Monday, June 3, 2013

Smoking Alcohol

I'm always fascinated with the crazy new ways younger people keep coming up with to abuse drugs. Today I ran across an article describing a new technique for abusing alcohol.. smoking alcohol.

According to the abusers, when liquor is poured over dry ice, the vapor produced from that reaction is said to contain alcohol. So, instead of drinking the liquor in order to catch a buzz, the vapor is inhaled instead. It's being said that it's gives a "smoker" a quicker buzz because it is directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs, bypassing oral absorption and the first-pass effect.

And because the vapor is inhaled, and the liquor is not drunk, it's also been said that it's a calorie-free way to get drunk. One can supposedly abuse alcohol without weight gain. Here's a video report of it -



Notice that I said "supposedly" because I'm not sure that I buy into this purported chemical reaction. I don't see how anyone could "smoke" alcohol this way. Let me explain my reasoning, and please feel free to correct me if I'm missing something. And no, I'm not drinking while I type this.

The alcohol contained in liquor, ethanol, is hygroscopic and very miscible with water. While hydrated ethanol (<200 proof liquor) may be somewhat volatile over time depending upon temperature, getting it to break it's bond with water quickly and to vaporize requires the addition of heat and flame.

You see chef's use this technique (flambé) all of the time when they cook and flavor their dishes with certain liquors. They add the liquor to the dish during cooking to "burn off" most the ethanol content, while leaving the liquor flavor in the pan.

Dry ice is frozen CO2 (carbon dioxide). It is MUCH colder than the usual "water" ice. When water, ethanol, or liquor is added to dry ice, the dry ice "sublimates" (changes directly from a solid into a gas) much quicker, producing that cool cloud of smoke everyone is familiar with (vapor).

Now, here's where I don't understand the supposed chemical reaction. The way I see it, there is no "liquid" dry ice for the ethanol to mix with and be released. And the dry ice is so cold that it would also seem to reduce the ethanol's volatility, thereby keeping it hydrated instead of releasing it into a vapor. Then how does the alcohol vaporize? I don't think it does. I think it remains in solution.

So, while it may "look" like someone is "smoking" alcohol because of the sublimation of the dry ice, what they're really doing is just inhaling the carbon dioxide vapor. I'd bet there isn't any alcohol at all (or very minimally) contained in that vapor.

Personally, I would be very skeptical about "smoking" alcohol as being an effective or dangerous way to abuse alcohol. However, I do see it as a dangerous way to abuse carbon dioxide. Inhaling carbon dioxide is not safe, and can lead to hypercapnia. So, it should be avoided simply for that reason.

6 comments:

  1. I just watched the KPHO Channel-5 news presentation concerning this topic, and it looks like smoking alcohol may be an effective way to abuse alcohol.

    According to their investigation and interview with Dr. Steven Curry from the Banner Poison Control Center, by using pressurized air instead of dry ice, it seems as though the ethanol contained in liquor can be vaporized enough to be inhaled.

    But, I'd still like to find some kind of clinical study that defines the percentage of ethanol contained in that vapor, and if it's enough to make someone inebriated, or even enough to produce an overdose? I'll keep looking and present any results I find here.

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  2. Okay, I conducted a cursory Google search and found clinical references that vaporized ethanol was actually a treatment for foaming caused by pulmonary edema, and has been used for AWS in alcoholic patients with esophageal cancer.

    Finding clinical case studies or medical reports concerning the abuse of vaporize ethanol was a little more difficult.

    I did find that there are nebulizers/vaporizers being sold for "smoking" alcohol, which are referred to as alcohol without liquid devices. Most of the devices use oxygen/air compressors to "nebulize" an alcohol/water mixture for inhalation, like described in the KPHO report.

    One product though, known as a Vaportini seemed to be the most-effective vaporizing device, and works on the same process as distillation. Heat is required to vaporize the ethanol contained in liquor. The resulting ethanol vapor is captured in a cylinder where the "smoker" inhales the vapor through a straw-like device.

    I didn't find any case reports concerning anyone specifically being harm by smoking alcohol. I would personally attribute that to the fact that "smoking" alcohol, while gimmicky and seemingly fun, takes more effort to abuse, is time-consuming compared to drinking, and probably not as effective as "drinking" the same amount of liquor.

    I would also like to debunk the myth that "smoking" alcohol doesn't cause weight gain.

    Alcohol is rather dense in calories. It contains 7 calories per gram. (Proteins and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram; fats have 9 calories per gram). While smoking alcohol may bypass ingesting any carbohydrates (sugars) contained in liquor, the higher calorie alcohol (ethanol) calories are still being ingested, regardless of being inhaled, and will eventually be metabolized by the liver.

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  3. Maybe weight loss occurs because there isn't that much alcohol being inhaled by this process?

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  4. Finally...I was starting to think that I was the only person who questioned this "Fad." Sure, I wanted to try it but the more I thought about it, the more it didn't make sense. I also figured they were huffing nothing more than Co2. I believe the lack of Oxygen causes a Psychosomatic reaction, and they make themselves believe they are getting 'Drunk.' As for Vaporizing using a tire pump, again, this may be nothing more than water vapors formed when the air is compressed. You could probably produce the same cloud using nothing but air. Thank for taking the time to Post your thoughts. The news media are Morons for not doing more research

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  5. Some in the news media interviewed the right people about it. But expectedly, and just like I would, those interviewed chose to err on the side of caution and explain what "could" happen if alcohol was inhaled. None of the experts that I saw interviewed mentioned any case reports.

    I agree with you about the "smoke" one sees when a bicycle pump is used. Who knows how much ethanol it contains, or how much is just plain water vapor? Like you said, maybe there's a placebo effect when abusers are saying that they're feeling effects from the "smoke".

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