'It's a poison': Trend of inhaling alcohol vapors alarms doctors

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by Karen Grace

KENS 5 San Antonio

Posted on February 26, 2013 at 12:11 PM

SAN ANTONIO -- Instead of doing shots for a quick buzz, people are inhaling their liquor to get high while also curbing their calorie intake.

But experts warn that inhaling alcohol vapors could be dangerous - even deadly.

You can pack on 700 calories indulging in just one Colorado Bulldog. But instead of blowing your diet on one drink, a company has come up with a way for you to inhale your spirits instead of swallowing all those calories.

The Vaportini is being marketed as "a revolutionary new way of consuming alcohol." It consists of a glass globe, a metal ring, a plastic funnel, a straw and a candle. The combination is used to heat the liquor for five minutes. A clear vapor appears, which are then deeply inhaled.

"What's the difference between inhaling it and drinking it?" asked a bar patron. The difference is that the company claims it curbs the calories and the carbs because the alcohol is not absorbed by your organs or metabolized.

"This method of alcohol delivery is targeting more selectively the brain, and not other bodily organs," said Dr. John D. Roache, professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at UT Health Science Center San Antonio.

As a result, a large concentration of alcohol goes to your lungs, then the brain.

Instead of waiting 20 minutes for a buzz, "[there's] a large degree of intoxication and impairment very quickly," Roache said. "This method is targeting more the brain."

Also, because the alcohol is not circulating throughout the body, there is no hangover. While the method is novel, it's not risk-free, Roache added.

"It's probably not safe at all for several different reasons," he said.

In fact, Roache believes inhaling liquor can be deadly.

"It's a poison, and it can kill living tissue," he explained. "You're putting a large amount of alcohol into your brain, and that can damage the brain."

He says the vapors could also damage your lungs because it takes less alcohol to experience a high, and that could increase alcohol dependency.

"When you're smoking it, you're making it more powerful and addictive," he said.

Another potential problem is that a person's blood-alcohol level may not necessarily reflect their true intoxication level if they are suspected of drinking and driving.

"They could be more intoxicated at a lower blood-alcohol level in this manner," Roache said.

But the company says on its website that the alcohol consumed through a Vaportini will be detected by a blood-alcohol test.

Vaportini charges $30 for a device. KENS 5 tried to order one from the website, but for the past three weeks it's been "out of stock."

In 2005, a similar device was banned called "Alcohol Without Liquid." Twenty states banned AWOL, citing possible health and safety risks. KENS 5 tried contacting Julie Palmer, the published creator of Vaportini, but we did not receive a response.

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