, that can strengthen the effects of the codeine and make the user feel relaxed and sleepy.

However; this combination can be extremely dangerous as high doses of codeine and promethazine can induce hallucinations and vivid dreams or nightmares

Lean Origins

The effects of hallucinations and vivid dreams actually helped this drug become more popular. Many music artists take it specifically for this reason and sing its praises for its ability to help them creatively.

Here are just some of the popular artists who are associated with Lean: 

While it started gaining popularity in the US, Lean has spread to the UK with rapers and musicians making references to Lean in their music. In the song Large Amounts by D-Block Europe, A raper Young Adz references mixing Lean reflecting their involvement in the drug scene. 

Popularity for Lean spread due to this celebrity influence, but also because of how cheap Lean is and the fact that it is readily available to a wide range of people. 

Lean Risks and Side Effects

There are many serious risks and side effects associated with Lean, which gets its name from the leaning and slouching effect it has on people who drink it

People take it to experience the feelings of euphoria and relaxation. It achieves this by acting on your central nervous system (CNS) and slows your brain activity for a sedating effect. It can also produce less desirable effects such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Sedation
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irritated skin
  • Severe constipation
  • High temperature
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness.

As with many recreational drugs, young people will often combine Lean with alcohol which can be extremely dangerous. Alcohol enhances the effects of codeine and can increase the risk of severe drowsiness, poor judgment, breathing problems, and life threatening overdose.

Is Lean Addictive?

While there have been no studies into the number of young people who have used Lean, the UK Government’s Young people’s substance misuse treatment statistics 2022 – 2023 report found that for under 18’s there were 12,418 young people in contact with alcohol and drug services between April 2022 and March 2023. This is a 10% increase from the previous year. 

This drug is extremely addictive with research from the Addiction Centre, showing that an individual can develop an addiction in a relatively short period. This is due to how opioids short-circuit the brain’s reward response system meaning people will go back to Lean again and again for that sense of euphoria. 

While Lean is a drug that is used by people of all ages, young adults are the largest percentage of users due to a few factors:

  1. The mixture of fizzy drinks and sweets appeal to young individuals
  2. Celebrities have marketed it as a recreational party drug

It’s addictive nature is evident by reports from young people about their experience using it. In 2015, a 16-year-old boy tried Lean and quickly became addicted due to the ease of making it at home and the pleasant high. 

Five years later this young man was experiencing blood in his urine and vomit, severe stomach and back pains which turned into a stint in hospital with suspected kidney failure. While the cough medicine can make it appear harmless, codeine was responsible for 212 deaths in 2020

How to Educate Students on Lean 

Educating students about the addictive nature of this recreational drug is vital. Here are our suggestions:

  1. Create safe spaces for students to discuss recreational drugs without judgment
  2. Bring other young people’s stories into the classroom to discuss the impact the drug has had on their lives
  3. Educate them about the dangers of opioids and the side effects
  4. Sign post to resources where they can seek additional support 
  5. Do not demonize addiction but discuss it in a calm and educational way