Defining a tolerable concentration of methanol in alcoholic drinks

Hum Exp Toxicol. 2001 Nov;20(11):563-8. doi: 10.1191/096032701718620864.


Methanol, a potent toxicant in humans, occurs naturally at a low level in most alcoholic beverages without causing harm. However, illicit drinks made from "industrial methylated spirits" [5% (v/v) methanol:95% (v/v) ethanol] can cause severe and even fatal illness. Since documentation of a no-adverse-effect level for methanol is nonexistent in the literature a key question, from the public health perspective, is what is the maximum concentration of methanol in an alcoholic drink that an adult human could consume without risking toxicity due to its methanol content? Published information about methanol-intoxicated patients is reviewed and combined with findings in studies in volunteers given small doses of methanol, as well as occupational exposure limits (OELs), to indicate a tolerable ("safe") daily dose of methanol in an adult as 2 g and a toxic dose as 8 g. The simultaneous ingestion of ethanol has no appreciable effect on the proposed "safe" and "toxic" doses when considering exposure over several hours. Thus, assuming that an adult consumes 4 x 25-ml standard measures of a drink containing 40% alcohol by volume over a period of 2 h, the maximum tolerable concentration (MTC) of methanol in such a drink would be 2% (v/v) by volume. However, this value only allows a safety factor of 4 to cover variation in the volume consumed and for the effects of malnutrition (i.e., folate deficiency), ill health and other personal factors (i.e., ethnicity). In contrast, the current EU general limit for naturally occurring methanol of 10 g methanol/l ethanol [which equates to 0.4% (v/v) methanol at 40% alcohol] provides a greater margin of safety.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Beverages / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Maximum Allowable Concentration
  • Methanol / analysis*
  • Methanol / blood
  • Methanol / pharmacokinetics
  • Methanol / toxicity*
  • Occupational Exposure


  • Methanol