On hot lemon action

or what to do if a Dutch Canadian offers you a packet of white powder

I went home early on Friday. I was running a temperature, sneezing unreservedly and feeling more than a little under the weather. The boss took one look at me and said ‘Go!’. On Saturday I felt a little better, although I faded a bit in the evening. Sunday was fine, just a bit stuffy and feeling slightly sorry for myself. Nonetheless, we walked to the pub and back and then I cooked (and enjoyed) a lovely dinner.

Just before bed I decided to try some Canadian cold remedy that Eva gave me, after she heard about my difficulties in obtaining stuff that works. I checked the ingredients, and thought they looked pretty innocuous:

  • Acetaminophen 650 mg
  • Chlorpheniramine Maleate 4 mg
  • Pseudoephedrine hydrochloride 60 mg
  • Dextromethorphan hydrobromide 20 mg

I checked the ‘Precautions’. Blah blah, stenosing peptic ulcer, pyloroduodenal obstruction blah blah blah, pregnant women, blah, May cause drowsiness, excitability, nervousness, restlessness, sleeplessness, dizziness and palpitations.

Well, I thought to myself, acetaminophen is paracetamol, and that’s 0.6 of a regular dose. Chlorpheniramine maleate is Piriton, my favourite antihistamine that doesn’t make me drowsy (stonking blood-brain barrier, obviously). Pseudoephedrine, standard dose, and I don’t suffer from its side effects. I’ve taken analgesics and pseudoephedrine together for years, and the antihistamine shouldn’t be a problem, so I’ll be fine. That just leaves the dextromethorphan, which according to Google is a cough suppressant.

Now, I don’t actually see the point of cough suppressants. They don’t cure you of anything; they simply stop you coughing. Which means that you don’t get rid of the stuff making you cough, which makes you sick for longer, although you and/or anyone sharing the bed with you might get to sleep better. Now I didn’t have a cough, and it’s an impressive list of side-effects, sure; but hey, I figured, I have a robust metabolism. What harm can it do? Besides, 20 mg isn’t that much.

How wrong could I be? It says on the packet, ‘Hot Lemon Relief’ and in small caps FOR SYMPTOMS OF COUGH, COLD AND FLU. On the reverse it says something similar in French.

And all I have to say, in French, is Boisson chaude au citron mon cul.

I went almost straight to sleep, but woke about three in the morning. We’d watched Silent Witness on the iPlayer and all I could do was keep going over the plot in my mind (and remembering the brain slices on the slab). I remember thinking “I’m feeling nervous”. I made a cup of tea and laid on the sofa. I may have shook a little. I finally crawled back to bed about 5.30, to be woken by my alarm two hours later. I hid under the pillow and announced I wasn’t going to work.

I called my boss.

‘You sound sick,’ she said.

‘Thank you,’ said I.

About 11 I decided I’d steadied myself sufficiently to have some coffee. Two sips in and my pulse rate was stratospheric. I went back to bed and hallucinated a bit more. I thought about dying, but decided it would raise too many questions. The feeling of lucid delirium was a very strange one: around three in the afternoon I decided to take a shower, and the bizarre thing is that I found myself clicking through songs on the iPod, even as I stepped into the shower. I knew this was stupid but I couldn’t stop. Fortunately the iPod survived, and I got dressed and ate half a bar of chocolate.

By evening I was in a state approaching something resembling normality. I was even able to collate all the entries to the #sci140 competition and choose a winner. Today has been better: I went to work; had stuffed sinuses and felt a little light-headed at times, but there was nothing a walk in the fresh air didn’t fix. I even took some Sudafed, with no side-effects.

Canadian cold medicine? You can keep it. Eva reckons I’m wired up wrong. I say they’re trying to kill us.

Kids. Just say ‘No’.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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112 Responses to On hot lemon action

  1. Henry Gee says:

    Now, children, every word you’ve just read was a product of one of Uncle Richard’s Incredible Hallucinations. He left out the part about being chased down the street by an eight-foot-tall pink rabbit called Harvey.
    And, whatever you do, don’t try this at home .

  2. Jennifer Rohn says:

    All you Brits seem to be able to handle is that strangely homeopathic preparation known as “Lemsips”. Couldn’t tranquilize a Drosophila with that stuff.

  3. Henry Gee says:

    Garlic soup.
    I rest my case.

  4. Richard P. Grant says:

    I’ve never had a Lemsip in my life, Jenny. I prefer taking my drugs separately rather than in combo.
    Henry, there’s a giant axolotl in the garage downstairs. He’s asking when you’re coming to take him home. Is there room in that garlic soup for me?

  5. Henry Gee says:

    Don’t worry Richard, some very nice people in white coats are on their way. I’m sure they’ll be able to sort out your “axolotl problem”.

  6. Richard P. Grant says:

    Oh. However will they get past the ROUS in the hallway?

  7. Alejandro Correa says:

    Pardon for saying something inappropriate. It’s simple just have to think that the lemon has beneficial properties as vitamin C.

  8. Kristi Vogel says:

    Lemsip always worked great for me; wish I’d thought to buy some when I was in the UK last year. Fortunately, I haven’t needed it any time recently.
    Bourbon, hot water, lemon juice, and honey is a Southern US concoction that’s very useful if you have to give a talk or lecture, and you have a cough and/or sore throat. Or you can just pour some bourbon into your Diet Coke.
    Not that I would ever do that.

  9. Richard P. Grant says:

    Yeah, I’m sticking with whisky and ibuprofen henceforth.

  10. Stephen Curry says:

    By the end of the week you’ll be begging Eva for a ‘re-up’! She knows exactly what she did…

  11. Alyssa Gilbert says:

    I’ll admit that I’ve never heard of this stuff, but it sounds wonderful 🙂

  12. Richard P. Grant says:

    Ooh, good call Stephen. I might have to go hot potato for a while. I mean cold pork, uh, turkey.

  13. Ken Doyle says:

    Dextromethorphan doesn’t do a thing for me…warm brandy is much better 🙂

  14. Alejandro Correa says:

    Kristine – In Chile hot water, lemon juice, and honey is nice.

  15. Eva Amsen says:

    Alyssa, it’s a cheap (Shoppers Drug Mart) version of NeoCitran . (Maybe I should have stuck with the brand name…Look how healthy the people in the ad on that site look!)
    Anyway, I feel bad for being such a horrible doctor/nurse/pharmacist. =/

  16. Alyssa Gilbert says:

    Ah, I’ve definitely had that stuff before! I do remember it knocking me out pretty well, but it was so long ago that I don’t really remember anything else.

  17. Nathaniel Marshall says:

    “I thought about dying, but decided it would raise too many questions.”
    Yes, you don’t have a grant to cover it, your list of collaborators is too short and you haven’t gotten ethics approval yet. Plus dying creates far too much paperwork. On the upside an epidemiologist somewhere will get some more airmiles out of it.

  18. Austin Elliott says:

    Got a possible scientific rationale for you, Richard – you may not have any functioning Cytochrome P450 2D6 (CYP2D6). From the Wikipedia entry on dextromethorphan:

    “Approximately 1 in 10 of the caucasian population has little or no CYP2D6 enzyme activity leading to long lived high [dextromethorphan] levels.”

    At doses higher than medically recommended, dextromethorphan is classified as a dissociative psychedelic drug…

    As CYP2D6 is a major metabolic pathway in the inactivation of dextromethorphan, the duration of action and effects of dextromethorphan can be increased by as much as three times in such poor metabolizers [i.e. people with little or inactive CYP2D6]”

  19. Alejandro Correa says:

    I am not a doctor (I am Biologist), but the potential combination of all these drugs can be as deadly lethal. A real time bomb.
    But prefer hot water, lemon juice and honey.

  20. Åsa Karlström says:

    oh dear me… .sounds interesting. But you did get rid of the cold though, right?
    It’s interesting what different stuff you can find in the medical cabinets here compared to what I grew up with (or UK). I remember getting nice pills with codein from UK when I was younger (they weren’t available off prescription in sweden but in UK you could by them at boots..) Last year, and this one, when I pulled a wisdom tooth here in the States I ended up with nice pills against pain. I took half a pill and promptly fell alseep for 16 hours… half a pill? half of a 3.5 mg pill of hydrocodein. Yes, other people apparently pop a 80 mg pill a time or so… I had nice halicunations of a whole one. At least I never even contemplated going outside of my house on them 🙂
    For coughs and stuff, I think the nyquil is a great invention over here. soooooo sleepy from them, and no coughing 😉

  21. Alejandro Correa says:

    Åsa – pardon, can not you be more specific, your answer is dedicated an determined person or nobody in paticular or on the topic in general.
    Sorry I always have that doubt.

  22. Heather Etchevers says:

    Austin – great digging there!
    Richard – don’t prone paracetamol and alcohol – there are a non-significant number of liver failure cases in the hospital from paracetamol, and detoxifying the alcohol just makes the liver have to work harder. 500mg is a standard dose (so 600 seems reasonable) although you seem to expect, and it’s possible, to have 1g in a (first) sitting.
    The point being, you’re not as large as some, and now you know you’re susceptible to some problems, it might be worth dialing back and making your own association of drugs minus the dextromethorphan and whiskey. Or just go for whiskey/bourbon, lemon and sugar as suggested.
    Asa – you can still get that combination here in France on prescription, but it’s 500mg paracetamol, 30 mg codeine. Recommended daily dose for codeine is up to 3 mg/kg/day, so maybe you had a different formulation?

  23. Eva Amsen says:

    Austin’s research seems to confirm my “wired wrong” hypothesis.
    Everyone else still making me feel bad. This is a normal medication that takes up entire shelves in the drug store, in multiple brands and flavours and strengths. It stops working after a few hours. You can have 3 a day and I take 2 or 3 a day when I’m sick and just get sleepy – and better – and I’m the size of a teenager. Most other people also just get sleepy from it, not insane.

  24. Richard P. Grant says:

    Paracetamol here comes in 500 mg tabs, and the dose for adults is two. I only ever take it when I have a serious cold; or pneumonia. And yeah, I know about it’s effects on the liver. I tend to use ibuprofen or aspirin as I find them more effective.
    That’s fascinating, Nat. I wonder if that’s linked to metabolism of certain components in red wine? At least I know my ADH is happy.

  25. Richard P. Grant says:

    Three a day?
    My mother always told me I was special.

  26. Richard P. Grant says:

    Sorry, my enzymic comment above was directed to Austin, not Nat.

  27. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I remember getting nice pills with codein from UK when I was younger (they weren’t available off prescription in sweden but in UK you could by them at boots
    Oh my God, yes. It’s called Nurofen Plus, comes mixed with codeine and is the only thing that sort of works when I get my famous week-long headaches. They’ll even take the edge off my migraines. They’re the only reason I emigrated to England, you know.

  28. Linda Lin says:

    Eva: oh yea, Neocitran! used to love drinking stuff..not available in Oz sadly.
    Kristy: Lemsip! tastes just as good as Neocitran. I find that it wears off too quickly though, and I always end up maxing out on it.
    Try a sketchy Chinese Canadian concoction?
    Ban lan Gen (isatis root), something purchasable in Chinese medicine/pharmacy stores. (not the best link). Taken after dinner it used to knock me out within 40 mins and I’d get a restful sleep, which can be hard to get with a cold. It kept the colds from getting worse. But a lot of my non-Asian buddies found it a bit sketchy to try, not to mention it tastes kinda crappy.
    Anyways, hope you feel better soon!

  29. Richard P. Grant says:

    Thanks Linda.
    I heart codeine. When I had my bout with pleural badness it was the only thing that kept me sane, and in a soft, warm purgatory to boot.

  30. Henry Gee says:

    Goodness – liveblogging pharmacogenomics. Lemsip works for me. Paracetomol good, but ibuprofen better. But codeine does nothing except make me feel even iller. On the whole I agree with Alejandro – honey and lemon. And some whisky.
    Many years ago when the world was young I was sitting at my desk at the Nature orifice writing an article about the moons of Jupiter, you know, like you do. I had been contemplating the differences between Ganymede and Callisto for about half an hour when I became aware of a growing ache in my Nether Regions (restrictions may apply. Persons under 18 must be accompanied by a giant talking axolotl an adult). The ache grew into a pain, and then it became the kind of pain that drives out every other waking thought. My wonderful assistant took one look at me and got us a cab to the University College Hospital emergency room. When we got there, the triage nurse bumped me to the head of the queue. I was put on a gurney and given a shot of what in medical circles is probably called something like hydroxymethylasparto-mercuriohoohahahhaaaawoo-1,5-zingomagicocraptamine, but on the street, ‘The Embalmer’. I became a pink fluffy cloud and floated out of the window. Apparently I was passing a bladder stone, but by the time they X-rayed my Nether Regions (see above) it had gone. So the very nice registrar said ‘I shouldn’t really be doing this’ and handed me a bottle of The Embalmer (in pill form) and let me go.
    I eked out that bottle for years, keeping it for my occasional episodes of Rohnian Headaches. Worked like a marvel.

  31. Eva Amsen says:

    I still have paracetamol with codeine from a hospital visit a few years ago, but when I tried it during a headache last fall, it didn’t make the pain go away, and only made me slow and dumb. I still kept them but only because I like those little plastic canisters and it’s the only one I have.
    Also, I had to stop myself from designing an experiment in which all Grant-blood-relatives try my Canadian cold medicine to test the enzyme hypothesis. I knew it went to far when I thought “if only Richard had an identical twin brother…” Just in case, I will never give it to the pawns.

  32. Nathaniel Marshall says:

    What’s an enzyme?

  33. steffi suhr says:

    The differences between countries in what medication is taken when really are interesting – with a headache, people (in my observation) predominantly take:
    – in the UK: paracetamol
    – in the US: ibuprofen
    – in Germany: aspirin.
    Paracetamol doesn’t work for pain at all in my case (it just makes my pee very, very yellow). I swear by aspirin for headaches and ibuprofen for muscle aches.
    The difference in off-the-shelf/prescription required dosages is interesting for the US Antarctic Program – many supplies for the biggest bases, McMurdo and South Pole Stations, come from New Zealand. Ibuprofen off the shelf is only 200 mg in the US, but 300 mg (if memory serves correctly) in New Zealand. So when the doctors on station handed out the 300 mg pills from NZ, that made each instance of a slight headache or neck pain a ‘recordable incident’. Fun twist on bureaucracy 🙂

  34. Richard P. Grant says:

    Thanks for that information, Steffi.
    Nat, I’m not entirely sure but they’re useful little buggers.
    Eva, I like the sounds of your experiment. However, I can thank you on behalf of the Pawns.
    Henry, ‘Rohnian Headaches’ has a nice sound. Could be mythological. A curse visited upon uppity mortals by those bastards on Olympus.

  35. Eva Amsen says:

    Steffi, I wonder if aspirin is more popular in Germany because it’s a Bayer product?

  36. Richard P. Grant says:

    Eva used to be really popular in the UK, and I still

  37. Richard P. Grant says:

    Um, that should be ‘Eva, aspirin used to be…’ of course.
    Sorry if it sounds like I’m casting nasturtiums on Eva’s friends.

  38. Eva Amsen says:

    Hahaha. I don’t think I was ever popular in the UK. Not now and not in the past.

  39. Richard P. Grant says:

    Aw. I like you.

  40. Bob O'Hara says:

    bq. Anyway, I feel bad for being such a horrible doctor/nurse/pharmacist.
    Quite. had you been any good, you would have kept Richard in that state for a week. That would have made you popular.

  41. Peter Douglas says:

    Richard – your experience certainly sounds like enzymal disfunction. I have it on good authority that 20mg of dxm is about a tenth of the lowest dose taken by people who actually want to feel itchy, nauseous, irritated, stupid and generally discombobulated. Interestingly, two of the recommendations from those people are: do not take it on top of any stimulants (such as pseudoephedrine) as it can potentiate the effects; do not take if you’re using oral anti-histamines because the two can have strong interactions. We should be grateful to recreational users of medicinal drugs, because they take far more than any clinical trial would be allowed to administer, so the A&E departments can give us a pretty good idea of what things don’t mix well. Bizarrely, alcohol seems to be implicated in almost all these poly-drug complications admissions.
    Henry – I too have experienced the joy of kidney stones, and the sheer heavenly bliss of pain relief.
    After many hours of extreme discomfort I ended up in casualty, curled into the smallest ball and unaware of anything much besides the searing agony I was enveloped in. Eventually they gave me a jab of Omnopon, a mixture of morphine, papaverine and codeine. It felt like God Hisself had filled my body with a cool pink jelly, and I was able to lie flat and drift along in heaven. I could still feel there was something going on in the kidney area, but it didn’t hurt.
    Eventually I passed something about the size of a petit pois, but with the morphology of a spider conch.
    No wonder it bloody hurt so much.

  42. Richard P. Grant says:

    Wow, interesting stuff on the interactions and unlicenced trials, Peter. And that’s a fantastic picture.

  43. Henry Gee says:

    @ Peter – that’s not a kidney-stone – that’s an unexploded bomb. They never recovered whatever it was that caused the pain in my case. Perhaps it scurried off all on its own.
    It felt like God Hisself had filled my body with a cool pink jelly, and I was able to lie flat and drift along in heaven … that’s very much how I felt.
    All this painful reminiscence requires an emollient in the Nature-Network manner.

  44. steffi suhr says:

    @Eva: I am not sure. Anyway, I just learned from wikipedia that Bayer only still holds the trademark ‘Aspirin’ with a capital A in Germany and a few other places. Of course there are several other companies in Germany that offer generic acetylsalicylic acid. The name of one of them wouldn’t work so well in English-speaking countries…

  45. Richard P. Grant says:

    Ha ha!
    Henry, you haz Basement Cat, hexing ur camera.

  46. Austin Elliott says:

    Paracetamol and codeine mixtures can be deceptive, as the actual amount of codeine varies quite a bit. Some of the OTC (over the counter) pills are 500 mg paracetamol plus 5-12 mg codeine, which is a pretty titchy dose… but a prescribed version is likely to have noticeably more codeine, and a typical hospital codeine pill has at least 30 mg. For instance, in the UK, prescription Co-codamol, which is a (paracetamol+codeine) painkiller, is a 500/30 mg pill, but even with the name “Co-codamol” there can be different strengths (different amounts of codeine)! So one needs to read the labels quite carefully. One of the reasons people do sometimes accidentally overdose on paracetamol is that it is in so many pills that DON’T actually say “paracetamol” on the label.
    My other half, apart from her years in hospital medicine, did some time in anaesthetics and so is our resident authority on pain meds. The general approach is called “the pain ladder” – fairly self-evidently, depending on the pain you need weaker or stronger stuff, so you start with what is most likely appropriate for that particular kind / severity of pain and titrate up the dose (if possible), or up the “ladder” of different agents, as necessary.
    Despite the worries about the liver in overdose, paracetamol is pretty much the universal start point for management of mild to moderate pain (at least in the UK!), unless there is a specific reason not to take it (e.g. existing liver probs, allergy/hypersensitivity). The non-steroidals are all irritating to the GI tract (ibuprofen etc as well as aspirin) and are regarded as slightly “stronger” painkillers than paracetamol. Of course, since they act by different mechanisms, you can take paracetamol and a NSAID together. The main downsides with the non-steroidals come with longer-term use, especially with older people, where GI bleeding is a major problem – indeed, it is quite a common source of hospital admissions for the elderly.
    Opiates like codeine are, as I alluded to above, commonly in the OTC remedies at pretty minimal doses, though again I guess your individual ability to metabolise them may be an issue. A main side-effect with continued use, like for all opiates, is getting constipated, cf. the infamous toilet scene in the film Trainspotting.

  47. Austin Elliott says:

    PS Sorry “on the label” at end of frst para should probably say
    “…in the name, or prominently on the label.”

  48. Richard P. Grant says:

    Yes, and some of the ‘Co-‘ compounds don’t contain codeine at all, which is a real let-down.
    My dad had morphine after his motorcycle accident several years ago, and said it was very nice. The interesting thing about heroin/diamorphine is that it’s non-addictive when used for pain relief, although as you say it does have other side-effects.
    Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that I feel better today. And the sun is shining, which is nice.

  49. Eva Amsen says:

    I’ve had morphine. The reason had all these codeine pills left from a hospital stay, was that I apparently get very ill from general anaesthetics and cant keep any food down. Which is unfortunate if you’ve been given oral painkillers after having been cut into with sharp objects and having useless malfunctioning organs removed through tiny openings (yay, laparoscopy – it could have been even worse!). So I had to go back to the hospital and go on a morphine drip for another 16 hours or so until I could take my own pills and go home. And we found out that I don’t get high on morphine at all, just sleepy. Boooooring. I’d heard funny stories of other people on morphine – my friend kept a diary of things her mom said on a morphine high – and was looking forward to hilarity, but I was no less lucid than I am when normally tired.

  50. Eva Amsen says:

    And Henry’s cat looks like a less fuzzy version of mine. Exact same patterning of white spots, but mine has a bit fluffier fur (still shorthair, just fuzzzzzy)

  51. Richard P. Grant says:

    I was no less lucid than I am when normally tired.
    <!– –>

  52. Åsa Karlström says:

    Heather> I might have gotten a different combination. Although, I was in general referring to the thing that codein wasn’t available OTC… but Boots solved that one. (I remember wondering if I broke the law taking it with me home though)
    Jenny> Sounds positively great. And why wouldn’t it be the only thing to immigrate for? (Obviously for me, it’s the idea to get narcotic classed codein after pulling awisdom tooth where in my native country I’d be getting OTC aspirin or paracetamol and just “live through it” We are Vikings, you know. Pain is nothing 😉
    Austin> the pain chart is interesting. Especially comparing those things between countries and doctors… and I just realised that maybe the whoel thing of remembering only Aspirin [‘Magnecyl’](acetylsalicylic acid pills) from my childhood was that paracetamol pills weren’t as available? I wonder if they recommend paracetamol much more nowadays, even if we are known for a slightly high alcohol intake?

  53. Cath Ennis says:

    Neo Citran is the best stuff! I’m prone to the kind of coughs that make you suddenly sit bolt upright at 3 am and cough until you hit your gag reflex, so a double dose at bedtime is awesome, it knocks me right out and I sleep for 10 hours or more.
    I find that ibuprofen doesn’t even touch a headache for me – it has to be paracetemol / tylenol. On the other hand, there’s one day every month where I would be completely non-functional without ibuprofen, and I sometimes have major problems lasting the recommended 4 hours until the next dose.
    I do sympathise with the drug reaction story, though, having had a very odd response to a new antihistamine once!

  54. Richard P. Grant says:

    (That just about sums up everything in the thread, actually.)
    It’s really really odd, but not even Zyrtec knocks me o

  55. Kristi Vogel says:

    Zyrtec does not work at all for me; I might as well take a homeopathic “remedy”, or have an acupuncture “treatment”. We’re in the midst of mountain cedar season here, and I take good ol’ dirt cheap loratadine. I would like loratadine with pseudoephedrine even better, but that requires more $$, as well as annoying and time-consuming registration.
    @ Cath: the kind of coughs that make you suddenly sit bolt upright at 3 am
    Ugh! A colleague was just telling me about his recent experience with cough syncope, which is a variety of vasovagal episode, and which, according to him, makes one feel as if one is very soon to be an ex-parrot. Prolonged violent coughing fits = not good. Also, he mentioned that some viruses irritate the vagus nerve, making a vasovagal event more likely.

  56. Cath Ennis says:

    My sister gets the same kind of coughs as me. We both had whooping cough as kids (I was 2, she was only 6 weeks and almost died), and she’s been told by a doctor that this is par for the course!

  57. Austin Elliott says:

    A vasovagal episode in an ill baby or toddler is definitely one of those things that precipitates parents towards the A&E Dept / ER at maximum speed. Even medical parents as unflappapable as my other half.
    The adult vasovagal episode I remember was not one of anyone I know personally, but the famous pretzel that nearly cut down President Dubya.

  58. Richard Wintle says:

    Hm. Eva’s Shopper’s Drug Mart generic should be equivalent to Neo Citran, which in some cases is the Food of the Gods(TM) when it comes to colds. The CYP2D6 hypothesis is interesting. They have genetic tests for that, you know.
    As for codeine – you can get Tylenol 3’s here with a prescription I believe, which have a nice little dose. A doc at the U of T student clinic once told me that DM cough medicines are a waste of time, and that codeine is the only good thing to suppress a cough. Not sure I really believe that (or, as RPG notes, that suppressing a cough is necessarily a good idea).
    Interesting about trends… here, I think Tylenol (acetominophen) is much more popular now that Aspirin (ASA), probably because of GI side effects. My wife swears by Aleve (Naproxen/Naprosyn) for migraines these days, just recently available without a prescription here in Ontario. And Advil (Ibuprofen) gelcaps for day-to-day. We give the kids Children’s Advil when they need pain relief.

  59. Richard Wintle says:

    Oh, and my favourite home remedy for colds, congestion and the like is good old-fashioned Chinese hot and sour soup. Clears the sinuses nicely.

  60. Cath Ennis says:

    Copious amounts of wasabi have the same effect. Great stuff.
    When I have a cough, I only try to suppress it at night – otherwise I can go for a week at a time with no more than four hours of sleep a night, in 15 minute increments. Safeway sell a cough syrup with codeine in it, but you have to practically beg the pharmacist to sell it to you. Expectorants all the way in daylight hours!

  61. Austin Elliott says:

    bq. “Chinese hot ‘n’ sour soup… Wasabi sauce”
    Or, in the British version, a nice hot curry.
    Alternatively, this stuff applied liberally to the food:

  62. Richard P. Grant says:

    Anyway, I think we should test all us for P450 now we have the epidemiology.

  63. Henry Gee says:

    What Austin said at 20.11

  64. Eva Amsen says:

    I have a developing cold, so I’ve been taking some of this same medicine, which always worked wonders back in Canada. But not only am I not experiencing any crazy side effects, I now appear to be entirely immune to it. Still coughing, still slowly getting sicker instead of better…er.
    If Richard’s CYP2D6 enzyme isn’t working properly, mine is working overtime and degrading everything before it even gets a chance to do anything. Bah.
    I have been taking it in half-doses, because I only have a tiny plastic cup and no proper mugs yet, but I did take the equivalent of a full dose within the past hour. Nothing. It does absolutely nothing. [pause for coughing fit] Nothing. [cough][whine]

  65. Richard P. Grant says:

    That’s one possibility. The other is that Canadian water is homeopathic water, and can only heal Canadian diseases.

  66. Eva Amsen says:

    Am actually feeling a little better today after I had another 1/2 dose. Yay!

  67. Richard P. Grant says:

    thinks so, is there a control Eva who we didn’t take the medicine so we can see if she’s getting better at the same rate?

  68. Eva Amsen says:

    Control Eva ate all my licorice. I hate her.

  69. Richard P. Grant says:

    I wonder if there’s a link between liquorice and cold medicine? I found a place that sells liquorice root on Saturday. Om nom nom.

  70. Alejandro Correa says:

    Exist a very good Italian liqueur called “Limoncello”.

  71. Richard P. Grant says:

    Ooh, that’s stuff good it is. Made a version of it one year. I seem to remember lots of vodka was involved.

  72. Alejandro Correa says:

    So is my old bean friend.

  73. Eva Amsen says:

    There’s sometimes licorice root in cold medicine, I think? Either that, or anise seed – which is an ingredient of licorice candy. And Jagermeister tastes the same as well.

  74. Richard P. Grant says:

    Oh. I thought like Jägermeister tasted like sewage. Apparently—I’ve never actually tasted sewage.

  75. Eva Amsen says:

    Maybe, if sewage tastes like licorice and cough medicine. Someone want to try it to test?

  76. Richard P. Grant says:

    I think Alejandro should.

  77. Alejandro Correa says:


  78. Frank Norman says:

    I like Jagermeister, but it’s best (for me) with ice, served in a very cold glass.
    There used to be a preparation that included both an anti-tussive and an expectorant. Slightly illogical.

  79. Richard P. Grant says:

    Just like Australian beer, Frank—when it’s that cold you can’t taste it. Which is a blessing.

  80. Alejandro Correa says:

    I like Australian beer (very, very cold).

  81. Eva Amsen says:

    I actually like Jagermeister too. You have to keep the bottle in the freezer and drink it at that temperature. Yum.

  82. Alejandro Correa says:

    What is Jagermeister Eva?

  83. Alejandro Correa says:

    Was already resolved the question, I saw it in the whiskypedia (Umpfff!). I’ve never drink and don’t knowed that exist.

  84. Nathaniel Marshall says:

    RPG-“Just like Australian beer, Frank—when it’s that cold you can’t taste it. Which is a blessing.”
    I recall you liking it just fine.

  85. Richard P. Grant says:

    As I say: it’s served at ice temperature, which means you can’t taste it. I shudder to think what it’s like at, say, 10°C.
    (I do remember my heart sinking on going into a pub I hadn’t been to before—on multiple occasions—and seeing the selection. Why do you think I brewed so much of my own?)

  86. Åsa Karlström says:

    Richard: Surely, you can taste it at that temperature…. or wait, maybe it’s only the Swedish Snaps that can be tasted at that temperature because I have a few American/British friends who coughed and looked like I was going to kill them* when I gave them some for Christmas – and that was coldcold drinks 🙂

    I swear it tastes like kerosene was one comment. Then it was simple stares and heaving 😉 Funny enough, the Scottish like it, as do Swedes….

  87. Richard P. Grant says:

    I don’t think it’s the taste of Swedish Schnapps that kills you…

  88. Alejandro Correa says:

    Richard – Has many contraindications to the Chlorpheniramine Maleate more better a glass of Whisky with chunks of ice from the glaciers of Patagonia.

  89. Richard P. Grant says:

    You supply the ice, Alejandro, and I’ll supply the whisky.

  90. Alejandro Correa says:

    I think is good idea. The only thing I’m stress is causing at me is to go to Patagonia.I could supply the ice with my chilean ice freezer.

  91. Richard P. Grant says:

    My heart is set on Patagonia ice, now. Don’t let me down. My cold needs you.

  92. Alejandro Correa says:

    Ok, ok,ok, I’ve will tell to Steffi brings at me those damned pieces of ice. I don’t disappointed my friends.

  93. Alejandro Correa says:

    Richard in the moment of hear you speaking from the heart and whiskey, I remember I had an English girlfriend a long time ago I said: I think with my head, not with me heart in matters of love. But for me I had a terrible existential problem and I do not think it has surpassed. Only a memory. I think she was very young.

  94. steffi suhr says:

    Sorry Alejandro, my ice supplies have run out. At Palmer Station, they use chunks of glacial ice for the drinks – best there is.
    Frank: expectorant and cough suppressing agent together actually does make sense – when you do cough, it’s productive.

  95. Richard P. Grant says:

    Alejandro, are you sure you’re not starting on the whisky without me?

  96. Alejandro Correa says:

    Yes, Richard, really sorry. Will have to be for another occasion.

  97. Alejandro Correa says:

    Richard – I tell you it was only one glass of my old and mature whisky with ice of my freezer.

  98. Richard P. Grant says:

    You want the ice? You can’t handle the ice!

  99. Alejandro Correa says:

    Er….you don’t know the anagrams of high pressure phases of two component water-ice.

  100. Richard P. Grant says:

    No, but I know a good whisky when I taste one.

  101. Alejandro Correa says:

    Which is not that wonderful whisky of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton that they have found in the south pole? or what.

  102. Richard P. Grant says:

    Probably not, seeing as whisky doesn’t store that well.

  103. Alejandro Correa says:

    In any case the meeting there remains for ahead more.

  104. Richard Wintle says:

    I recall a Polish postdoc once bringing my dad a bottle of something called Spirytus. Five minutes of Wikipedia research confirms what I suspected – it’s rectified spirit, aka 95% grain alcohol, aka “alcool” (local term for “that 95% stuff you can buy in Quebec”).
    I suspect that will kill just about any pathogenic organism, including dehydrating viruses. Might also kill the host, though.

  105. Richard P. Grant says:

    Interestingly, I seem to remember that 70% is more effective than the 95% stuff for killing micros for some reason. I didn’t even realize you could get 95% by distillation.

  106. Eva Amsen says:

    How do they get/make the 96% that’s in the big plastic bottles?
    (And I also remember 70% being more effective. I learned in the SickKids safety course that RW undoubtedly also took =P )

  107. Richard P. Grant says:

    As far as I know, it’s synthesized. And then dried to get absolute.

  108. Ken Doyle says:

    Fractional distillation of an ethanol-water mixture will get to a max of ~96% (w/w) ethanol. Anything beyond that uses dehydrating agents.

  109. Richard P. Grant says:

    Ah, so I was almost right. Still awesome, though.

  110. Ken Doyle says:

    Yeah, it’s even more fun when you throw some benzene in with the ethanol and water

  111. Richard Wintle says:

    You are correct of course Eva and RPG, I learned that too (i.e. 70% EtOH kills bacteria faster than ~95%). Yes, distillation maxes out at something like 95-96% (I presume this might fluctuate a bit once the bottle is open, depending on ambient humidity?).
    95% grain alcohol imported from La Belle Province was the weapon of choice for inclusion in party punch bowls when I lived in University residence, as I recall. Nasty stuff.
    @Eva – I’m not sure I ever took any safety training in grad school. Hm, maybe one session in about 1990. I certainly don’t remember anything useful from it though.

  112. Eva Amsen says:

    It wasn’t a grad school thing, it was required for all new SickKids research staff. our postdocs and summer students took it as well. You must have taken it. There were several days of slideshows, videos, stale TimBits, and talks by the safety person about what you should and shouldn’t do when there’s a fire or some other disaster. Depending on where you worked, you had to take certain parts of it. I took something very general, and I think also the radioactivity one.

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