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Ever heard of these two drugs? Pseudoephedrine and Phenylephrine. One is a vasoconstrictor, the other a vasopressor. One is a precursor chemical used to manufacture methamphetamines, and that’s where the trouble begins.

A bit of history: pseudoephedrine has been used for years as a nasal decongestant. It’s effective in temporarily relieving congestion and stuffiness, and works well for a lot of people. Unfortunately for pseudoephedrine, it can be reduced using a variety of chemical methods to form methamphetamine, a potent, addictive drug. As a result, legislation passed in 2005 has restricted the sale of pseudoephedrine, and many retailers, drug manufacturers, and distributors have substituted phenylephrine in their cold remedies.

What’s the problem with this? At least for me, and for others, phenylephrine is ineffective as a decongestant. I’ve tried it a number of times, and it has no effect whatsoever on me. Why? According to Wikipedia and subsequent sources, phenylephrine doesn’t activate a norephedrine response in the body, and is metabolized by monoamine oxidase through ingestion, with up to 2/3 of the drug being broken down before it gets into the body. The net effect? Phenylephrine doesn’t clear a stuffy nose for me, making it a waste of money.

So here’s the question: does the public good of reducing the supply of pseudoephedrine for potential misuse outweigh the cost of a drug which has questionable effectiveness? Does the mitigation of potential criminal activity balance out with increased discomfort from illness?

If you buy a decongestant containing phenylephrine, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t have the same bang for the buck that pseudoephedrine-based decongestants did.

Side tip: even though it’s marketed for treatment of allergies, drugs like loratadine (marketed under the name Claritin) are also helpful for suppressing the histamine response for colds, and is effective for me against a stuffy nose. Disclosure: I work in student loans, not medicine or pharmacy. I have no expertise in this stuff at all besides what works for me – consult someone who’s actually qualified before self-treating with drugs.

Side tip 2: even though directions for making methamphetamine are readily available on the internet, I’d suggest taking a course or two in organic chemistry first. Using the directions available, you’re more likely to blow yourself up than make something that will give you a high. It’d be like giving you this set of directions for making a cake: flour, sugar, milk, eggs, water, cocoa powder. Mix and bake. Good luck actually getting a cake out of that.