A Disassociative For The Masses
Vicks® Formula 44™ is a liquid cough suppressant suspension made and marketed by the Proctor & Gamble company of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Formula 44's only active ingredient is dextromethorphan hydrobromide; each 15ml dose contains 30mg of dextromethorphan (DXM). According to the label, its inactive ingredients include 5% alcohol, carboxymethylcellulose sodium, citric acid, FD&C blue no. 1, FD&C red no. 40, "flavor" (quotation marks mine), high fructose corn syrup, polyethylene oxide, polyoxyl 40 stearate, propylene glycol, purified water, saccharin sodium, sodium benzoate, and sodium citrate. All those sodium variations lead to 31mg of sodium per 15ml serving, and the saccharin is worrying, but the big picture here is the DXM.
Unlike other cough syrups which contain DXM, such as all the other Vicks variants (44D, 44E, and 44M), as well as Vicks NyQuil and DayQuil, and all Robitussin products, Formula 44 is the only one that doesn't contain any other strong drug adulterants. All the others contain DXM, but also contain acetaminophen (a mild analgesic that is toxic in high doses), doxylamine (an antihistamine), guaifenesin (a strong expectorant/decongestant and nauseant), pseudoephedrine (a mild stimulant and nasal decongestant; its use has gone into a sharp decline in the early/mid 2000s because it is a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine), and/or phenylephrine (a nasal decongestant which has all but taken pseudoephedrine's place in pharmacies), which makes them impractical for what Formula 44 is primarily used for — getting blitzed on DXM. Attempts to trip on DXM by using any of the other cough syrups can, and often does result in liver failure, liver cirrhosis, kidney failure, and sometimes death, because all of the aforementioned adulterant drugs are some of the worst kinds of drugs to overdose on. DXM by itself, however, produces a wide range of effects, becoming more intense as the dosage increases. Since Formula 44 comes in 4oz and 8oz sized bottles, they are ideal for recreational dosing. Consuming an entire 4oz bottle will produce a fairly strong body high and intense nausea, although the nausea subsides gradually as the body metabolises the drug. Drinking an entire 8oz bottle will send you to the fabled land of bananas; immediate, debilitating nausea, likely vomiting, and a complete warping of the mind's sense of space and time for about eight hours, which leads the body to move in strange ways, as well as just about all of your senses becoming distorted during the trip (music sounds alien, touching familiar things feels completely different, sight warps in and out, phantom smells assail the nose, food becomes flavorless, and other effects). The experience can be fun for some, but most who try it find it too disorienting to do it regularly, which is fortunate for them because regular use of DXM, especially in heroic doses, can cause a form of brain damage known as Olney's lesions.
For more information on tripping on DXM, see the dextromethorphan node.
The Cure For What Ails You
As a cough syrup, Formula 44 is thick and viscous, and as cough syrups often are, it's difficult to consume. Though the packaging doesn't give the slightest hint as to what flavor the liquid is meant to resemble, most who've tried it ascribe a general, sour cherry taste. It also imbues a strange mentholated feeling as it passes through the mouth and into the esophagus, although the listed ingredients make no mention of anything that would cause a mentholated feeling. The immediate effect, after the appalling fake cherry taste leaves your mouth (which takes a few minutes), is exactly as expected — it clears your throat, which can sometimes cause a compulsive urge to bring up phlegm. Beyond that, at medicinal doses, it has no other effects.
Unfortunately for those who have difficulty swallowing cough syrup due to the taste (or lack thereof) and texture, Formula 44 is not available in tablets, gelcaps, or any form other than a liquid suspension. Formula 44 has a reputation as a source of pure DXM for tripping, of which P&G is undoubtedly aware; therefore I must posit that they refrain from producing Formula 44 in pill form specifically to prevent people from abusing it, because swallowing a few pills is much easier than choking down a bottle of sticky, vile-tasting liquid that is as likely to make the user vomit as not. Nevertheless, countless users of Formula 44 (usually bored high school or college students) do exactly that each year, so it comes as no surprise that P&G would want to remain as unliable as possible for all the medical emergencies their product has the potential to create. If you want pure DXM in pill form, order a box of DexAlone tablets from drugstore.com; DexAlone is identical to Formula 44 in all ways except form.
In the USA, a 4oz bottle will cost you between $4.00 and $6.00, and an 8oz bottle between $8.00 and $10.00, and both are available in most drugstores. I'm not aware of the availability or cost of Formula 44 in other countries, but I don't expect it'll vary much from the prices and availability in the USA, as long as it's legal as an over-the-counter drug (DXM is prescription-only in a few countries specifically because of the abuse potential).
If you plan on using Formula 44 for medicinal purposes, any of its four varieties will no doubt decongest your ailing throat and sinuses. If you plan on attempting to get high off the stuff, use only the bottle marked "Vicks Formula 44 Cough Relief," as it is the drug that this writeup largely covers. Any of the others will make you very sick and possibly dead if taken in heroic doses. Granted, you could still become very sick or dead by tripping on pure DXM, but if you act responsibly toward the drug (as you should towards all drugs), then you'll probably be OK. Don't take my word for it — make up your own mind. Know the risks before taking any drug, and though the body high DXM produces in mid-range doses (100mg to 200mg) is fun, going the full nine and drinking an 8oz bottle is an unwise thing to do under any circumstances. For the record, I have never taken more than 150mg of Formula 44 at any one time, and the light high it produces at that dosage is pleasurable and helps me get to sleep. That said, I'm by no means an authority on this drug; please consult FAQs that were written specifically about DXM and acquiring its effects through Formula 44 (URLs below) before you make any attempt at enjoying this product.
P&G's Vicks site: http://vicks.com/products/vicks_44_index.shtml
drugs.com F44 reference: http://www.drugs.com/medicine/vicks+formula+44
Erowid's DXM FAQ: http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dxm/faq/
Third Plateau's DXM encyclopedia: http://www.third-plateau.org/knowledgebase/