How homemade brews could be fatal

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  • The alcohol ban across the country led to people concocting their own brews
  • Homemade alcohol led to a number of fatalities during the initial hard lockdown
  • This is because fermentation can produce methanol – a substance toxic to humans

During the first hard lockdown, many showcased their homemade alcoholic beverages on social media – with "pineapple beer" being the most popular.

With the alcohol ban being reinstated, talk of homemade alcohol has appeared all over social media once again, with many people seemingly unaware of the dangers associated with these concoctions.

Some of these homemade alcoholic beverages proved to be deadly: IOL reported that such brews claimed the lives of seven men from Fish Hoek earlier this year. 

What makes homemade alcohol so deadly?

During the production of alcohol, there are certain reactions that occur, and if the process is not carefully carried out, the "moonshine" produced in someone's backyard may contain methanol in addition to ethanol.

Ethanol is safe for human consumption while methanol isn't.  

Methanol is extremely dangerous to humans when ingested, or the vapours are inhaled – it can lead to what is known as methanol poisoning. 

It takes approximately ten minutes for methanol to be absorbed by the digestive system, and a mere 30ml of this substance is enough to cause death.

The difference between methanol and ethanol

A layperson cannot differentiate between ethanol and methanol: ethanol is the type of alcohol found in commercial alcoholic beverages and it is the only alcohol humans can drink safely. Methanol it is found in some household and industrial agents (e.g. methylated spirits).

The reason why ethanol may be present in homemade alcohol is because of errors that are made when the alcohol is being distilled or fermented – without the knowledge of the person making it.

Avoid toxic alcohol poisoning

It is important to know when you may have methanol poisoning, and according to existing research, “early clinical features are nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain”.

It is not possible to identify methanol without the necessary lab equipment – therefore, if you are unsure if the correct brewing or distilling methods were used, it is best to avoid homemade alcoholic beverages. 

READ | The 6 stages of getting drunk

READ | Binge drinking more likely to kill older people

READ | Physical and psychological effects of alcohol

Image credit: Polina Tankilevitch, Pexels
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