Smoke signals new drinking trend

Smoking alcohol is a growing new practice among students that may have sobering risks

Smoking alcohol leads to a higher chance of over-intoxication and alcohol poisoning.
Smoking alcohol leads to a higher chance of over-intoxication and alcohol poisoning.

When drinking alcohol is no longer enough, students might turn to smoking their drink of choice.

Smoking alcohol is a trend that’s gaining popularity among university students as a result of circulating YouTube tutorials claiming to provide a stronger and more immediate intoxication while consuming less alcohol.

It joins a number of similar alcohol trends, such as “eyeballing,” wherein one pours a shot of vodka directly into the eye, or “vodka tampons,” where people soak tampons in vodka and insert them in the vagina or rectum. Students are now vapourizing their alcohol with the help of dry ice or a bicycle pump.

Kyle*, ArtSci ’14, had his first experience smoking alcohol while on a trip to Brussels, Belgium. In an absinthe bar called Floris, Kyle was told to inhale absinthe fumes through the straw of a specialty glass, after the alcohol had been set on fire.

“It was very strong, but really a great new experience,” Kyle said in an email to the Journal.

Kyle said that after inhaling the alcohol, he didn’t feel any more inebriated than he would have after consuming a regular shot. Upon waking the next morning, however, he didn’t experience any symptoms of a hangover.

For Kyle, the draw to smoke alcohol came from his desire to try something new and foreign.

“I’d definitely try it again, and will bring back a bottle of absinthe to try it with my friends at Queen’s,” he said. “We will need to experiment a bit to see if it is more or less effective than a traditional drink, but no matter what, the theatricality and flavours of the new method are appealing.”

Kyle said that he believed there would be controversy over the safety of the trend, but that it’s likely it would increase in popularity.

“It’s an exciting method to watch someone try, even if you don’t partake, but if you’re a fan of trying new things then it’s definitely the thing to do,” he said.

Ron Shore, a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, said that smoking alcohol is attractive to young people because of the novelty and the risk factor associated with it.

Young people are willing to take higher risks than an older demographic, he said.

“My understanding [for] part of the attraction is there are fewer calories, so people don’t worry about their weight,” he said. “It may be attractive to people who are concerned about body image.”

Body dissatisfaction and dieting have also influenced alcohol trends like “drunkorexia.” People forego food so that they can binge drink and avoid the extra calorie intake.

The risks, however, are said to be placing students in danger.

Whenever you smoke a substance, it rapidly penetrates your blood-brain barrier, Shore said, causing a much quicker onset of the effect. It’s considered to have a higher addictive potential.

“You’re bypassing all of your body’s normal elimination processes, so it’s not going through your gut, it’s not mixing with your food, it’s not entering your bloodstream more gradually,” Shore said.

He said the risks of over-intoxication and alcohol poisoning increase.

Shore said that university students need to be more mindful of safer drinking strategies since problems such as aggression, unplanned sex and disorientation are a possibility.

“The reality is that drug use needs to be seen as a health issue and we need to ... look at substance use as relatively normal behaviour,” he said. “The question is not whether people use drugs or not, which is the way people think now, but in what ways drugs are affecting your health and are affecting your goals in life.”

While alcohol and drug consumption continues to be prevalent among young university students, Shore said that a natural human curiosity will propel young adults to experiment with new methods of administration.

“If there was no downside, it would be awesome, because it doesn’t affect the rest of [the body], it just directly affects your brain,” said Shirin Salimi, a first-year game development student at George Brown College. “No hangover, so that’s a big appeal. Actually, a really, really big appeal.”

Salimi said that in the summer of 2011, her friends experimented with inhaling alcohol at a party.

“My friend had a sauna in her backyard and instead of pouring water on the hot rocks to turn them into steam like a proper sauna, people were pouring Goldschlager over the rocks,” Salimi said.

She said friends had described getting drunk off the steam.

“I know this thing is new, but I think it’s been in the making for a while there,” she said.

However, she said she still believed it would not be worth the risk.

“Alcohol is poison, it’s literally poison, and you’re just putting it directly into your brain. Who hears something like that and thinks, ‘Yep, it’s still a good idea, I’m still going to try it’?” she said. “I’m attached to my vital organs, so I wouldn’t.”

*Surname has been withheld.

Here's to new discoveries

While contemporary experimentation with alcohol has received attention, the practice has been a staple in human history. “Humans have always altered their consciousness, we always find new and different ways to do it. Drugs have been around for tens of thousands of years if not longer, we’ve never found a culture that doesn’t alter consciousness,” Ron Shore, a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, said.

A discovery of early Stone Age jugs established that purposefully fermented beverages have exisited since at least 10,000 BC.

In China, wine jars from Jiahu are the earliest evidence of alcohol, which date back to 7000 BC.

Ancient Egyptians used alcohol for pleasure, medicine, ritual, nutrition and funerary purposes. They brewed at least seventeen kinds of beer and at least twenty-four varieties of wine.

Hindu Ayurvedic texts describe both the benefits and consequences of alcohol consumption. They conclude that alcohol is a medicine when consumed in moderation, but a poison if consumed in excess.

Babylonians worshipped a wine goddess and other wine dieties as early as 2700 BC. Beer was a major beverage in Babylonia.

By 1700 BC, wine making in Greece became commonplace. It was incorporated into religious rituals, used medicinally, integral to hospitality and festivities, and drunk with most meals.

-– Katie Grandin

<em>Sources:</em> Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture, <em>,,,</em> The Science of Drinking: How Alcohol Affects Your Body and Mind

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