"Doctors Saved Man's Life by Pumping 15 Cans of Beer Into His Body"

Apparently he was suffering from methanol poisoning his liver, and administering ethanol seems to make the methanol less harmful.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Or so it appears from the story in Newsweek (Aristos Geogriou), which gives more details. I did not know things worked that way.

Thanks to Prof. Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit) for the pointer. [UPDATE: Newsweek link fixed, thanks to reader Jonathan Doyle for pointing out the problem.]

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  1. Your Newsweek link is messed up/non-funcional.

  2. Oh yes. Standard procedure.

    If you’re curious about the science behind it, the first thing the liver does with either form of alcohol is to oxidize it. Methanol gets oxidized to formaldehyde. This is not a good thing. The enzymes that make the oxidation happen can be kept busy turning ethanol into acetaldehyde instead, which is not quite as bad.

    1. Yup. Ex-wife is a trauma pharmacist, was working at the local ER, and various local homeless alcoholics would actually intentionally do this so they could get drunk on the medical ethanol for free. Repeatedly.

      They don’t usually use beer, though.

      Ah, Vietnam. Dunno what they do there.

      1. Somewhere in my library I have a nursing handbook with tables giving the initial loading dose and maintenance dose for alcohol, to treat methanol poisoning.

        The same trick also works with antifreeze (ethylene glycol) poisoning. Ethylene glycol is harmless and is rapidly excreted. However the enzymes in the liver that oxidize ethanol turn ethylene glycol into oxalic acid which forms crystals in the kidneys, effectively trashing them.

        So you load the body with ethanol which competes with the other chemicals for access to those enzymes.

        Biochemistry. Fascinating stuff.

        1. Yeah, but windshield washer fluid is cheaper for the homeless to buy than antifreeze. But yes, it works for that too. 😀

    2. Does it matter that beer is full of CO2? It doesn’t say how they administered the beer, but if they used an IV drip, wouldn’t all that carbonation cause serious problems? If they just poured it down his gullet, wouldn’t he have had to assist by swallowing, or could they send it direct to his stomach?

      1. Tube feeding.

        And a lot of burping.

      2. They have to be careful but they do feed it to them.

      3. Just have a hot girl in a kilt keep bringing them. Works for me.

  3. Justice Kavanaugh has clipped this out and sent it to the Supreme Court first responders, just in case.

    1. Okay, that was funny, I admit.

  4. And this ladies and germs, is why you should take organic chemistry in college. 🙂

    1. O-chem first year is traditional make-or-break career determinant.

  5. Homemade alcohol is a real problem in places like Vietnam. Even Bali, where thousands of Australians vacation, has dive bars serving booze with methanol. A young Aussie man lost his life not long ago when he unwittingly drank methanol notwithstanding heroic attempts to save him.

    Bottom line is to always be careful in a foreign country and know as best you can what you are consuming.

    1. It has also been a problem closer to home, like in certain tourist spots in Mexico, Cancun and Acapulco (there may be others), where criminal gangs discovered that they could make some good money selling adulterated alcohol to bars and even some hotels and resorts. There were several cases of tourists dying from methanol poisoning around Cancun a few years ago, before Mexican authorities really started clamping down. They simply could not afford to put those tourist dollars at risk. The higher-end resorts were much more careful about sourcing their alcohol.

  6. “…The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

  7. The use of ethanol to counteract methanol was featured in a Doc Martin sitcom episode some years back. A cab driver had absorbed methanol (I don’t remember how) and crashed when carrying Louisa, the Doc’s pregnant wife, to the hospital. Doc arrived on scene, commandeered a bottle of whisky from a pub and forced it down the cab driver’s gullet-saving him. His wife gave birth in the pub to the delight of all viewers of the sitcom.

    1. IIRC, there was a similar House episode with LL Cool J.

      1. S2E1, “Acceptance”, 13 Sep 2005. Death row inmate drinks toner fluid in a suicide attempt. House saves him by doing shots with him, then he goes back to death row.

        I read the comments to post about the same episode. 😉

  8. Or as we call it here in NorCal, Saturday night.

  9. It would make no sense to infuse beer, as opposed to a solution of ethanol in normal saline. I suspect the story is inaccurate.

  10. Just wondering, I recall reading somewhere (and it may bejust an old wives tale) that alcohol is absorbed very efficiently by the walls of the lower large intestine. There were tales of fraternity boys wanting to get really drunk really fast doing a vodka enema, which worked so well that a few actually risked dying of alcohol poisoning. Wouldn’t that be a much faster way of getting ethanol into the bloodstream, and then into the liver, than pouring beer down someone’s gullet?

  11. Why use beer? My brother is a veterinarian. I was visiting him once a long time ago and he had the night shift. There was a doberman puppy that had licked up antifreeze. The treatment was intravenous ethanol. Every 4 hours the pup needed a big injection of etnanol. I went with my brother for one administration of the treatment. I was holding this happy, bouncing puppy in my arms as my brother injected a huge hypo of alcohol into the puppy`’s IV. The puppy immediately went limp.

    The puppy survived and my brother said it had an awful hangover the next day.

  12. I hate to break it to you, but if you try this in the US you are out of luck.

    The medication Fomepizole was developed for ethylene glycol and methanol poisoning and provides the medical benefits of administration of ethanol without any of the “pleasant side-effects.” It has been approved and in use here for over 20 years. It is also on the list of WHO Essential Medicines, so it would be rare not have it available in most somewhat developed countries.

    So if you ingest methanol hoping to end up with a good “beer buzz”, you are only going to end up with a big bill for Fomepizole.

  13. When I worked in the jail I met a lot of Russian immigrants back in the 1990’s and chatted with them in my laughably accented Russian and their very spotty English, learned mainly from movies like Rambo. I have been a certified D & A counselor and was interested in how the Russians approached the problem. The inmates told of being “torpedoed” with Antabuse in a time-release capsule form. Some of them showed off terrible scars where they dug the capsules out with dirty knives.

    Most Russians couldn’t get over how nice our drunk tanks are in America. In their homeland many villages typically had been the same for centuries. A barn-like room would be filled with straw maybe a meter deep. The drunks would be tossed in it. Every couple days the straw would be replaced. Any corpses found would be buried. The living ones would be hosed off.

    Methanol consumption was a big problem there too and the ethanol remedy well understood. The problem was the chronic shortage and execrable quality of the ethanol in the lower levels of society. Didn’t matter much, because alkies there were generally not going to live that long anyhow.

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