Comparison of psychoactive alcohols in alcoholic drinks

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Contrary to popular belief, fermented alcoholic drinks usually contain several alcohols that act as psychoactive drugs with different degrees of potency and effects and also contribute to the color, odor, and flavor of beverages.

Alcohol is a highly diverse chemical class of organic compounds that contain one or more hydroxyl (-OH) functional groups bound to a carbon atom. Alcohols are classified into primary, secondary (sec-, s-), and tertiary (tert-, t-) alcohols, based upon the number of carbon atoms connected to the carbon atom that bears the hydroxyl functional group.


IUPAC name Common name Classification CAS
Ethanol Alcohol, drinking alcohol, ethyl alcohol, EtOH Primary 64-17-5
Propan-1-ol 1-Propanol, 1-propyl alcohol, PrOH Primary 71-23-8
2-(1H-Indol-3-yl)ethanol Tryptophol Primary 526-55-6
2-Methylbutan-1-ol 2-Methyl-1-butanol (2M1B) Secondary 137-32-6
2-methylpropan-1-ol 2-Methyl-1-propanol (2M1P), Isobutanol Primary 78-83-1
2-Methylbutan-2-ol 2-Methyl-2-butanol (2M2B), tert-Amyl alcohol (TAA, tert-amylol) Tertiary 75-85-4
2-Methylpropan-2-ol 2-Methyl-2-propanol (2M2P), tert-Butyl alcohol ((TBA), tert-butanol), t-BuOH Tertiary 75-65-0
2-Phenylethan-1-ol Phenethyl alcohol, 2-Phenylethanol Primary 60-12-8
3-Methylbutan-1-ol 3-methyl-1-butanol (3M1B), isoamyl alcohol, isopentyl alcohol (isopentanol) Primary 123-51-3


IUPAC name Toxic metabolite(s) Alcohol by volume (ABV)[1] LD50 in rat, oral[2]
Ethanol Formaldehyde → formic acid Up to 95.6% in rectified spirit 7060 mg/kg
Propan-1-ol Propionaldehyde → propionic acid 2.8% (mean) in Jamaican rum: 2384–3130 mg/100 mL. Up to 3500 mg/L (0.35%) in spirits.[3] 1870 mg/kg
Tryptophol  ?  ?  ?
2-Methylbutan-1-ol  ? 1.2% (mean) in Bourbon: 910–1390 mg/100 mL 4170 mg/kg[4]
2-methylpropan-1-ol  ? 0.9% (mean) in Rye mash cistern room: 534–1197 mg/100 mL 2460 mg/kg
2-Methylbutan-2-ol None (tertiary alcohol) 0.07% in beer: 70 mg/100 mL (see tert-Pentyl alcohol in ref) Found in cassava fermented drinks 1000 mg/kg
2-Methylpropan-2-ol None (tertiary alcohol) Identified, not quantified, in beer[5] 2743 mg/kg
2-Phenylethan-1-ol  ? 0.1% in non-yeasted cider (Kieser 1964): 100 mg/100 mL 1790 mg/kg
3-Methylbutan-1-ol  ? 1.5% (mean) in French Brandy: 859–2108 mg/100 mL 1300 mg/kg

Difference to ethanol

IUPAC name  % intoxication by alcoholic drink (ABV x potency compared to EtOH / total ABV) Therapeutic index (Potency compared to EtOH/EtOH LD50:LD50 ratio) Potency compared to EtOH EtOH LD50:LD50 ratio
Ethanol - - - -
Propan-1-ol 21%: 2,8×3÷40 0.8 (mean): 0.5-1.1 3 (mean): 2-4 3.8
Tryptophol  ?  ?  ?  ?
2-Methylbutan-1-ol  ?  ?  ? 1.7
2-methylpropan-1-ol  ?  ?  ?  ?
2-Methylbutan-2-ol 28%: 0.07×20÷5 2.8 20 7.1
2-Methylpropan-2-ol  ?  ?  ? 2.6
2-Phenylethan-1-ol  ?  ?  ?  ?
3-Methylbutan-1-ol  ?  ?  ? 5.4


IUPAC name Color/Form[6] Odor[6] Taste[6]
Ethanol Clear, colorless, very mobile liquid Mild, rather pleasant; like wine or whiskey. Weak, ethereal, vinous odor. Burning
Propan-1-ol Colorless liquid Similar to ethanol Characteristic ripe, fruity flavor. Burning taste
Tryptophol  ?  ?  ?
2-Methylbutan-1-ol Oily, clear liquid. Colorless liquid Characteristic, disagreeable odor. Pungent, repulsive taste
2-methylpropane-1-ol Colorless, oily liquid. Clear, colorless, refractive, mobile liquid. Suffocating odor of fusel oil. Slightly suffocating; nonresidual alcoholic. Sweet, musty odor Sweet whiskey taste
2-Methylbutan-2-ol Colorless liquid Characteristic odor. Camphor odor Burning taste
2-Methylpropan-2-ol Colorless liquid or solid (crystals) (above 78 degrees F) Camphor-like odor  ?
2-Phenylethan-1-ol  ? Intense odour of roses Burning
3-Methylbutan-1-ol Oily, clear liquid. Colorless liquid. Characteristic, disagreeable odor. Pungent, repulsive taste


  1. Aroma of Beer, Wine and Distilled Alcoholic Beverages
  2. "ChemIDplus Advanced". Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  3. "Propanol, 1- (EHC 102, 1990)". 1989-04-14. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  4. "2-Methyl-1-Butanol". Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  5. "t-butyl alcohol". Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Pubchem Compound,

Special thanks

  • David Hedlund for the original research and creation of this page.