Drinking alcohol with your mouth is so old fashioned. At a pop-up bar in London, people are getting drunk with their eyeballs, skin, and lungs, soaking in a cloud of alcohol vapor.
The bar, Alcohol Architecture, is set up at London's Borough Market until the end of September and vaporizes cocktails and beer in separate rooms. They call it a "fully immersive alcohol environment" created using high-power humidifiers, according to the bar's website.
Customers are given ponchos to protect their clothing and a one-hour time limit so they don't get too wasted too fast, The Associated Press reports.
Absorbing alcohol through your lungs, skin, and eyeballs bypasses the processing that usually happens in the liver. So when that "drink" enters your bloodstream and goes to your brain, it will take effect a little bit faster. But not by much, according to Dr. Lewis S. Nelson, who specializes in emergency medicine and toxicology at the NYU Langone Medical Center.
"The liver is not that good at removing alcohol. While it is true that by absorbing it in your lungs you bypass the liver on first pass, so does most of the alcohol that you drink by mouth," he said.
Nelson says the amount you're getting through the vapor is probably a lot less than what you'd be ingesting in a normal drink.
"The truth is from a getting drunk perspective it is an incredibly ineffective way of getting drunk…way smaller than the amount that you could put into your mouth and swallow…" he said.
While alcohol vapor has not been proven to be especially harmful (not many studies have been done on the effect of vaporizing instead of drinking alcohol), Nelson says people should be aware that it definitely poses risks. It can irritate the lungs and airways, especially if you already have lung problems. But it also hits your system at a different rate, and the effects could feel different from from what you're used to with liquid alcohol.
Vaporized alcohol is not exclusive to England. Way back in 2009, a bar in downtown Chicago began serving something called a "vaportini." Chicagoist wrote:
[Bar owner Julie Palmer] was inspired by the Finnish tradition of pouring vodka onto hot sauna coals, and tried to create a similar effect that was contained within a single drink.
Four years later, a crystal ball-looking thing with a straw designed by Palmer was made available to buy online.
Although it hasn't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the device is still available online and legal in most states. Maryland's legislature voted to ban the product last year because of the lack of specific studies on vaporized alcohol.
“I took a look at what the vaporizer does, and I didn’t think it would be a good thing to be doing,” said Delegate Charles Barkley, D-Montgomery. “Some doctors were unsure what effect [vaporizing alcohol] would have on the brain.”
Palmer, the maker of the vaportini, told CNS that while people might feel the effects of the alcohol more quickly, it was highly unlikely that anyone could get very drunk from the device.
“The only complaints that we’ve got about the produce is that people weren’t getting drunk,” Palmer said.
Dr. Nelson thinks people getting less drunk is the only potential advantage of vaporizing alcohol. But let's not rush to ditch the old pour-into-a-glass-and-drink routine. Some of us might like the idea of actually drinking drinks with friends rather than spending time wearing plastic ponchos in a mildly alcoholic sauna, which seems to be what's going on at Alcohol Architecture.
"Your lungs really were made for changing gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide. It doesn't really seem like there are any particular advantages to [vaporized alcohol] and there are risks, so I'm not really sure that this is something that people necessarily should even try," Nelson said.
Related: What alcohol does to your brain