Powdered alcohol has sparked nationwide concerns over its potential for misuse and overconsumption. There is widespread speculation that it could appeal to underage drinkers, much like vaping has. There are also unanswered questions about how safe powdered alcohol is, and how it affects the body.
This blog answers several questions about powdered alcohol.
What is powdered alcohol?
Powdered alcohol, or Palcohol, is alcohol that’s been dried and encased into sugar molecules. The substance is created through a process called “micro-encapsulation.” The sugar molecules, or cyclodextrins, absorb up to 60% of their own weight in alcohol to form the powder substance. It typically comes in a packet that can transform a 12oz bottle of water into a standard alcoholic drink.
Powdered alcohol was meant to be a million-dollar solution for American consumers. Campers could have a lightweight alcoholic beverage to carry on outdoor trips. Imagine powdered alcohol in a small packet that can be poured into a water bottle to make an instant alcoholic drink. Remote hospitals could save lives by using the powder as an antiseptic. Airlines could use Palcohol packs rather than handing out all those mini bottles of alcohol. Americans could even use the powder pack as emergency fuel for their cars.
Public health professionals and state government officials believe that consuming powdered alcohol contributes to public health risks like alcohol addiction. Being that it’s a powder, there’s a high risk that people would snort it, which can cause several health problems.
Alcohol use is already common among young people, including teens. The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 29% of high school students participated in binge drinking. Powdered alcohol opponents say that because the substance can be easily carried and hidden, people under the age of 21 can bring it to school or sneak it into movie theaters and restaurants.
Is powdered alcohol legal?
Powdered alcohol is currently only legal in three states, Arizona, Colorado and Texas. In 2014, the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approved powdered alcohol to be sold in the United States. According to Lehrman Beverage Law, Arizona-based company Lipsmark had all federal approvals necessary to make and sell the product. However, two weeks later, Lipsmark “voluntarily” “surrendered” those approvals, and the TTB said it had issued the approvals in error, then reissued approval for four types of powdered alcohol.
As of 2017, 34 U.S. states and Washington D.C. have banned powdered alcohol, according to Alcohol Justice. Three states allow regulated sales of the substance, including:
- Arizona: In 2015, former Governor Doug Ducey vetoed House Bill 2078, which would’ve banned powdered alcohol
- Colorado: In 2015, former Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law House Bill 15-1031, allowing retail sales of powered alcohol.
- Texas: In 2015, a bill that would’ve outlawed powdered alcohol sales was pulled from consideration, according to Hart Law Firm, LLC
Beyond the obvious difference in powdered alcohol being a dry powdery substance, concentrated powdered alcohol contains approximately 50% alcohol by weight, but is only 10% alcohol by volume. Liquid alcohol is measured by volume and usually contains about 40-50% alcohol by volume. This could make it hard for people to know how much alcohol they consume. The concern with powdered alcohol is that the powder could be mixed with a stronger alcohol to get someone under the influence faster.
Liquid and powdered alcohol also have a difference in how they’re made. To make liquid alcohol, you need to put grains, fruits or vegetables through a process called fermentation. Powdered alcohol is created when sugar molecules absorb liquid alcohol to form the powder substance.
How do people consume powdered alcohol?
Powdered alcohol is meant to be dissolved in water and drunk, just like liquid alcohol. However, there are public health concerns that powdered alcohol will be misused in different ways, including:
- Mixing with other beverages (alcohol, caffeine, etc.)
Mark Phillips, the creator of Palcohol, pointed out that a single pack of the substance is equivalent to a standard alcoholic drink. Therefore, snorting that amount of powdered alcohol would be painful and burn someone’s nose. Phillips said this would serve as a deterrent to anyone looking to snort the substance in order to get drunk.
“It would take about one hour for someone to snort this much powder,” Phillips said in a YouTube video responding to concerns over the product. “Why would anyone choose to spend an hour of pain and misery snorting all this powder to get one [alcoholic] drink in their system? They could just drink a shot and accomplish the same thing.”
The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) also pointed out that a user would need to snort roughly 100 lines of powdered alcohol to consume one serving.
Concerns raised about powdered alcohol
Medical professionals and government officials have raised several concerns about powdered alcohol, including
- Binge drinking potential and difficulty knowing how much you’ve consumed
- Sneaking powdered alcohol into a person’s food or drink without them knowing
- Mixed drinks with stronger alcohol could lead to excessive consumption
- Underage consumption due to ease of concealing and carrying
- Not using the product as directed (e.g., snorting)
- Sneaking powdered alcohol into venues or events that don’t allow alcohol consumption (e.g., school)
Learn more about alcohol addiction
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