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Diethyl Ether

Diethyl ether, more commonly known as ether, is a common solvent which has found use as a recreational drug due to its dissociative and euphoric effects, quick onset of effects and its short-lived nature. It can be psychologically addictive.


[top]Introduction to Diethyl ether

Diethyl ether is a colorless, volatile, sweet solvent-like smelling chemical which finds use as a solvent as well as in various household products such as engine starting fluid. In such products, diethyl ether is usually mixed ('adulterated') with other chemicals such as alkanes, usually heptane, and sometimes a denaturing agent to deter abuse. In the case of starter fluid, the ether is used to easily cause a spark which can then ignite the heptane or other alkane much more easily, making it easier to start the engine especially in cold environments.

As a recreational drug, diethyl ether is primarily an NMDA receptor antagonist, making it a dissociative in the same category as drugs such as Dextromethorphan, PCP, Ketamine, Nitrous Oxide, and Freon. Because of its volatile nature, standard method of consumption (inhalation) and stronger binding ability to these receptors than 'heavier' NMDA receptor antagonists, its effects generally have a very fast onset, are rather strong, and are short-lived, lasting generally no longer than 30 minutes. These effects can make it tempting for a person to consume more in a short period of time. Because of its euphoric qualities, it can also be tempting for a user to repeat the experience at a later point in time. These effects give diethyl ether a decent psychological addiction potential.

Its general effects include dissociation, euphoria, dizziness, a 'floaty' feeling, relaxation, sedation, confusion, increased sensitivity to tactile stimulation, mild hallucinations (more along the lines of disturbances in vision and hearing, rather than true hallucinations such as those produced by typical psychedelics), nausea in some users, increased willingness to sleep, among others.

[top]Using Diethyl ether

Diethyl ether is most commonly either inhaled or ingested. Inhalation seems to be the more popular route, due to quicker onset of effects and less side effects. Users often put the substance on a rag and hold it to their faces while taking in deep breaths, or put the substance in a bottle or other type of container, and inhale the vapors. They typically hold it in for a few seconds and repeat this to obtain their preferred level of intoxication.

Ingestion of diethyl ether is not as commonplace. Diethyl ether does not generally lend itself well to ingestion due to its strong taste. Effects are reportedly slightly longer lasting and possibly a bit stronger, but side effects increase with this method of absorption as well. Diethyl ether is hard on the lining of the stomach, and can cause stomach problems especially with repeated ingestion.

A tincture of diethyl ether with alcohol called Hoffman's Drops was popular in the 1800s mostly for women.

During Prohibition, Diethy Ether consumption surfaced as an alternative to alcohol.

[top]Effects of Diethyl ether

Diethyl ether is a NMDA receptor antagonist, which results in a dissociative state. Predominant short-term effects of recreational diethyl ether use are:
  • Euphoria
  • Dissociative, 'floaty' state
  • Relaxation
  • Impaired judgement
  • Sedation
  • Confusion
  • Analgesia
  • Impaired concentration/memory
  • Enhanced sensitivity to touch
  • Disturbances in vision/hearing
  • Mild hallucinations/delusions
  • Stupor
  • Uncoordination
  • Nausea, in some users, and as dose increases
  • Slurred speech/difficulty forming sentences

Long-term effects of diethyl ether exposure are less well-known. Diethyl ether does not appear to cause any carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, or predominant health problems even in repeated exposure, although metabolic changes have been noted by at least one study. Slightly increased amounts of liver enzymes were found in animals who were repeatedly exposed to diethyl ether.

Habituation and addiction are possible with this drug, given its quick onset, short duration of effects, strong euphoric and relaxing qualities and ease of access.

[top]Combinations with Diethyl ether

Diethyl ether inhibits the metabolic oxidation of alcohol and other drugs to an extent, and as such can extend the duration and/or activity of these drugs. Extreme caution is recommended when combining diethyl ether with any drug, including alcohol.

[top]Metabolism of Diethyl ether

Most diethyl ether is exhaled unchanged over a period of time. The remaining amounts of the drug generally are metabolized into ethanol and acetaldehyde, and the secondary metabolites ethyl glucuronide and acetic acid. Because of this metabolism pathway, it is theoretically possible for diethyl ether to cause a false positive on a urine-based alcohol screening, and thus should be avoided by people who are required to be screened for alcohol use.

It is thought that the ethanol that results from the metabolism of diethyl ether is pharmacologically irrelevant, and has little effect on the central nervous system in the amounts created.

[top]Pharmacology of Diethyl ether

Diethyl ether is a volatile chemical, primarily a NMDA receptor antagonist typically used as a drug of the inhalant class. Because of its quick uptake through the lungs via this method, or other structures in the body, its onset is usually quick to instantaneous. It has stronger NMDA antagonism effects than heavier drugs such as ketamine, PCP, methoxetamine or dextromethorphan, likely due to its quick availability, but its duration of action is very short, usually lasting not much longer than 30 minutes. It is a weaker NMDA antagonist, however, than other inhalant dissociatives such as various forms of freon.

Likely because of its volatile, light nature, diethyl ether's effects come on quicker and last a notably shorter amount of time than typical dissociatives, some of which can last up to 8 hours or more. A good amount of diethyl ether is exhaled unchanged through the breath, which isn't the case with such heavier dissociatives which must be dealt with by the body through metabolic means. In this way, diethyl ether is essentially what ethanol is to benzodiazepines, except to an even greater extent.

[top]Chemistry of Diethyl ether

Systematic (IUPAC) name:1,1'-oxybisethane
Synonyms:ethoxyethane, ether, diethyl ether, ethyl oxide, diethyl oxide, sulfuric ether, anesthetic ether
Molecular Formula:C4H10O
Molar mass:74.12 g/mol
CAS Registry Number:60-29-7
Melting Point:-116.3C (stable crystals), -123.3C (metastable crystals)
Boiling Point:34.6C @ 760 mmHg, 17.9C @ 400 mmHg, 2.2C @ 200 mmHg, -11.5C @ 100 mmHg, -48.1 @ 10 mmHg, -74.3C @ 1.0 mmHg
Flash Point:-45C (closed cup)
Solubility:Soluble in concentrated hydrochloric acid; miscible with loweraliphatic alcohols, benzene, chloroform, petroleum ether, dichloromethane, hexane, other fats, many fixed and volatile oils
Additionnal data:density 0.7364 (0C), 0.7249 (10C), 0.7134 (20C), 0.7019 (30C)
Notes:aspect : mobile, very volatile, highly flammable liquid; vapor heavier than air; characteristic, sweetish, pungent odor; burning taste; tends to form explosive peroxides upon exposure to air and light; Caution : ether vapors are explosive

On an industrial scale, ether is produced by dehydration of ethanol or hydration of ethylene in presence of sulfuric acid.

[top]The dangers of Diethyl ether

Diethyl ether generally would carry many of the same inherent risks as other solvents. However, it is believed to be a lot safer than many of the other known solvents used as inhalant drugs. Given its weaker affinity for the NMDA receptors than inhalants like freon, it possesses a higher safety margin than such chemicals. It also does not have any particularly alarming long-term effects compared to many solvents and chemicals, which can often be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or cause serious health problems such as liver failure and the like.

Care is nonetheless highly recommended when using this, or any drug, and especially with the use of inhalants.

Be sure not to inhale or consume this or any inhalant from a pressurized source, as doing so could result in injury or death.

Starting fluid: It should be noted that diethyl ether is almost always adulterated in starting fluid, with heptane or other alkanes. It may also contain a bitterant to deter recreational use, and may contain other potentially dangerous chemicals depending on the manufacturer and product. The inherent risks with consuming these products are far greater than consuming pure diethyl ether, and are beyond the scope of this wiki. It is highly recommended not to use these products as a recreational source of diethyl ether.

Also note that it is often very difficult to separate diethyl ether from heptane and other alkanes, and attempts to do so may result in products which still contain both substances.

Diethyl ether is extremely flammable, and is heavier than air and thus sinks. A diethyl ether fire is very dangerous and can quickly become problematic. Do not put diethyl ether near open flame, sparks, or anything of the like. Do not smoke while or shortly after using diethyl ether. It is best to use it in an area with proper ventilation and fire safety protocols. Heating any mixture/solution of diethyl ether, or any solution/mixture with the intent to prepare diethyl ether is a dangerous act, and can quickly become out of control outside of a proper environment.

Note: The long or short term storage of diethyl ether is not recommended, exposure to light and or air can result in the formation of the explosive oxidation product Diethyl ether peroxide.
Diethyl ether peroxide is a polymerization product sometimes referred to as Ethylidene peroxide; A colourless oily liquid that is shock and fiction sensitive, its high detonation velocities makes this a particularly hazardous compound.
The dangers of ether storage can not be stressed strongly enough, if it is to be stored an antioxidant such as Butylated hydroxvtoluene (BHT) must be added to arrest the formation of organic peroxides.

[top]Legal status of Diethyl ether

Diethyl ether is legal in most places. However, recreational use of diethyl ether as a drug may not be. While it would be theoretically hard to prove somebody is using ether for that purpose, it is possible. It would be prudent to find out the legal status of diethyl ether in your country before embarking on its procurement.


[1]Merck Index, fifteenth edition (2013)

Contributors: John_bob, Alfa, Docta, Greenport
Created by Greenport, 18-07-2012 at 13:36
Last edited by John_bob, 27-04-2014 at 13:26
Last comment by An.Echo.of.Silence on 24-08-2012 at 00:45
4 Comments, 41,688 Views

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