The Potential Dangers of Powdered Alcohol

Powdered alcohol sales could increase abuse, use by minors, "spiking," Baltimore City Health Department says


Is powdered alcohol a grave danger-or just another way to unwind?

An editorial from the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) in Maryland has raised concerns about sales of powdered alcohol, a substance that became legal in May of 2015, but has yet to hit stores.

“With the dearth of evidence on its clinical and public health effects, powdered alcohol poses a substantial threat to ongoing efforts to decrease alcohol consumption, particularly among young persons,” Dr. Leana S. Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, and team said.

Powdered alcohol, or Palcohol, is a powder that is 55 percent alcohol by volume and turns into liquid when added to water. A one-ounce packet of Palcohol, when added to six ounces of water or mixer, yields a standard mixed drink, according to Palcohol's website.

According to Lismark LLC, the makers of Palcohol, the powder was invented for those who cannot carry bottles of alcohol, like travelers and hikers, and it could also be used industrially by businesses and medical companies to save fuel costs because of its lower weight and volume. The BCHD has warned that the product could attract more young people and lead to abuse, in addition to increasing the prevalence of "spiking," or sneaking alcohol into drinks without the drinker's knowledge.

"A small, recent study of powdered alcohol's appeal to young adults suggested that participants were intrigued by its affordable, concealable nature planned to experiment with the product; and predicted potential insufflation and injection use and abuse," the authors said.

According to Lismark, minors will not have greater access to Palcohol as it will be sold along with other liquors. The company also says that banning the product will only increase demands, and that kids won't desire it as much as they fear it.

"Palcohol costs four times more than liquid alcohol and one can’t drink it straight like liquid alcohol," the company's websites says. "Kids will always choose liquid alcohol.

Lismark also says that since liquid alcohol dilutes 30 times faster than Palcahol, it is easier to "spike" a drink with the former.

However, the BCHD team says the company's claims are suspect due to a lack of research about both recreational and industrial uses for the product.

"...Although the company states that Palcohol is more difficult to abuse than its liquid form because of decreased solubility, they provide little information on its manufacturing or evidence for such prosocial uses," the BCHD team said. "Critics also maintain that this portability will make powdered alcohol easier to conceal, increasing liability for municipalities, schools, concert venues, and other companies."

According to Palcohol's website, the making of the product cannot be revealed because there is a patent pending. Lismark also says that Palcohol would be more difficult to sneak into a venue.

"A shot of liquid alcohol is 1/4 the volume of a shot of powdered alcohol so it’s much easier to sneak liquid alcohol into venues," the Palcohol website says.

Dr. Wen and team urge city officials nationwide to advocate for the continued banning and regulation of Palcohol, which, since November 2015, has been banned in 27 states.

The BCHD says Palcohol could harm efforts to curb underage drinking and alcohol abuse, which kills 4,300 people a year in the United States.

"In a city—and nation—battling epidemic rates of substance use disorders and overdose, increasing access to alcohol would substantially hinder
efforts to reduce substance misuse and addiction," they said.

This editorial was published February 15 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

No funding sources or disclosures were declared.