Sep 2020 (Updated Jul 2021)
Question: Should you drink acetone?
But, out of interest, what if you did? This question is asked repeatedly on the web, with with many answers smugly stating that even tiny amounts of acetone will instantly kill you, you idiot. But they provide no evidence.
Fact #1: Acetone bottles are scary looking
Certainly, this doesn’t look like something you’d want to put in your body:
Fact #2: Your body naturally produces and disposes of acetone.
Acetone naturally occurs in plants. Your liver produces acetone when metabolizing fat. If you fast, have diabetes, or exercise very hard, you produce more acetone. If you follow a ketogenic diet, you produce more. (Acetone is a “ketone”!) Small amounts of acetone are naturally present in your blood and urine, the latter being how you get rid of it.
Fact #3: Diabetes can cause your breath to smell like acetone.
Insulin is needed to break down glucose and provide energy to cells. Diabetics have trouble either producing or using insulin. Thus, their bodies may burn fat instead. Burning lots of fat produces lots of acetone, enough to impact the breath. (This is a serious problem if it occurs.)
Fact #4: Drinking acetone will make you not think so good no more.
Fisher Scientific’s MSDS gives the following effects for acetone:
Ingestion: May cause gastrointestinal irritation with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. May cause systemic toxicity with acidosis. May cause central nervous system depression, characterized by excitement, followed by headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. Advanced stages may cause collapse, unconsciousness, coma and possible death due to respiratory failure.
Sounds serious! Except, oh wait, I made a “mistake”. That was the list of effects for ethanol. Here are the effects for acetone:
Ingestion: May cause irritation of the digestive tract. May cause central nervous system depression, characterized by excitement, followed by headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. Advanced stages may cause collapse, unconsciousness, coma and possible death due to respiratory failure. Aspiration of material into the lungs may cause chemical pneumonitis, which may be fatal.
Remind you of anything?
Fact #5: Acetone is probably marginally more toxic than ethanol.
In animals, the Oral LD50 for acetone ranges from 3 g/kg in mice to 5.8 g/kg in rats. For ethanol it is around 7.3 g/kg for both mice and rats.
This suggests you’d need to drink something like an entire bottle of nail-polish remover to be at risk of dying: If the mice numbers translate to humans, someone who weighs 80kg (180lb) would need to drink 240g of acetone to have a 50% chance of death. Standard nail-polish remover bottles contain around 200ml and are 98% acetone.
The same person would need to consume around 584 ml of grain alcohol to have the same risk.
Fact #6: Acetone is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
For better or worse, food manufacturers can put acetone in food and sell it to you without testing for safety. This seems to be common with spice oleoresins (concentrated forms of spices).
Fact #7: Some insane internet people drank acetone and didn’t die.
In a thread on bluelight, Psychedelic Jay reports:
So far 1 ml of pure acetone in 10 ml of water. Effects: Slight sedation, easy going sense of euphoria, very similar but smoother than ethanol intoxication. Heart rate increased by 6-10 beats a minute… Blood pressure exactly the same…
While pino says:
So one night, I took 20ml strongly diluted, a dose which shouldn’t kill you. The taste was masked by mixing it with fruit juice, which made it actually pleasantly to sip. Slightly fruity. In about half an hour, a pleasant warm sedation spread over my body. It felt like a clean alcohol intoxication. Nothing to strong, but very relaxing. I guess it took me for an hour of 10. There is no hangover.
Both of these are consistent with the idea that acetone has effects that are similar to alcohol. All the other comments in that thread, of course, say “what, are you crazy?”.
Fact #8: You shouldn’t drink acetone.
There’s no reason to do so. It’s (presumably) disgusting. It’s very flammable. The effects haven’t been studied nearly as much as alcohol’s. And I could be wrong about all of this.
But suppose acetone had exactly the same effects as ethanol. Yes, that would mean that “acetone is as safe as alcohol”. But it would also mean that “alcohol is as dangerous as acetone”. That’s probably the wiser interpretation.