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Methylated spirit

Methylated spirit

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What is it?

Methylated spirit is denatured alcohol, a type of adulterated alcohol that is toxic and or not suitable for human consumption. The difference between “real alcohol” (such as ethanol that is used to make beer, wine, and spirits) and denatured alcohol is that “real alcohol” is made from the fermentation of sugars (or carbohydrates) by yeasts and other microbes while denatured alcohol is typically made by adding methanol as well as other additives to ethanol. Methanol is the main additive in denatured alcohol, hence the name methylated spirit. Methanol is a highly flammable, colourless, and toxic liquid that is used in various product including:

  • Antifreeze – a liquid used to keep engines cool
  • Industrial solvents – that are used to make dyes, inks, and adhesives
  • Petrol – it is added to petrol to lower its emissions

The term methylated spirit is derived from the fact that methanol is the dominant compound and spirit because historically intoxication was associated with spiritual possession or spiritual drunkenness.

Spiritual drunkenness is a phenomenon in the Christian religion where a person is possessed by the holy spirit, exhibiting behaviours similar to those of a drunk or inebriated state. The book of Acts chapter 2 describes what happened during the day of Pentecost when people were filled with the Holy Spirit and the nearby observers saying they were drunk or had too much wine.

How is it made?

Methylated spirit is made using distillation, a process that involves the use of heat and boiling points to separate substances or compounds from a mixture.

Distillation is an old age process that has been around for a very long time. The earliest record of distillation was by Alchemists in the middle east trying to make elixirs, they did this by distilling liquids and collecting the resulting spirits (or vapour).  

Another purported evidence of distillation shows that it was used for spiritual (or religious) purposes. The passage in Exodus 30 verse 22 where God instructs Moses regarding the manufacturing of the sacred anointing oil. According to the passage various herbs and spices are used (namely cinnamon, calamus, and cassia), a hen of olive oil, and liquid myrrh are to be used by the perfumer to make the oil. Liquid myrrh could refer to the fluid exuded from the resin ducts in the myrrh tree’s bark, but some scholars have said that this could be the myrrh essential oil which is obtained by steam distillation of crude myrrh. 


In developing countries where alcoholic products (beer, spirits, and wine) are expensive, denatured alcohol may be used as a substitute. However, it is very important to note that the consumption of methylated spirit can impair vision.

Medical uses

  • It is used as a disinfectant – to disinfect wounds.
  • It is applied externally to treat colds and flu.
  • It is used as a steriliser – to sterilise medical equipment.

Industrial uses

  • It is used as a window cleaner. 
  • It is an effective solvent in the paints, lacquers and varnish industry.
  • It is a low-cost solvent.
  • It is used as fuel.  
  • It is used during phytochemical screening. 

Cosmetic uses 

  • It is used as a toner.
  • It is used as a makeup brush cleaners.

Application Examples of Methylated Spirit 

The following ingredients are said to treat amafufunyana. All of these ingredients are mixed together and administered to the patient said to be suffering from amafufunyana. 

  1. 1 teaspoon of Methylated spirit 
  2. ½ teaspoon of  Benzine (a colourless highly flammable liquid used as a cleaning agent) 
  3. A pinch of indonya
  4. 1 teaspoon of vinegar
  5. ½ teaspoon of umdlebe powder

The following mixture is used to cleanse the body from bad luck and unclean spirits. 

  1. 1 teaspoon of Methylated spirit
  2. 1 teaspoon of Shibhoshi (Madubula)
  3. 1 teaspoon of holy ash

Not Even Related Information

Methylation in the body & mutation

The DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) is a molecule inside the cell. This molecule carries all the genetic information necessary to make the body that the DNA is extracted from. The DNA makes protein, the building blocks used to make and repair skin, hair, bone, muscle tissue, and every other thing pertaining to the body. The  DNA makes your genes, which determine your genotype and phenotype. Your genotype is a set of genes in the DNA that are responsible for specific traits, such as the colour of your eyes, hair texture and type, the size and shape of your lips, nose, ears, breast, bum, legs, feet, etc. And how these traits are phenotypically observed by everyone on you.    

The study of DNA and genes is known as genetics. And I’m oversimplifying this definition for people who don’t know anything about genetics. Genetics looks at how the genes and genetic material are expressed in a person, and how they are passed down from one generation to the next. 

In tandem, there is another field of study called epigenetics. Epigenetics looks at how the environment and behaviours affect and change the genes. 

Cancer is caused by the mutations (or changes) to the DNA within the cells. Remember DNA is responsible for making the protein that is responsible for building the different parts of the body. For example, every human being inherits the BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene 1) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene 2) from their parents. These two genes are often called cancer suppressor genes because certain mutations (changes) in these genes can cause cancer to develop in the body. At the same time DNA methylation can cause changes in the expression of the two genes, thus increasing your likelihood of developing cancer. 

Methylation is a biological process where methyl groups (- CH3 -) are added to the DNA and other proteins in order to change their form and function. Methylation acts as a molecular switch for turning certain genes on and off. It is different from a mutation in that DNA mutation completely changes genetic material and is usually permanent or irreversible. On the other hand, methylation can cause changes to genetic material (i.e., genotype and phenotype) but the changes are reversible i.e., not permanent. 

Mutation is a genetic mechanism of altering gene expression while methylation is an epigenetic mechanism.  

Psychopharmacology is a study of the therapeutic use of psychotropic (or psychoactive) medicines. Psychotropic medicine is made from psychotropic plants, which are plants that when ingested or smoked have the ability to change the functions of the nervous system, as a result alteration perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behaviour. Examples of psychoactive plants include Diviner’s sage (salvia), Alepidea amatymbica, Helinus integrifolius, Synaptolepis kirkii, and Silene capensis. In psychopharmacology, it is believed that the human spirit is regulated by the methylation of genes. This is because by turning certain genes on and off, one is able to “control or manipulate” the behaviour, feelings, and psychiatric conditions of a person. 

References and further reading:

  • Sorsdahl, K.R., Flisher, A.J., Wilson, Z. and Stein, D.J., 2010. Explanatory models of mental disorders and treatment practices among traditional healers in Mpumulanga, South Africa. African Journal of Psychiatry, 13(4), pp.284-290.
  • National Cancer Institute (NIH). 2020. BRCA Gene Mutations: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing. Accessed from: 

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