The short answer: yes, it's possible to go blind from drinking moonshine. But it's also possible to go blind staring at the sun. When consuming alcoholic beverages of the DIY variety, the important thing is to let common sense be your guide.
The idea that moonshine or other home-distilled liquors can cause blindness is rooted in truth, but it's important to separate the causes of said blindness from the alcohol distillation process itself. When homemade spirits cause damage to the optic nerve the culprit is almost always methanol, cousin to the ethanol you consume when you toss back any glass of tipple.
Methanol is a byproduct of alcohol distillation, but only forms in tiny, non-toxic amounts during regular distillation, and anyhow it is easy to separate and discard from the first few ounces of alcohol that drip from the condenser. These first few ounces contain other so-called "foreshots"--low-boiling-point compounds that come out of the still first. Methanol is among these compounds (others are acetone, aldehydes, and other undesirables) that impart unappetizing flavors to perfectly good moonshine. Any distiller worth his salt will discard these at the start, eliminating methanol (which also leads to nasty hangovers in small doses, by the way) from the equation.
So where does the methanol that causes blindness come from? It's not the alcohol itself you need to be worried about so much as the distiller. Methanol--also known as wood alcohol--is cheap, and its physiological effects on the body are the same as ethanol's, at least at first. Unscrupulous moonshiners will actually add methanol to their product to up the potency. And when they do so, the results can range from slightly unhealthy to absolutely deadly.
Methanol helps impart a good drunk to the consumer, but just a few hours later as the body metabolizes everything things can turn physiologically very bad. Optic nerve damage could end up being the least of your worries.
"It's very, very toxic, so even a small amount--just 10 milliliters of pure methanol--can cause blindness," says Dr. Bruce Goldberger, professor and director of toxicology at the University of Florida College of Medicine. "But just a few ounces of methanol can kill. So one effect is someone becomes permanently blind due to the effect of methanol on the optic nerve. But the second is that it's just lethal, physiologically, to the body."
Such was the case in India's West Bengal state, where 168 people died from drinking a methanol-tainted batch of moonshine just last year. But methanol isn't the only danger inherent in spirits of unknown provenance. The copper coils generally used as condensers in the distillation process aren't exactly optimal for making large batches of moonshine for distribution. For large volume illicit stills, nothing works quite like a truck radiator immersed in the product. Of course, alcohol is a solvent and will leach all kinds of things from a radiator, including lead salts that can lead to lead poisoning. Glycol products from antifreeze have shown up in batches of moonshine as well.
That's another way of saying that while the distillation process is inherently safe (and easy enough to make even safer through the discarding of any trace methanol that may have formed early in the process) there are various external factors that can make the finished product decidedly dangerous to consume. PopSci isn't endorsing the purchase or consumption of unregulated (and possibly illegal) spirits, but if you simply must dabble in homemade hooch you'd better be sure you trust your distiller (or, alternatively, study up and make the stuff yourself). As with so many other things, when it comes to DIY-distilled spirits, it's buyer beware.
Mmm, with a little more patience homemade wine and beer can be really good and a fun hobby. There are lots of people who do this all the time, books written on the subject and good information on the internet too.
Unless you drink pure methanol, you cant go blind buy having a batch of home distilled liquor have a small amount of it in it. This is because ethanol(alcohol) is methanol own antidote.
The reason moonshine has a bad rap for making you go blind, is because back in the days of prohibition, it was common to use radiators as distillers. The lead in the radiator would leak into the moonshine and cause blindness.
All in all, if moonshine burns blue, its safe to drink. If it burns red, it has lead in it.
Do not believe michael taylor advice with your life. He is wrong. Each statement of his is more stupid that the next.
Burning is not a good proof of quality at all. Methanol is used in cars and it burns blue in daylight. In fact it is hard to tell when someone is on fire.
Any amount of methanol is dangerous to humans.
Moonshiners were not the best at using clean corn. They would crack corn that had chaff and even the burlap sacks were included in the mash.
Moonshiners didn't have access to glycol based antifreeze during prohibition since the antifreeze used back then was some methanol.
Don't attempt to make moonshine unless you are very careful.
It can't be worth your life or eyesight.
Go to a state that legally sells 150+ proof and be happy.
Don't even attempt to drink the fireplace products either.
By the way it is a violation of about 7 or more Federal laws to make moonshine without proper taxes.
I laughed at "let common sense be your guide." Common sense would dictate never consuming alcohol.
It is well established that excessive alcohol consumption causes damage to the brain and nervous system. Depending on how far it goes, it can result in permanent difficulties with speech, motor control, or even paralysis. Alcohol's destructive effect on the liver is also well known.
The medical literature says that no "safe" level of alcohol use during pregnancy has been established. Pregnant mothers who consume alcohol risk damaging the fetus and giving birth to a child permanently afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome.
And we're all aware of the significant and often deadly impact intoxication plays in auto accidents.
Before any of you start citing "studies" that indicate a little red wine consumption is good for you and/or your heart; it's not the alcohol, which is toxic. It's the resveratrol and flavonoids in the grapes, which you can get by just eating grapes.
You could drink moderately (whatever that means) and probably not suffer the most severe effects, but why introduce a poison into your body in the first place?
I appreciate you comment here the most. You make human health the focal point and I like that.
Laurena7, You know what? I used to agree with you. I grew up in the home of an alcoholic and I have seen what over consumption and dependence on alcohol can do. However, I cannot ignore thousands of years of human survival hinging upon the fermentation of crops during the harvest so that man could survive through the lean winter and spring. I also cannot so lightly disregard the role of alcohol in making water teaming with bacteria and all sorts of micro-organisms that can kill you perfectly drinkable. There is a reason everyone used to drink 5 or 6 glasses of beer per day. It is far better to drink some beer than to get a water borne illness and become dehydrated from diarrhea and vomiting and possibly die. You do know that dehydration caused by dysentery is the number one killer in "under-developed" nations right?
I already know your come back will be that we no longer "need" alcohol to keep our water sterile enough to drink or preserve our food, however, our bodies are filled with the bacteria that produce these same alcohols and acids found in fermented foods and it can be pretty well proven that eating fermented foods is better for you than eating junk from a tin can.
Jefro's right. When methanol is used for a fuel it usually has colorants added to it because the blue flame of pure methanol is invisible in daylight. So clearly blue flame does not mean you are in the clear. And while drinking ethanol can prevent or reverse methanol metabolites from binding to the optic nerve, the amount of ethanol you would have to drink to prevent permanent damage from a few mL of methanol would be life-threatening in and of itself.
alcohol like anything else requires moderation not a clear cut definition of how much is good and how much is bad. everyone is different in the sense that they can handle more or less alcohol without going off the deep end and having too much or doing something stupid. for instance, when i turn 21, me, my dad, and my brother are going to go to a bar and I'm going to order the three of us a few rounds. after that I'm not even sure if i want to drink on a regular basis.
instead of teaching why it isn't good for you, or instead of binging BECAUSE someone says it's not good for you let's act like the mature human beings that we all say we are and enjoy it in moderation. sometimes society needs a poison that will break down the barriers that we put up that would hinder us. however when we drink in excess we tear down the barriers that were put up with common sense or a sense of what is right.
to mars or bust!
It is humans excesses, unbalancing vision and just greed, I robot see human destruction. I observe when humans live simply and in balance, their harmony in life rises. Liquor, wine and beer have they place in human society. Historically, it is even taking in their religion to raise their social being. Humans just need focus on being balance in your lives.
"Methanol poisoning can be treated with the antidotes ethanol or fomepizole.Both drugs act to reduce the action of alcohol dehydrogenase on methanol by means of competitive inhibition, so it is excreted by the kidneys rather than being transformed into toxic metabolites."
"methanol is not produced in toxic amounts by fermentation of sugars from grain starches"
"A common folk test for the quality of moonshine was to pour a small quantity of it into a spoon and set it on fire. The theory was that a safe distillate burns with a blue flame, but a tainted distillate burns with a yellow flame. Practitioners of this simple test also held that if a radiator coil had been used as a condenser, then there would be lead in the distillate, which would give a reddish flame. This led to the mnemonic, "Lead burns red and makes you dead." Although the flame test will show the presence of lead and fusel oils, it will not reveal the presence of methanol, which burns with an invisible flame."
Not to mention that Ive been making my own whiskey for years and have done my research. All store purchased liquor will contain trace amounts menthol (the head) and wood alcohols (the tail). Even though they evaporate at different temperatures, its nearly impossible to separate them out. Even though they are both poisonous they are both counteracted by ethanol.
The reason why some people enjoy "moonshine" over other liquors that have more then 150 proof is because it hasnt been aged and it has more of a kick to it. Also if its been properly made it has much less impurities then traditional store purchased liquor. Impurities and dehydration are the core cause of hangovers. Some moonshine will get you drunk quicker but it also leaves your system quicker because of the lack of impurities. Ive never received a hangover from drinking "Moonshine"
also remember its only considered moonshine if its illegally purchased liquor. What I actually make is corn whiskey.
alcohol has been with humanity since the dawn of man. cavemen used it to fight off evil spirits.
"You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." -Morpheus
ghost, using your argument, crystal meth, heroine, cocaine, and "bath salts" also require moderation, right? Most "mature human beings" would say that even once is too much. An alcoholic would tell you exactly the same thing. Why do you think alcohol is any different than so-called hard drugs? Can you quote us some statistics on the beneficial effects of alcohol? How it enhances quality of life, improves marriages, improves cognitive function, improves decision-making, helps you drive better, improves memory, improves your short-term or long-term health? Just because your buddies drink doesn't mean it's a great idea.
Laurena7, I see that you don't want to argue against a person who provides you with all of the counterargumnets that you ask from others. I can understand your outlook on alcohol. I really can. I had that same view of it for quite some time. BUT! You cannot deny that alcohol did provide extremely significant health benefits in our recent past (before refrigeration). Such health benefits in the short term were the prevention of water-borne illness and possible death. Also, the prevention of starvation. Before people could get calories from their mountain dew or a monster, there was beer. So we have the prevention of starvation and the prevention of death as just two of the most obvious short-term health effects of alcohol. Alcohol is also the main ingredient in things like nyquil and alot of other cough medicines. It has quite a few medicinal purposes.
Lastly, who are you to tell another human being what they can and cannot do with their body? The only caveat in that area should be that you cannot harm another person or their property with your actions and if you do, you should be charged for that trespass. Not for the drugs that "caused" it. Anyone who says that drugs cause people to become cannibals, murderers, or rapists is grasping at straws.
Just remembered another good thing about beer. A scientific study that came out last year proving that beer was good for you after performing manual labor because of the caloric content, protein, and slight muscle relaxant in the drink; all without the high fructose corn syrup found in gatorade that spikes your blood sugar and can over prolonged periods lead to the formation of diabetes.
It's that awkward moment when I read your post and all your citations are from wikipedia...
Straw man. Robot said beer, wine, and liquor, not crystal meth, heroin, and cocaine.
One, as I think someone already mentioned, alcohol is a potent disinfectant that has been used as such for centuries. This is why the wealthier Europeans in the past often drank wine, beer, and other alcohols instead of water during meals.
Two, many alcoholic beverages also contain other compounds that have been correlated with longer life. Resveritrol is one of these compounds, commonly found in red wines. However, there are technical difficulties to preserving the original drink when attempting to separate the alcohol. Heating of wine (as in distillation) may lead to formation of the more thermodynamically favored product, acetic acid (vinegar). Ion-exchange resins may remove compounds other than alcohol, and they don't really remove the alcohol anyways. Membrane filtrations via ultrafiltration or reverse osmosis will probably remove much more than just alcohol since the former separates compounds based on size (ethanol is a tiny molecule compared to sugars and resveritrol) and the latter removes the solvent (water).
Three, alcohol is no hard drug. It's 'potency' as a central nervous system depressant is FAR lower than that of, say, meprobamate (miltown), barbitol, or even . Only 100 milligrams of these drugs can lead to significantly altered behavior, while one usually n. One cannot even compare alcohol to cocaine, heroin (which is a cocaine derivative, that was a nice redundancy there, on your part), and methamphetamine (yes, that's what meth means)...those drugs have a COMPLETELY different mechanism of action and, therefore, widely differing effects. This is another reason why, by the way, Robot's logic does not imply meth or cocaine.
I don't really even know why you even bothered to comment here: I'm guessing it was either to troll or to pick fights. Why do I think that? Well, outside of the clinical aspects, if alcohol is causing relationship troubles and violence, then obviously it is not being drunk in 'moderation.' That entirely defeats your point that 'even in moderation, alcohol is bad.'
EDIT for my comment above - text editor weirded out on me:
1. ...barbitol, or even benadryl (diphenhydramine), which is available over the counter in most drug stores.
2. significantly altered behavior, while one must reach a blood content of alcohol (usually above 0.01, which, for an average person with 5.6L of blood, is about 56 grams, not milligrams) to notice even the most mild effects.
To clarify, I have never done drugs in my life or attempted to smoke either. I do on occasion enjoy a good drink of liquor, beer and wine. In my youth, sometimes I drink to excess. I am older now and my intelligence tells me not to do this and my age says I cannot tolerate excessive drinking any more.
My current life style, I eat mostly veggies, fruits, grains and avoid sugar and carbohydrates. I try to eat food that is close to the garden as possible. I do eat meat, but keep the limits low. I exercise daily.
From every direction possible the media in my life time pretty clearly tells us what to do and not to do, and the good information for health is available, you just have to grow and mature up and decide to take good care of yourself. It is a life style choice. Do not make gigantic goals or choices you cannot achieve, but do choose to be healthy.
God love you first and it is ok, if you love yourself too.
Once you get yourself to a good place, reach out and love others too.
@thunderxlightning, , Personally, I have never found anything on the wikipedia "main page" not to be true. Got an axe to grind with wiki or something?
@thunderxlightning, heroin is derived from opium poppies (depressant), not coke (stimulant).
On another subject, in general, people who feel they have the right to run my life annoy the cr@p out of me. If ya don't like it, don't look. As someone once said (approximately), take the log outta your own eye before riding me for the speck in mine (courtesy J. Christ).
Freedom and responsibility. Just remember they go together.
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Reflux (aka - the dome, prikubnik, it - the sump moonshine), as has been repeatedly pointed out, is not mandatory, but highly desirable element of moonshine, because it can significantly improve the quality of the final product. The fact that the composition of home brew in addition we are interested in ethanol is a group of heavier alcohols, fatty acids, and other nasty ingredients - in the vernacular - fusel oil: http://gonimsami.com/deflegmation.html
Reflux (aka - the dome, prikubnik, it - the sump moonshine), as has been repeatedly pointed out, is not mandatory, but highly desirable element of moonshine, because it can significantly improve the quality of the final product. The fact that the composition of home brew in addition we are interested in ethanol is a group of heavier alcohols, fatty acids, and other nasty ingredients - in the vernacular - fusel oil: gonimsami.com/deflegmation.html