In the 1920’s and 30’s the United States found itself in the grip of prohibition. With American’s desperate to find libations, many turned to bootleggers and the product they sold commonly referred to as moonshine. As more and more people consumed the strong beverage many Americans became sick and in many cases blind.
Fortunately the 1920’s and 30’s are a far cry from the world that we live in now and with prohibition a thing of the past, few people look to moonshine as the alcohol of choice. The fears, however, that are associated with moonshine have remained, not the least of which is the fear of blindness. The question is, are the fears founded?
Historically, when moonshine was brewed people paid little attention to the amounts of chemicals that were used, thus leading to multiple cases of poisonings and several cases of blindness. Methanol was, and remains, the most common byproduct of moonshine. When consumed the liver takes in the toxin, and as enzymes process the methanol it changes into formaldehyde along with several related compounds.
Formaldehyde is extremely toxic to the body and especially the eyes. Fortunately, the horror stories for people becoming instantly blinded from a drink or two of the powerful concoction are not accurate. Once a person consumes the moonshine and it is changed into methanol it has a period of time, typically several hours, before the body produces enough formaldehyde to cause damage. Even as the toxins make their way through the body, and eventually to the eyes, blindness will not immediately set in. A person may experience blurry vision, followed by visual field defects (areas in the vision that are missing) long before the chemicals finally cause blindness.
So, how does the Formaldehyde and the chemicals associated with it cause blindness? In large amounts it causes damage to the optic nerve and the other delicate, light sensitive tissues of the retina. When the nerves are destroyed as a result of chemical toxicity, the damage and blindness is most often irreversible.
Today, although prohibition is no longer in effect, production and brewing of moonshine is remains illegal in the United States. This is due to the highly risky side effects it can produce, including blindness. This, however, does not stop people who produce moonshine. Fortunately, unlike the bootleggers of the 1920’s and 30’s, true moonshine enthusiasts follow a very specific set of guidelines when creating their brews. These guidelines make the production of moonshine safer for human consumption, however this undertaking should not be done carelessly. Toxicity of the body and the eyes remain a significant threat.
Ultimately, because of its illegal nature, and to preserve your health and eyesight, consumption of moonshine should avoided. However, should if you find that you wish to try a taste, be sure that you get your moonshine from an experienced brewer and immediately seek any medical attention should you notice any changes in vision or any other overall changes in your health.