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How Dangerous Is Powdered Alcohol?


Powdered alcohol - sounds ridiculous. But it's real, and it's already making lawmakers and parents very nervous. A number of states have already banned powdered alcohol out of fears it could be easily abused by kids who might even snort the stuff. Writer Brent Rose put the dangers to the test. He documented himself getting drunk off the stuff. He was featured this week on Wired. For this experiment, he made his own powdered concoction.

BRENT ROSE: Tapioca maltodextrin - it's basically a really, really fine powder. It's highly absorbent. We'd use that and some Everclear 151, which was the highest proof spirit we could get in California - put it in a food processor and...

RATH: You don't mess around.

ROSE: Exactly. No messing around.

RATH: You try to test how easy it was to get drunk on the stuff. So tell us about that. You mixed it in with water. And how did it taste?

ROSE: Our version didn't absorb all that well. I mean, it...

RATH: A little bit chunky?

ROSE: Yeah. Our version came out a little bit chunky - had some floaty chunks. Like, if you add a scoop of malt to some milk, and, you know, you get those curdles at the top. It was kind of like that, except the curdles tasted like gasoline.


ROSE: Because of the Everclear.

RATH: You were seeing if you could actually get buzzed from drinking this. Here's a little audio of your video.

ROSE: Right.


ROSE: Just put it in a baggie. We'll see how easy it is to spike a drink. Am I slurring my words?


ROSE: In the consumer (slurs words) - in the consumer version. It comes out.


RATH: So maybe we're a bit - and what you're talking about there -spiking a drink. This is one of the things that people are worried about - that you can drop it in somebody's drink, and they won't know and, you know, worries about kids and that kind of thing.

ROSE: It's almost entirely baseless. I mean, when you're using this powdered alcohol - it's not a concentrated alcohol that turns into powder. You're adding alcohol to power. So you're increasing volume. It takes a while, as I mentioned, to stir in and to get it to dissolve. And it adds a little bit of color to the drink, too. So you end up with a more viscous drink. It takes longer to stir in. But also, the idea of nefarious people spiking a drink with alcohol is kind of an outdated fear anyway. Most people aren't spiking drinks with alcohol. It's roofies people are worried about.

RATH: Right.

ROSE: And roofies are far more dangerous than powdered alcohol.

RATH: Something else that's come up in terms of worries about this being abused is raising the idea of kids snorting this powder.

ROSE: Right.

RATH: Now, and, Brent, you went the extra mile. You actually tried snorting it.

ROSE: I did. I tried snorting just a little tiny bit of it. It was awful. It was terrible. I mean, it's - you're putting alcohol directly in a mucous membrane. It's not any fun. But the volume that you would have to snort to get enough alcohol into your bloodstream to get even a small buzz is just so massive. There's no possible way that anybody is going to be doing this.

RATH: Let's play that. And you can react to the tape.

ROSE: Oh boy. OK, yeah.


ROSE: I can't believe I'm about to do this.


ROSE: OK. Yeah, it's - it instantly burns.


ROSE: Yeah, yeah. I'm OK.

It was horrible. We didn't end up having the camera rolling. But, I mean, I must have sneezed 20, 30 times after that. It was really painful. And I kind of felt it back there behind my eyeball for the rest of the day.

RATH: That's writer Brent Rose. He was featured in Wired this week, drinking and snorting powdered alcohol. Brent, thank you for your sacrifice.

ROSE: (Laughter) My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.