Lean, often called “purple drank,” has been celebrated in the hip-hop world since the 1980s even though it’s addictive and has caused several deaths.
THC syrup is a relatively new way to use weed.
Don’t believe what you might hear; the two are not the same. They only have two things in common: they’re both liquids, and both of them will get you high.
And there’s a crucial difference: “liquid weed” doesn’t cause fatal overdoses.
THC syrup is now showing up in dispensaries, and some dedicated cannabis connoisseurs have started making it at home.
So the growing popularity of weed syrup calls for a deeper dive into the subject — and perhaps more importantly — an explanation of why THC syrup shouldn’t be considered “a new version of lean.”
What Is Lean/Purple Drank?
Lean, also known by names like purple drank, sizzurp, and Dirty Sprite, is made by mixing cough syrup containing codeine and promethazine with Sprite or another soft drink. A candy-like Jolly Ranchers is often added to the mix. 
Most rappers who’ve extolled the virtues of lean in their songs probably don’t even know that the term originated with some blues musicians in 1960s Houston, who would drink cough syrup (usually Robitussin with codeine) mixed with beer. Wine coolers replaced beer as the mixer of choice in the 1970s.
Rappers who grew up in the same area started drinking lean in the 70s and 80s, but with a new formula: fruit-flavored soda mixed with codeine/promethazine cough syrup.
Many sang the praises of the drink in their mixtapes, and rap lyrics referencing and praising lean became widespread in the early 2000s. Those references are still heard in music released by artists from Lil Wayne to Justin Bieber.
The Houston rapper and producer DJ Screw was the first hip-hop figure to spread the word about lean to a much larger audience — and he was the first high-profile celebrity to die from an overdose of the drink, in 1990.
More celebrity overdoses and deaths occurred in the decades that followed, with many musicians and athletes also arrested for using, making, or selling purple drank.
What makes lean so dangerous? For one thing, codeine is very addictive.
But the mixture of promethazine and codeine, consumed in large quantities, can slow down the respiratory system and increase the possibility of seizures, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest. That danger is even greater when alcohol or other drugs are used in combination with lean.
Lean is an addictive and potentially deadly way to get high. That certainly doesn’t describe weed.
What is THC Syrup?
On its face, THC syrup somewhat resembles lean — it’s a gooey liquid that’s often purple (the trademark color of the cough medicine used to make purple drank) and it can make you high.
That’s where the comparison ends.
THC syrup is made by mixing cannabis concentrate (usually hash oil) with coconut oil or vegetable glycerine (a viscous fat-based liquid, widely used in foods and pharmaceuticals). Sugar, agave syrup, and/or flavorings are added to make the mixture taste good. Homemade versions may contain flowers instead of concentrate.
In simple terms, THC syrup is essentially a weed edible that you can drink.
There are two differences, though. One is obvious: you can combine the syrup with other beverages (non-alcoholic ones!) to make getting high more sociable.
The other difference involves the user experience. It doesn’t take the body as long to digest THC syrup as it needs to digest edibles, which is why the syrup kicks in more quickly than weed-infused brownies or gummies. It works even faster if you drip the syrup under your tongue to be absorbed sublingually.
Now for the big question: is THC syrup dangerous?
Only if, like some politicians, you still think that marijuana is “dangerous.”
In most cases, commercially-available THC syrup is made from weed concentrate — so it’s going to be stronger than flowers, or edibles made with flowers. That can make dosing a little tricky until you’re used to the syrup. If you’re not careful, you might end up much higher than you wanted or expected to be.
If you start slow, though, THC syrup is just another way to enjoy weed. It’s not dangerous or potentially fatal to use it.
Why Do Some People Think THC Syrup Is The Same As Lean?
It’s an unfortunate marketing strategy.
Even though the two liquids are nothing alike, some cannabis companies sell their THC syrup by capitalizing on its supposed similarity to purple drank. Some initially called it a “healthy alternative” to lean. Companies like Actabliss backed off those types of comparisons after receiving criticism, but the mistaken belief remains among many.
It also might not help that rappers like Redman are now spokespeople for brands of THC syrup. It’s true that no direct comparisons to purple drank are being made in those ad campaigns, and that Redman has long been known for his love of the green. But the association between rap stars and lean is firmly established in peoples’ minds, so the confusion may be inevitable.
That’s a shame because there’s no legitimate comparison between THC syrup and lean.
Perhaps the best summary we’ve seen came from Adam Winstock of the Global Drug Survey in an interview with Vice. He says “THC syrup is just another form of edibles. Saying it is a healthy alternative to lean is like saying weed is a healthy alternative to heroin.” 
How to Consume THC Syrup?
The simplest way to enjoy THC syrup is to drink it straight. Remember that dosing can be tricky, and that — as with edibles — you won’t feel the effects right away. Start with a small shot, see how it affects you, and then adjust the dosage the next time you’re ready to get high.
Many have found that the sugar or agave mixed into THC syrup makes it way too sweet to enjoy by itself. The solution is to add syrup to a non-alcoholic drink. (Mixing weed concentrate and alcohol can get you way too stoned.) If you like the taste of the syrup, mix it with seltzer water; otherwise, just use your favorite soda or energy drink.
The fastest-acting method is to put some drops under your tongue. The THC will be absorbed by the tissues located there and whisked into the bloodstream, with the effects evident almost as fast as they are when you smoke.
Perhaps the yummiest way to use the syrup is as a substitute for maple syrup. Pouring a little over your breakfast pancakes gives new meaning to the phrase “wake and bake.”
THC Syrup and Lean: FAQ
Q: Is the high from THC syrup better than the ones from smoking or edibles?
A: It’s often stronger because the concentrates used to make THC syrup are much more potent than flowers. The actual effects of a strain won’t change with the method of administration, just how hard the weed may hit.
Q: How easy is it to make your THC syrup?
A: There are many ways to do it, but it’s not difficult. You just boil equal amounts of water and sugar, simmer the combination with hash oil or flower for half an hour, add a small amount of vegetable glycerin, and then briefly cook, cool, and strain. Be careful, though; it will be potent.
Hartman, R. L., Brown, T. L., Milavetz, G., Spurgin, A., Gorelick, D. A., Gaffney, G., & Huestis, M. A. (2015). Controlled cannabis vaporizer administration: blood and plasma cannabinoids with and without alcohol. Clinical chemistry, 61(6), 850-869.