Regaining Sight After Drinking Enough Methanol To Go Blind. Sheer Luck, Or Cosmic Unfairness?

English: display of betel and nut (Areca catec...

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Anyone who has ever been tempted to swig wood alcohol might take a moment to reflect that 10 ml (that’s less than a teaspoon) can make you go blind.  The stuff converts to formaldehyde and then on to formic acid.  It still ranks as one of the dumbest highs ever (bath salts might give it a run for the title).

So they add it to industrial ethanol to avoid people drinking without paying taxes on it.

But some clever, clever souls (sarcasm dripping here) just want to bypass the tax man and get the straight stuff.  So we get this amazing anecdote about a man who decided methanol was just his ticket out on the town.  (Complete abstract below).

It was a slow high, and he had 36 hours to come off it before he went blind.  Mind you, he drank 100 ml of methanol, which should have outright killed him. The only way it didn’t was that he was probably pretty well pickled already.

But, miraculously over time his sight gradually returned.  First, he should have been dead.  Second, the methanol permanently destroys the optic nerve.  There is no way he should have regained his sight.

The miracle drug?  Betel nut.  It’s actually the areca nut, chewed commonly with the betel leaf.  Chewing both can cause lots of cancer everywhere.  But in this lovely fellow, the betel nut combination gradually helped him regain his sight.

There you have it folks.  If you’re going to drink methanol, at least go whole hog and chew carcinogens as well.  You might just end up doing yourself some good.  And for all you health nuts out there?  There is no justice.

Med J Aust. 1982 Nov 13;2(10):481-3.

Delayed recovery of vision after blindness caused by methanol poisoning.


Total blindness developed in an adult Melanesian man 36 hours after he drank 100 mL of 100% methanol. On admission to hospital, he had a blood methanol level of 0.5 g/L and severe acidosis. Peritoneal dialysis was carried out, and he was treated with sodium bicarbonate and ethanol for one week. After 12 days of blindness, he regained some light perception. Progressive improvement in vision occurred. Twelve weeks after the methanol poisoning, his visual acuity was: right eye, able to see hand movements at one metre; left eye, 6/12. However, a right central scotoma persisted, and bilateral optic atrophy was present. No reason for the exceptional delay before recovery and degree of recovery could be deduced, although throughout his convalescence he frequently chewed betel nut. We recommend further studies to determine if any of the constituents of betel nut diminish the toxic effects of methanol on the eye.

PMID: 7155031



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