What would happen if you drank formaldehyde?

Methanol - the deadly alcohol

Methanol is a clear, colorless liquid and can easily be confused with the drinking alcohol ethanol. A fatal mistake, because even the ingestion of very small amounts, from five to ten milliliters of pure methanol, can lead to severe poisoning. The lethal dose varies from 100 to 200 milliliters, as it depends on the purity of the methanol and the body weight of the person concerned. In its pure form, methanol has a fishy odor. However, this can no longer be smelled in alcoholic beverages. The students could not perceive the methanol in the alcoholic beverages, because you cannot taste it either.

Methanol - CH4O is the simplest of the alcohols. It is used, among other things, as a solvent, antifreeze and as fuel

But not only drinking methanol is extremely dangerous. Inhaling methanol vapors and absorbing them through the skin are already toxic. The first signs of poisoning are nausea, dizziness and vomiting - symptoms that can also indicate excessive consumption of ordinary alcohol. In addition, however, there are severe colic, unconsciousness, visual disturbances and shortness of breath. If left untreated, they lead to severe damage to the central nervous system and numerous organs, to blindness and respiratory paralysis.

The first symptoms of poisoning can appear after just 20 minutes. However, it can then take eight to 36 hours for further symptoms to manifest themselves. This often makes treatment of methanol poisoning difficult. Because after such a long period of time, multiple and irreversible organ damage can often be seen.

The whole body is affected

However, it is not the methanol itself but its degradation products that lead to poisoning. Because when methanol is broken down in the body, formaldehyde and formic acid are produced.

Formaldehyde couples to many enzymes, DNA materials or proteins, which causes numerous organ damage. However, the effects of formic acid are much more fatal. It blocks cell respiration and leads to acidosis in the blood, a so-called acidosis. This brings entire metabolic pathways to a standstill, which ultimately leads to death.

The antidote may be surprising at first, because the patient is given ethanol for therapy. The alcohol blood level has to be 0.5 to 1 per thousand for several days. Because ethanol can be broken down by the same enzymes as methanol. However, these enzymes have a much higher tendency to break down ethanol if enough of it is available. In the meantime, they leave the methanol untouched and no toxic degradation products can form. The excess methanol is excreted through breathing or urine. However, the treatment of acidosis is also very important, and dialysis must be performed if necessary.

Dangerous by-product

Methanol is a by-product of alcoholic fermentation. If such a fermented brew is distilled to produce alcohol, there is a risk that methanol will mix with the drinking alcohol ethanol. Because methanol evaporates before ethanol and ends up in the first parts of the distillate. These must therefore be thrown away urgently in order to avoid methanol poisoning.