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Methanol poisoning UPSC NOTE

 How is spurious liquor made and why does it have deadly effects? 

  • Liquor is differentiated by its alcohol content — from the 5% or so of beer to the 12% or so of wine to the 40% or so of distilled spirits (all by volume)

  • In the beverages consumed for recreational purposes, the alcohol in question is almost always ethanol

  • In this context, ethanol is technically a psychoactive drug that, in low doses, reduces the level of neurotransmission in the body, leading to its typical intoxicating effects.

  • Long-term use leads to dependence, heightens the risk of some cancers and heart disease, and may eventually cause death

  • Spurious liquor is characterised by the liquid mixture containing methanol as well

  • The police were able to determine last year that the spurious liquor in both the Chengalpattu and Villupuram incidents arose from the same source, and that arrack sellers had purchased methanol from factories and sold it to the victims (Arrack is distilled from the fermented sap of the palm tree).

  • In many older cases, spurious liquor has typically been a homemade liquor to which methanol was added to strengthen the intoxicating effects and/or to increase its bulk volume. 

  • The Food Safety and Standards (Alcoholic Beverages) Regulations 2018 stipulate the maximum permissible quantity of methanol in different liquors

  • These values span a wide range, including “absent” in coconut feni, 50 grams per 100 litres of country liquor, and 300 grams per 100 litres of pot-distilled spirits

  • The human body contains infinitesimal quantities of methanol (4.5 ppm in the breath of healthy individuals, per a 2006 study) as a result of eating some fruits. 

  • But even for an adult, more than 0.1 ml of pure methanol per kilogram of body-weight can be devastating.

  • Consuming methanol also leads to “methanol-induced optic neuropathy …, a serious condition that may result in long-term or irreversible visual impairment or even blindness due to damage and loss of function of the optic nerve and retina”. 

  • Methanol-poisoning can also cause cerebral edema, haemorrhage, and death.

Why is methanol added to liquor and how is it processed by the body if ingested?

  • Methanol is often deliberately and illegally added to alcoholic beverages as a cheaper alternative to ethanol (normal alcohol that can be consumed) in countries where taxes on legitimate alcohol or the cost of legitimate alcohol might be perceived as too high.

  • Once methanol is ingested, the body takes some time to completely eliminate it

  • One estimate suggests as much as 33% is still left behind after 48 hours

  • It is completely absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract. 

  • And blood methanol level can reach its maximum value within 90 minutes.

Is treatment effective? 

  • There are two immediate ways to treat methanol poisoning. 

  • One is to administer pharmaceutical-grade ethanol. 

  • This may sound counter-intuitive but ethanol competes very well with methanol for the ADH enzymes, which metabolise ethanol around 10x faster

  • As a result, the methanol is kept from being metabolised to formaldehyde.

  • The other option is to administer an antidote called fomepizole, which has a similar mechanism: it slows the action of the ADH enzymes, causing the body to produce formaldehyde at a rate the body can quickly excrete, preventing the deadlier effects from kicking in.

  • Both courses of action are limited by availability: fomepizole is expensive whereas pharmaceutical-grade ethanol needs to be administered under expert supervision

  • Healthcare workers may also have the individual undergo a dialysis to remove methanol and formic acid salts from the blood, and mitigate damage to the kidneys and the retina.

  • They may also administer folinic acid, which encourages the formic acid to break up into carbon dioxide and water

  • The formic acid would have begun accumulating in dangerous amounts around 18-24 hours after ingestion, affecting the optic nerve, kidneys, the heart, and the brain

  • If the individual consumed ethanol along with the methanol, the damage may not be evident until after a few days, further delaying treatment and increasing mortality.



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Methanol poisoning UPSC NOTE
Methanol poisoning UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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