Move over alcohol enemas for the extreme crowd, the new rage is freebasing the booze. And doctors are not amused by the health dangers and potential increase in alcohol abuse and the disease of alcoholism.
The attraction: Inhaling alcohol cuts the potential weight gain out of getting intoxicated by bypassing the stomach and small intestine. And according to YouTubers, it produces a pretty intense high in addition to avoiding the extra calories. Claims that the practice is diet-friendly are unsubstantiated, as are suggestions that inhaling doesn’t affect the liver. In both claims, the alcohol is still entering the bloodstream, where it is metabolized by the liver, and there are calories regardless of how alcohol enters blood, typically about 90-120 per 1.5 oz. depending upon the proof. (See “Alcohol plugs 100 calories into the average daily diet.”)
They’re called “Vaportinis” – an elegant (and trademark-pending) way of describing freebasing liquor by super-heating it over a candle or torch and sucking the escaping alcohol vapor, which is highly concentrated, through a tube. By skipping the glass and the mixer, the alcohol goes from 80 proof straight to nearly 200 proof and enters the blood and directly to the brain immediately via the lungs rather than 20 minutes later through the intestine, where 85 percent of alcohol is absorbed.
The concept brings a potentially more dangerous meaning to the phrase, “Inhaling your drinks.” But the concept is not new, it’s only recently become more affordable. In 2004 a North Carolina company offered a bulky, $3,000, UK-patented machine to vaporize liquor for inhaling. Now a more simple device developed by a Chicago bar owner uses a $35 tea-light-fueled mechanism to bring inhalable alcohol downmarket. It’s also accomplished by pouring 80-proof over dry ice and huffing the resulting gas.
Medical professionals warn that alcohol is a drying agent and can dehydrate mucous membranes in the nose and lungs when using it as an inhalant. The super-concentrated booze can also cause alcohol poisoning more readily than drinking would. However, research hasn’t caught up – yet – with the specific medical impact of alcohol inhalation. “To my knowledge there have been no human studies on the effects inhaling alcohol,” said Dr. Thomas Greenfield, director of the National Alcohol Research Center. He notes, however, that in research laboratory rats have been known to be more perceptible to alcohol addiction through inhalation, which is how alcohol tests are conducted on the rodents since they will not drink alcohol. “Certainly the animals experimented upon have high levels of intoxication and addiction.”
The contrivance will not fool alcohol test devices, especially portable breath testers (PBTs) used by law enforcement in drinking and driving stops. For minors it’s still illegal, even though there is no drinking, because the alcohol is “possessed and consumed.”
In Spain, similar alcohol misters or foggers (known as “oxy shots”) were banned in parts of the country after health authorities cited severe health risks associated with inhaling alcohol.