I've been trying to understand why different alcohols have different effects on the brain.

Methanol is obviously poisonous, apparently because it's converted to formic acid. Because the body seems to cut organic substances in two's, any odd-numbered alcohol would seem to yield methanol, and therefore be poisonous. But why is 1-butanol (according to certain sites) more toxic than ethanol? Does it have a different effect on the receptors in the brain? And if so, why? Same with other simple even-numbered alcohols: why are their effects different from ethanol?

  • $\begingroup$ Different molecules have different properties and metabolic pathways, whether the function group is the same or not. $\endgroup$ – Jori Jul 21 '14 at 11:35

As the chain length of the alcohol increases, it becomes more hydrophobic. This would make it easier for them to insert into membranes and hydrophobic pockets of proteins. This could interfere with the protein function. Hydrophobic molecules also tend to be harder to eliminate than shorter molecules and can accumulate in fatty tissues, including the brain. Longer chains can also be metabolized into a greater number of products simply because there is more to metabolize. And sometimes seemingly innocuous compounds can be metabolized into very toxic substances, such as n-Hexane, which can be converted to a molecule with an epoxide on each end. The epoxides can cross-link proteins, particularly in neuron axons.

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