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Pseudoephedrine is a common ingredient found in many cold and sinus medications. While it is highly effective at reducing uncomfortable nasal congestion and sinus pressure, this drug also has a dark side. Here’s what you need to know about pseudoephedrine abuse and how it’s related to the illegal production and abuse of methamphetamine.
What is Pseudoephedrine?
Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant that is used to treat nasal congestion and sinus pressure due to the common cold and other infections. It is also a substance that is chemically related to amphetamine.
It works by narrowing blood vessels to decrease swelling and congestion in the nasal passages.1 Pseudoephedrine does not cure infections or expedite recovery. Instead, it temporarily treats symptoms to make the user more comfortable.
Pseudoephedrine is produced in liquid form as well as tablets (regular, 12-hour extended release, and 24-hour extended release) and comes alone or mixed with other medications in combination drugs.
When used as intended, pseudoephedrine is a very safe drug that effectively reduces nasal congestion and sinus pressure. It does not pose a risk for addiction when it is used correctly.
On the other hand, if the tablets are crushed and/or snorted or the ingredients of pseudoephedrine drugs like Sudafed are altered in any way, users may suffer negative side effects or become addicted.
There are many different pseudoephedrine products on the market and most cold and flu decongestant drugs contain pseudoephedrine. Here are some common brand names of pseudoephedrine products and pseudoephedrine combination drugs in the U.S.:
- Genaphed (pseudoephedrine)
- Seudotabs (pseudoephedrine)
- Silfedrine (pseudoephedrine)
- Sudafed Congestion (pseudoephedrine)
- Sudodrin (pseudoephedrine)
- SudoGest (pseudoephedrine)
- Suphedrine (pseudoephedrine)
- Nasofed (pseudoephedrine)
- Entex (guaifenesin/phenylephrine)
- Zyrtec-D (pseudoephedrine and cetirizine)
- Claritin-D (loratadine and pseudoephedrine)
- Advil Cold and Sinus (pseudoephedrine and ibuprofen)2
Is Pseudoephedrine Addictive?
Although pseudoephedrine is not addictive on its own, when it is used improperly it can be. In high doses, it can cause stimulant effects, which may be appealing to drug abusers looking for a quick high. At one point in time, it was available over-the-counter, which made it a prime drug of abuse and experimentation for teens.3
However, pseudoephedrine is most often abused to make meth and bath salts. Fans of the popular show “Breaking Bad” know very well that it only takes a slight chemical modification to use pseudoephedrine or Sudafed to make the illegal drug methamphetamine.
For this reason, Sudafed was taken off pharmacy shelves in 2006. Now, to legally purchase it, you have to find the pharmacist, provide a photo ID, and sign a log. These regulations are a result of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act and are designed to prevent pseudoephedrine abuse and the illegal production of meth.4
Pseudoephedrine Abuse: Side Effects and Symptoms
Pseudoephedrine or Sudafed causes some normal side effects when it is used to treat nasal congestion. Common side effects of pseudoephedrine use include:
When it is abused and used in significantly large amounts, pseudoephedrine can produce effects like:
- Feelings of euphoria
- Increased alertness and energy
- A pleasant tingling sensation
Negative side effects of chronic pseudoephedrine abuse may include:
- Increased energy
- Red eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Problems sleeping
- Weight loss
While pseudoephedrine may be abused on its own, the primary concern regarding pseudoephedrine abuse is that it can be easily altered to make meth. Someone who attempts to buy large quantities of pseudoephedrine products may be abusing it or trying to use it to make meth.
Why is Over-the-Counter Pseudoephedrine Banned?
As mentioned above, pseudoephedrine can be easily altered to make meth. Although pseudoephedrine used to be much more easily accessible and was available over-the-counter, as illegal methamphetamine and abuse increased in the U.S., the federal government tightened restrictions on the sale of this drug.6
Once the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act was passed in 2006, pseudoephedrine was removed from the shelves and placed behind the counter, where only a pharmacist could access it. The law didn’t just apply to Sudafed. It affected all products that contain pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine, and ephedrine, which are common ingredients found in cold medicines.
In most states, you can buy pseudoephedrine products without a prescription, but you have to request the drug from a pharmacist, show a photo ID, and sign a log that tracks your purchase. There are also strict limitations on how much you can buy per month.7 Although the sale and purchases of pseudoephedrine in the U.S. are heavily regulated, it is not listed as a controlled substance.
Will Pseudoephedrine Show on a Drug Test?
Drug tests can be used to prove recent use of substances like marijuana, heroin, or prescription drugs. If you use medication that contains pseudoephedrine, there is a chance that the pseudoephedrine will produce a false positive for amphetamines.8 If this happens to you, typically, the lab can use another type of drug test called a GC-MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry), which is much less likely to produce a false positive.
Help for Pseudoephedrine Abuse and Meth Addiction
Pseudoephedrine isn’t addictive on its own, but someone who abuses it by using it to make meth may have a meth addiction. Meth is a powerful stimulant and addiction to this drug is difficult to overcome, though not impossible.
Pseudoephedrine abuse or meth abuse may be symptoms of a deeper problem, such as trauma, emotional distress, physical abuse, or some other destructive force in a person’s life. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, you’re not alone and the professionals at Briarwood Detox Center are here to help you get sober and begin addressing those issues.
We provide safe, comfortable, inpatient medical detox in Houston and Austin with clinical care that includes individual and group therapy. Our detox programs are individually designed to help you overcome your substance abuse problems, whether you’re misusing pseudoephedrine products, meth, or both.
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