Why Are Flavoured Condom Sales Reportedly Spiking in Western India?

Why Are Flavoured Condom Sales Reportedly Spiking in Western India?
Behold: what the youth are using to get high nowadays. (Image: Shutterstock, Shutterstock)

Teens and young people do stupid things — you’ve done them, I’ve done them — but a new report from India is pushing the limits of our credulity. Allegedly, Indian youth are boiling flavoured condoms and drinking the water to get high. If that sounds to you like a 2022 version of Tide Pods or “pharm parties,” you’re not alone.

According to CNN-News 18, an English-language outlet in India co-owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, the sale of flavoured condoms in the city of Durgapur began skyrocketing in mid-July. When a shopkeeper asked a frequent customer why young people were suddenly obsessed with flavoured condoms, the young man said that he regularly buys condoms to get high.

The entire practice, if you ask us, seems like a throwback to the outrage and horror that griped the internet when we thought that scores of teens were eating Tide Pods. Despite widespread media coverage and worry, a very, very small amount of teens actually ingested Tide Pods.

How young people are supposedly getting high off condoms

How do people get high with condoms, of all things, you ask? In this case, the news report said that young people may be boiling the condoms in hot water for hours and then drinking the water.

While this may sound utterly bizarre, Udayan Basak, a polymer chemistry research scholar, told Vice that this theoretically is possible, although it hasn’t yet been proven in a practical experiment.

To better understand, we have to analyse the components of condoms. Condoms contain the synthetic resin polyurethane, he explained, for durability and stretching purposes. They are made from polyisoprene, which is a component of rubber, and utilise glycerin to give the products specific flavours.

The key here is polyurethane.

“[I]t is believed that ethylene glycol, a kind of alcohol, is produced when the polyurethane breaks down after boiling flavored (sic) condoms in water and [keeping them aside] for six to eight hours,” Basak said, as reported by Vice.

Experts who spoke to CNN-News 18 compared it to the high folks get from sniffing glue, which can produce a temporary sense of euphoria or hallucinations that usually only lasts for a few minutes.

However, sniffing glue and other inhalants, such as spray paint, markers, and cleaning fluid, can lead to harmful long-term effects. These include kidney damage, hearing loss, bone barrow damage, loss of coordination, limb spasms, and brain damage, as explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Inhalant overdoses are even more dangerous and can lead to seizures, coma, or even death.

Joydeep Ghosh, an internal medicine consultant in Kolkata, told Vice that similar things can happen when young people drink flavoured condom water.

“Drinking this water can cause intoxication and addiction. If consumed repeatedly, it will negatively impact the lungs and kidneys, as well as harm the body’s nervous system,” Ghosh said.

Why you should be sceptical that teens are drinking condom water to get high

The news of youth purportedly getting high on condom water has made the rounds on the internet in recent days, inspiring articles and scientific explainers like the one referenced above. Considering that teens were once dipping their balls in soy sauce, it is possible to believe that teenagers would boil condoms in the harebrained pursuit of a high.

It’s not clear if any teens are actually doing this very stupid thing. The CNN-News 18 report based its story on the account of one shopkeeper who asked his young customer why condoms were flying off his shelves. And, while it very well may be that that teen, in particular, was using condoms to get high, there’s not enough evidence for now to say whether any recent increase in flavoured condom sales can be attributed to this bizarre practice.