what will they think of next?
June 4, 2010 11:20 PM   Subscribe

I know someone who enjoys sniffing isopropyl alcohol straight from the bottle, not huffing but sniffing like perfume. They say they love the smell, that they don't get a high but it's like smelling a favorite perfume. Is this bad for them? I've never heard of this, have any of you? I'm interested in any information anyone may have on this.
posted by gypseefire to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Inhalation of vapors irritates the respiratory tract. Exposure to high concentrations has a narcotic effect, producing symptoms of dizziness, drowsiness, headache, staggering, unconsciousness and possibly death.

Your friend is huffing away their brain cells. Literally.
posted by sanka at 11:28 PM on June 4, 2010

You need the MSDS for 70% isopropyl alcohol ("rubbing alcohol"), which is likely what your acquaintance is sniffing.

Short form: it's an inhalation hazard. There are plenty of folks on huffing-support forums who will tell you they're addicted to smelling it and possibly also to drinking it; I'll leave the estimation of risk there to the folks on MeFi with more experience dealing with addictions.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:30 PM on June 4, 2010

You can commonly buy 70% or 91% in any drug store. When I read an MSDS that includes those effects, and includes death, I pretty much think that's not a thing anyone should be doing.
posted by sanka at 11:53 PM on June 4, 2010

Using rubbing alcohol as recommended (i.e. for rubbing), it's impossible not to inhale at least a bit of it. If there were a serious health hazard at low doses, the FDA would have yanked it off the market long since.

So just a dainty sniff from the bottle now and again, to enjoy the perfume (as it were) probably doesn't represent any kind of health hazard.

By the way, some kinds of rubbing alcohol actually have perfume added.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:09 AM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I like that smell, too. When you say you haven't heard of it, I'm not sure if you mean like you think there might be a sniffing alcohol "thing" or you mean you haven't heard of anyone liking the smell of rubbing alcohol. I don't sniff it regularly, and rarely have any in my house anyway, but put me down as a data point for liking the smell.
posted by ishotjr at 12:43 AM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

This seems very unlikely to be hurting them. Concentrating it and inhaling high concentrations, yeah, that's huffing.

But just sniffing it from the bottle? Nah. Might annoy your nose, but it probably isn't doing any more longterm harm than staring at a computer screen does.

I've routinely dissolved and purified alcohol-soluble compounds, which includes a step of boiling off the alcohol. That can make you lightheaded. But, in the concentrations just coming off a room-temperature bottle? Pssh.

Also, I like the smell as well. I have a pretty bad sense of smell as is (smoker, deviated septum), and so just about anything that I actually can smell is, on some level, pleasurable.
posted by Netzapper at 1:04 AM on June 5, 2010

sanka, I think you're misreading the msds. Under chronic exposure it says "Chronic exposure may cause skin effects", nothing about progressive brain damage. "Sniffing like perfume" is not "exposure to high concentrations". As Chocolate Pickle says, the friend is probably not inhaling any more than they would in normal use.

Unless "sniffing like perfume" eventually turns into "huffing" or something, it doesn't sound like this would have any harmful effects. IANAtoxicologist.
posted by hattifattener at 1:14 AM on June 5, 2010

The MSDS for table salt also says that you should wear gloves and safety goggles when around it - they tend to err on the conservative side. The occasional sniff from the bottle is not going to kill your friend, though huffing it would not be a good habit to get into.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:15 AM on June 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

lab safety 101: Never directly smell the source of any vapor or gas; instead by means of your cupped hand, waft a small sample to your nose. Do not inhale the vapors but take in only enough to detect an odor.
posted by subarctic_guy at 3:19 AM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've sniffed alcohol wipes to ward off nausea. I don't do this recreationally, however.
posted by SillyShepherd at 7:08 AM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also find the odor of various solvents somewhat pleasant, and while I certainly don't huff anything the ability to distinguish methanol, acetone, gasoline, benzine, ethanes etc. from one another has come in handy over the years.

I think my brain still works.
posted by werkzeuger at 8:34 AM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Usually the danger with sniffing any volatile substance comes from inhaling a large quantity where it displaces the air they breathe. If you don't get enough air, you will damage brain cells regardless of what else you are sniffing. Occasionally sniffing rubbing alcohol or perfume for that matter won't kill you. I get near people who wear so much perfume I get dizzy and can't imagine how they are not brain dead. If your friend does this several times a day and huffs instead of sniffs then there is a problem. Otherwise the average person is more in danger when filling their gas tank than taking an occasional sniff from rubbing alcohol.
posted by JJ86 at 8:35 AM on June 5, 2010

I like catching the smell of gasoline when I'm pumping my car. Doesn't mean I stick my nose under the gas cap every morning. If it's just an occasional "Oh my that's fun" smell then it's all good. If they're toting a vial around or start their morning with a sniff then it's a problem.
posted by msbutah at 9:54 AM on June 5, 2010

Confession: I do the same thing, only with Windex. I just think it smells nice, and I like to catch a whiff when I'm cleaning glass. The weird part is that when I was pregnant, I craved the smell badly. So much so that I think it might have been a form of pica. So perhaps those of us who like these weird smells have some sort of vitamin deficiency?
posted by Addlepated at 10:21 AM on June 5, 2010

I'd say not anymore dangerous than sniffing regular perfume (which is often ethyl alcohol based, and ethyl alcohol has similar MSDS risks for inhalation). The only risk is that rubbing alcohol is much less expensive than any perfume, so it would be easier to scale up to full on huffing, which could be dangerous.
posted by fermezporte at 11:06 AM on June 5, 2010

I know people who like the smell of gasoline, though this seems weird to me. Some people like the smell of paint - I hate it. I do like the smell of manure, though. I don't stick my nose in it or eat it. But i like the way it smells when you're spreading manure on a garden. I grew up on a farm, and it brings back pleasant memories for me.

This seems like something similar.
posted by nangar at 11:18 AM on June 5, 2010

The reason you never smell the source of any vapor or gas in a lab is because often you are not sure what you have and some things are very nasty. If you try to follow that rule to the letter in all your dealings you're going to run into problems pretty quickly.

Healthwise we deal with IPA much better than we do methanol or ethylene glycol. Based on this: The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) (1997) has recommended 983 mg/m3 as the threshold limit value for occupational exposures to isopropanol in workplace air your friend could evaporate about 20 mL of isopropyl alcohol in a 16 x 16 room with poor ventilation every hour or so, and a bunch of Industrial Hygienists would say, "meh."

If your friend starts drinking the stuff, it's time to intervene.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:22 PM on June 5, 2010

nangar: i like the smell of gasoline, and thought pretty much everyone did. i stopped to fill up one time, and my carpool buddy got out to stretch his legs. i took a deep breath & said, 'i like the smell of gasoline.' he sort of squinched up his face, tilted his head, and said, 'how do you feel about motor oil?'

rubbing alcohol: nah. not my scent. but probably isn't going to hurt anyone smelling it unless they've got a bottle under their nose all day.
posted by msconduct at 1:30 PM on June 5, 2010

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