Is it okay to take toilet-pills? / Rationality vs. the disgust factor

post by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T09:08:32.014Z · score: 4 (15 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 38 comments

Well, I've a chance to prove my commitment to cold, hard rationality, unswayed by emotional concerns... I'm just not sure which route really is the more rational (assuming a desire to stay healthy).

In doubt as to the most logical course of action, I thought I'd get some LessWrongian input. To back up a bit and explain: I opened a pill bottle and was shaking one out into my hand, and since I'm a klutz the upshot was three pills in the (thankfully flushed) toilet. I fished them out, because these are three out of my last four pills; I take half a tablet a day, and don't get a refill until a week from now.

Now they're sitting on a dish in front of me, soaking for a few minutes in 91% isopropyl alcohol. Does LessWrong think they'll be okay to take? The alcohol should kill most germs, but I know it doesn't get all of them. What about viruses? Should I attempt to scrub the tablets to remove them? I've also always enjoyed informing my friends about various surfaces with more germs than toilet water (keyboard, phone), but that doesn't mean toilet water isn't horrifically toxic...

 

You decide. I promise to abide by the collective decision of LessWrong in this matter: should I take the toilet pills?

38 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-25T10:19:12.454Z · score: 22 (24 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whatever else you do, learn the lesson of not opening bottles over the toilet.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:06:35.340Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like to multi-task, dangit! :(

comment by wedrifid · 2011-07-26T03:37:45.160Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I recommend multitasking toilet going with something not related to eating things.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-07-25T15:09:30.176Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

After soaking in alcohol they probably have fewer germs than stuff you are normally willing to eat off of. I have more of a concern about the soaking in alchohol damaging the pills or degrading their effectiveness.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:07:09.683Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. That's what I figured, but I got worried about the chance of mysterious and virulent toilet-dwelling organisms.

comment by Emile · 2011-07-25T10:11:19.076Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Following a collective decision isn't the best choice in cases like this; asking a lot of people is fine for cases where everyone has similar knowledge levels (guessing beads in a jar), or for coordination problems where the fact that a lot of people decide a thing is in itself important (things like on which side of the street to drive and social norms like that).

Asking for everybody's advice is also a good way to get "social brownie points", especially on issues that aren't important to you, people like being asked for advice.

Instead, you should follow the advice of those that know more than most about medicine and health (Yvain for example).

Buf if you insist, my uninformed opinion is that you should take them if they're important to your health (and not say an optional vitamin supplement). You ''probably'' get in contact with dirtier things (keyboards, shaking hands), and the digestive system is ''pretty'' robust (you should probably be more concerned about what goes near an open wound or your eye than about what you swallow).

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:10:45.413Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Following a collective decision isn't the best choice in cases like this; asking a lot of people is fine for cases where everyone has similar knowledge levels (guessing beads in a jar), or for coordination problems where the fact that a lot of people decide a thing is in itself important (things like on which side of the street to drive and social norms like that).

That's true; I figured, though, that people on LessWrong would probably be equipped to make this sort of decision, and I further figured that if no one thought I'd get some rare and terrible disease then I probably wouldn't.

It's not just my judgment I'm relying on, in other words - I was mainly concerned that I was missing some important bit of common sense that said "NEVER eat anything that was in a toilet!" (Uh... well, you get what I mean.)

You ''probably'' get in contact with dirtier things (keyboards, shaking hands), and the digestive system is ''pretty'' robust (you should probably be more concerned about what goes near an open wound or your eye than about what you swallow).

Thanks. Makes sense; I'm pretty paranoid about handshakes, too - I always wash my hands afterward. And you can forget about me touching a public phone or keyboard!

comment by Nic_Smith · 2011-07-25T19:18:25.634Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you sure you didn't write the bottom line first as to what you're going to do? You did put "Rationality vs. the disgust factor" right in the title, after all.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:01:33.875Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I understand you aright, then good catch; I did, a little bit - in my original post, I said "I'm pretty sure that it's okay to go ahead and take them." I was fairly certain I was going to end up doing so, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't overlooking something.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2011-07-25T09:51:05.827Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did you fish them out with your bare hands? Have you soaked your hands for a few minutes in 91% isopropyl alcohol before handling things that you might ingest?

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:11:59.566Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, and yes.

I get your point, I think; it just so happens that I'm a very paranoid fellow, and have extended a similar amount of effort in sanitizing my hands. (I didn't actually soak them in alcohol, just rinsed in it and scrubbed with hand soap twice.)

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-07-25T18:41:24.249Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If they're jell-coated or sustained-release (the kind that's made up of a bunch of tiny little balls in an outer capsule), you probably shouldn't take them - between the water and the alcohol, there's a reasonable chance you've interfered with the delivery mechanism and could end up getting a nasty overdose.

Even if they're not, it's probably a good idea to call your pharmacy, explain that you got the pills wet and then dipped them in alcohol (and, uh, good luck finding a story that sounds sane and doesn't mention the toilet, there - maybe they fell into the drinking glass of someone who's sick?), and ask if they're still safe, and if not, what you can do. Unless things have changed significantly since I worked in a pharmacy a decade ago, you can probably get your refill a few days early if it turns out that you need to.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-25T20:55:11.341Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If he's taking a half tablet per day, there's probably nothing to worry about with the delivery mechanism.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-07-25T22:00:54.916Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I seem to have missed that part somehow. Yes, you're right.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:06:11.626Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They are timed-release, but the mechanism extends throughout the pill, so I'm pretty sure they're okay at least dose-wise. Good idea on calling the pharmacy, though; I know I'll be able to get them at least a couple days early... I was just unsure about a whole week.

Literally lol'd at the sane story bit - "I dropped my pills in a sick person's glass, then dipped them in alcohol; are they still okay?!"

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-07-25T22:54:29.786Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My concern with a possible overdose has less to do with the amount of drug in the pill (which wouldn't be changed), and more to do with how much of it is in your bloodstream at once. I don't know how your pills work, but the kind I described work by having the different balls dissolve at different rates in one's stomach acid, and it's at least plausible that dampening them would change that property so that they all dissolve quickly and put however-many hours' worth of drug in your bloodstream at once, which sounds potentially-dangerous to me.

I'm sure you're keeping an eye on yourself, though, and if anything odd starts to happen you'll get it dealt with. Shouldn't be too big of a risk.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-07-26T22:31:56.453Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

but the kind I described work by having the different balls dissolve at different rates in one's stomach acid, and it's at least plausible that dampening them would change that property so that they all dissolve quickly and put however-many hours' worth of drug in your bloodstream at once, which sounds potentially-dangerous to me.

Any delivery mechanism which can be dangerously interfered with by taking pills with water, or drinking water shortly before or after taking the pills, is in urgent need of replacement. Although there are medical treatments which you're supposed to avoid drinking water before, I don't think any pills such as this actually exist.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-07-27T02:31:00.083Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I assume that the variability of stomach contents is accounted for in the creation of the mechanism, at least to some degree. (This may be part of why some meds come with instructions to eat or not eat before or after taking them - such instructions are relatively common, though I don't remember if they correlate with sustained release mechanisms, and I know there can be other reasons for those directions.) Dampening the pills and then drying them out seems like it could have a different effect than drinking water when taking them, and exposing them to other chemicals could also have unexpected effects, and it's better to be safe than sorry.

comment by saturn · 2011-07-25T09:49:17.267Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Take them. Your toilet ejects droplets of water into the air you breathe every time you flush, anyway. After rinsing the pills and soaking them in alcohol, this won't increase your exposure to toilet germs by very much.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:14:42.849Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. I have just decided it's okay to take them, after reading through this discussion; I will report back if it turns out there was a virulent strain of toilet-virus on the pills.

I am also aware about that gross water-droplet ejection - I always put the lid down before I flush. It's this habit that I am proudest of communicating to my family...

comment by prase · 2011-07-25T09:54:09.531Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depends how unpleasant taking of the pills would be and what would happen if you didn't take them. I guess the chance of substantial negative health effect would be negligible even without disinfecting them in alcohol, but it may not be worth to do something unpleasant if the gains are small, even if you know that the unpleasantness isn't tied to actual risk.

But to make a non-ambiguous suggestion, take them.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:31:54.807Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depends how unpleasant taking of the pills would be and what would happen if you didn't take them. I guess the chance of substantial negative health effect would be negligible even without disinfecting them in alcohol

The unpleasantness just arises from my fear that my precautions have not been enough. I'm glad to see that you think even non-disinfected pills would be okay; that was my guess as well, but I wanted to make sure. I know someone who drank toilet water and never got sick, so I'm almost positive these pills are okay, now.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-25T17:32:51.022Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of my friends pointed out that isopropyl alcohol isn't good for people. However, I don't know if you could get hurt by the amount on three pills, and it's plausible that it would have evaporated from the pills fairly quickly.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:33:37.760Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As wedrifid pointed out, isopropyl alcohol isn't bad for you in small amounts. I definitely made sure to let it evaporate, but you can drink the stuff in small amounts and not suffer ill effects, assuming it's just alcohol and water. IIRC, it's something like twice as strong and twice as toxic as ethanol... something like that, anyway.

comment by RobertLumley · 2011-07-25T23:56:02.883Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The biochemist in me is twitching at your use of "ethanol alcohol". That's redundant; it's either "ethanol" or "ethyl alcohol".

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T23:59:58.266Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whoops; thanks for catching that. I knew that... in theory; I am a biochemist myself (well, on my way, anyway - no degree yet, but I love the field and don't see myself changing).

comment by wedrifid · 2011-07-25T17:41:26.583Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of my friends pointed out that isopropyl alcohol isn't good for people. However, I don't know if you could get hurt by the amount on three pills, and it's plausible that it would have evaporated from the pills fairly quickly.

That was my first thought too. So I looked it up. The stuff isn't good for you but you need a lot to do real harm. And as you say evaporation has worked on the pills already.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-07-25T11:00:23.577Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You decide. I promise to abide by the collective decision of LessWrong in this matter: should I take the toilet pills?

Conditioning on the pills being important enough to go to the trouble of fetching and disinfecting in the first place, yes, probably. The precautions you have already mentioned are plenty.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:30:07.943Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Conditioning on the pills being important enough to go to the trouble of fetching and disinfecting in the first place

Hmm - a good point. I'm glad to hear it; thanks for the advice.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-07-25T09:45:16.174Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it depends on how important the pills are.

If you'd be endangering your health if you didn't take the pills, take them. If they're about some minor inconvenience instead, (e.g. like the pills I was taking for my spring allergy) then it probably doesn't make sense to take an action that you'll be remembering with disgust, for relatively small benefit.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:32:24.891Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They're important, so I think I'll end up taking them.

comment by zslastman · 2013-07-06T15:27:48.846Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is by far the strangest less wrong post I have come across. Well done.

comment by James_H · 2011-07-26T12:49:11.959Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that the pills are probably safe, but are you confident enough to avoid your own disgust? That is, do you think you could suffer ill effect through placebo?

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-07-25T18:24:30.544Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Take them.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2011-07-25T22:32:05.521Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Done. :-)

comment by God Bodied Global (god-bodied-global) · 2019-11-26T22:38:49.800Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did you get sick?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-25T16:30:49.155Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Was it a flushed toilet? Recently flushed? Especially if the latter, I'd expect the bacteria to not have much time to breed.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-07-25T17:01:15.561Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Was it a flushed toilet?

and since I'm a klutz the upshot was three pills in the (thankfully flushed) toilet.