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Bottle of diethyl ether from Slovakia

Addiction to ether consumption, or etheromania, is the addiction to the inhalation or drinking of diethyl ether, commonly called "ether".


During the second half of the nineteenth century, ether was in vogue as a recreational drug in some places, becoming especially popular in Ireland, as temperance campaigners thought it was an acceptable alternative to alcohol.[1][2] Indeed until 1890, when it was classified as a poison, more than 17,000 gallons of ether were being consumed in Ireland.[2]

Addiction to ether consumption had posed a serious social problem in Poland between the two World Wars. The drinking of ether, as well as related liquids (Hoffman's drops) was commonplace and widespread foremost in the region of Upper Silesia. According to surveys conducted in the 1930s, in certain villages a large portion of pupils of public schools had regularly drunk ether. Teachers had recalled that at certain times they had to send home pupils who were under the influence of the drug. Common drinking of ether by miners had caused the issue of a restriction, banning access by intoxicated persons to the mines (the main cause for concern was the risk of fire). Plant doctors had received a stark warning to drastically limit the purchases of ether and its mixtures for factory doctors' offices. Even the Catholic Church was engaged in fighting this addiction - it was often the topic of sermons, certain priests refused absolution to the addicted, and even reported the members of their parishes to the police. The consumption of ether was also spread in the regions of Suwałki, south-eastern Poland, the Beskidy mountains, Kujawy, Pomerania and around Częstochowa.

Ether came primarily from Germany, smuggled across the border with Germany, sometimes also from Czechoslovakia. Local authorities had estimated the smugglings to amount to thousands of kilograms per year. Ether was primarily carried across the border by inhabitants living close to the border. Also, specially trained dogs were used to smuggle the ether. Both people and dogs had transported the goods in protruding metal containers which lay very close to the body and was attached to it with straps (termed in local smuggler parlance as blachany, from the Polish word blacha meaning steel sheets, from which they were made). Some times special compartments in cars were used, recorded are also attempts to transport ether via cable cars stretched across the border river.

Ether was distributed among the villages by wagons transporting straw, as well as by travelling salesmen, organ grinders and beggars. Within the villages themselves, ether was distributed in designated places, termed kapliczki (in Polish - chapels). These were both places of sale as well as consumption. In the process recorded were many accidents caused by improper handling of fire.


Consumption of ether had taken on diverse forms, beginning from drinking it undiluted, with a sip of water now and then. This was the most effective method, however it also was quite dangerous: ether is very volatile, and boils at 35 degrees Celsius. It causes hiccups in its gas form, and in extreme cases it might cause the rupture of the stomach wall. Ether was usually diluted using boiled water with a pinch of sugar, cinnamon or honey and cloves. The individual kapliczki had their own, heavily guarded recipes for concocting their exhilarating mixtures. Often, particularly amongst the working classes, among miners, ether was consumed with coffee or raspberry juice. Other recorded means of consumption were inhalation of fumes or pouring into the ear. The use of ether after being put on a rag is common.


In 1923, the Polish Sejm had forbidden the sale of ether for consumption. In 1928, ether was officially classified as a drug - anti-drug legislation was extended to include it. Severe penalties - up to five years of imprisonment and high financial penalties - from that moment on were not only imposed for smuggling and trade of ether, but also for its possession.

In the second half of the 1930s, media as well as government institutions had focused on the problem. In May of 1936 a special conference in Katowice was called by the Polish National Committee for Drugs and Prevention of Drug Addictions functioning within the Ministry of Employment and Social Policy.


The first effect of ether intoxication is a state of excitement, euphoria, which can then turn into rage, afterwards stupor, and finally sleep with hallucinations.


A common belief of the folk was that the consumption of ether had good effects. It was believed that ether was allegedly a miraculous cure for all diseases.

Present situation

Ether is still sometimes consumed in close-border areas of Poland, Slovakia and Lithuania. It is from these countries that it is smuggled into Poland.

According to current legislation, the highest allowable concentration of diethyl ether fumes during work may amount to 300 mg/m3.


Dr. Wilbur Larch in John Irvings novel The Cider House Rules is an ether addict.

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  1. Miller, Richard Lawrence (2002), "Ether", The Encyclopedia of Addictive Drugs, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, pp. 153–154, ISBN 0-313-31807-7,, retrieved 7 November 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 Martin, Paul (2008), Sex, Drugs and Chocolate: The Science of Pleasure, London: Fourth Estate, p. 57, ISBN 978-0-00-712708-5

Further reading


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