Dextromethorphan (DM or DXM) is an antitussive drug that is found in many over-the-counter cold and cough preparations, usually in the form of dextromethorphan hydrobromide.
Following oral administration, dextromethorphan is rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, where it enters the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier. The first-pass through the hepatic portal vein results in some of the drug being metabolized into an active metabolite of dextromethorphan, dextrorphan, the 3-hydroxy derivative of dextromethorphan. The therapeutic activity of dextromethorphan is believed to be caused by both the drug and this metabolite. Dextromethorphan is metabolized by various liver enzymes and subsequently undergoes O-demethylation (producing dextrorphan), N-demethylation, and partial conjugation with glucuronic acid and sulfate ions. Hours after dextromethorphan therapy, (in humans) the metabolites (+)-3-hydroxy-N-methylmorphinan, (+)-3-morphinan, and traces of the unchanged drug are detectable in the urine.
One well known metabolic catalyst involved is a specific cytochrome P450 enzyme known as 2D6, or CYP2D6. A significant portion of the population has a functional deficiency in this enzyme (and are known as poor CYP2D6 metabolizers). As CYP2D6 is the primary metabolic pathway in the inactivation of dextromethorphan, the duration of action and effects of dextromethorphan are significantly increased in such poor metabolizers. Deaths and hospitalizations have been reported in recreational use by poor CYP2D6 metabolizers.
A large number of medications (including antidepressants) are potent inhibitors of CYP2D6 (see CYP2D6 article). There exists, therefore, the potential of drug-drug interactions between dextromethorphan and concomitant medications. There have been reports of fatal consequences arising from such interactions.