Erica Evans and Sam Gilbert
Special to Mustang News
It can fit into a plastic bag, turn any drink into an alcoholic beverage and can be made by anyone.
But Cal Poly has no plan to deal with powdered alcohol, otherwise known as Palcohol.
In addition, the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) does not know how to handle the substance, and California hasn’t regulated Palcohol, said SLOPD Capt. Keith Storton.
“At this point in time, it’s so new I’m not even aware of any laws,” he said.
Mark Phillips, the creator of Palcohol, made the product so he could carry it on hiking trips, Phillips said on his website. He’s also the president of Arizona-based company Lipsmark, which is developing Palcohol.
Phillips announced Palcohol to the world in April, but he is keeping its manufacture a secret until it is patented, he said.
Palcohol gained momentum when the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved it in April, but the bureau eventually revoked its approval based on lack of information on how much powder was actually in one foil packet, or one serving.
In a 30-person survey by Mustang News in the University Union Plaza, all but one respondent said they would be interested in trying powdered alcohol.
Jenn Rhoads, the San Luis Obispo County coordinator for alcohol abuse prevention program Friday Night Live, said she thinks the goal of the bureau is to have enough research to make sure all parts of the Palcohol are safe to ingest and can be regulated.
“It’s tricky because regular alcohol in its liquid form is regulated by the alcohol content to judge what is exactly a ‘safe’ amount,” Rhoads said. “People can technically buy as much as they want, but it’s at least an attempt towards regulation.”
Rhoads said there is a small distinction between a dose of liquid alcohol that’s effective and a dose that’s lethal.
“I think that the product itself, and to just have a strong form of essentially undiluted alcohol out on the marketplace, is fairly dangerous,” Rhoads said.
Each 4-by-6-inch packet contains the equivalent of one shot. Consumers are supposed to add it to five ounces of any drink for one standard mixed drink, said Phillips, the creator.
Palcohol isn’t coming to store shelves anytime soon, But Polly Mosendz wrote in “The Wire” magazine there are already people making and snorting their own powdered alcohol.
The risks of snorting powdered alcohol, however, might be overstated, according to biochemistry junior Craig Seaver. He said the volume of the Palcohol that would need to be snorted and the pain levels will most likely deter most people.
“It’s not nearly as valid of a concern as it’s being made out to be because of volume,” Seaver said. “And this would really, really burn.”
It is easy to turn alcohol into powdered alcohol, Chemistry Department Chair Nanine Van Draanen said.
“Anybody anywhere could powder alcohol,” Van Draanen said, describing powdering alcohol as closer to baking than chemistry. “You don’t really need to know anything to do this.”
Powdered alcohol can be made by freezing alcohol with a power base, Paul Adams wrote in “Popular Science” magazine.
No one knows how powdered alcohol will affect the body, said Scott Bisheff, emergency medicine doctor at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. He added there haven’t been any cases of people coming to the hospital affected by powdered alcohol.
It is going to be a surprise, Bisheff said, how people will physically be affected by it.
An average of seven or eight people end up in the hospital each Thursday, Friday and Saturday night because they drink too much, Bisheff said. Bisheff expects the number to rise with the use of powdered alcohol, but said he can’t be certain.
At Cal Poly, officials are reluctant to talk about the potential effects of the powdered alcohol.
The University Police Department declined to comment about powdered alcohol, and university spokesperson Matt Lazier said police do not want to speculate because there haven’t been any cases of powdered alcohol seen by the agency.
Peers Understanding Listening Supporting Educating (PULSE) health educator Theresa Fagouri also did not want to comment about powdered alcohol. Without FDA approval, Fagouri said it isn’t expected that powdered alcohol will be an issue at Cal Poly and she wouldn’t be able to comment on it without speculating.
But students living on campus could begin to use powdered alcohol without knowing what the consequences are, said Avery Ching, a business administration senior and resident adviser.
“They are probably going to use it without thinking or researching it at all,” Ching said.
Resident advisors aren’t aware of how powdered alcohol will affect people, Ching said, and haven’t received training on how to look for signs of powdered alcohol or deal with it.
“There is going to be a huge spectrum with incidences of Palcohol, we honestly wouldn’t be able to tell unless we were confronted by one of the residents who were concerned, or we had a hint of it when we are doing visits or when we see them in conversation,” Ching said.
Resident advisers are told to look for bottles or containers with alcohol brands, she said. From their training, they wouldn’t be aware of how to look for powdered alcohol.
University Housing did not return multiple phone calls requesting comment.
The university is going to have to make rules determining whether powdered alcohol should be allowed in the residence halls, SLOPD Capt. Storton said.
“Things like this grow legs,” Storton said. “I can see it as something that could be easily abused and people trying to take advantage of it.”