Medicine Containing Alcohol
Question: Many forms of medicine in the United States, and elsewhere, contain alcohol. What is the ruling regarding their consumption?
There is no doubt that if the treatment or recovery of an illness is dependent upon consuming medicine containing alcohol then there would be no problem consuming it relative to the need. But, the question remains when the treatment or recovery from the illness is not dependent upon such medicine.
Sayyid Khamenei, in the Frequently Asked Questions segment of his Farsi site states: “If one knows that the alcohol in medicine is from edible alcohol which was originally liquid then, as an [obligatory] precaution it is najis. If one does not know than it is pure.” Hence, if one is aware that the alcohol used in the medicine is originally liquid, edible and intoxicating, it is najis it cannot be consumed. It must be noted that consuming any intoxicant is prohibited, unless out of necessity, therefore, even if the alcohol is intoxicating, but not originally liquid, it would be tahir, but still its use would be prohibited.
Sayyid Sistani answers a few questions on the Question and Answer segment of his English website under the word alcohol:
Question: Alcohol is used in the production of many drugs and medications: Is it permissible to take them? Are they considered pure (tãhir)? Answer: “[T]hey are pure; and since the alcohol used in them is so minute that it dissolves in them, it is therefore permissible to take them also.”
Question: Is Ethanol of the family of alcohol that causes drunkenness? What about using this and other families of alcohol that are synthesized from petroleum and are used in perfume, medicine etc? Are they najis and cannot be used during prayer? Answer: “According to Grand Ayatullah Sistani alcohol is taher (ritually clean) but it is not permissible to drink it. Using perfume and medicines mixed with alcohol is permissible.”
There is a question on this page that seems a little contradictory. The question states: “Is it permissible to consume alcohol or drugs for medical purposes?” He answered by stating: “It is permissible to use them to the extent required for treatment.” Notice, the question is about alcohol and drugs themselves, not mixed into medicine. Hence, if the treatment or recovery from an illness depends on consuming straight-up alcohol then one can consume it only to the extent necessary.
Therefore, according to Sayyid Sistani, if the alcohol used in medicine is minute there is no problem in using it. But, according to Sayyid Khamenei, if the alcohol used is known to be originally liquid, edible and intoxicating than it is impermissible to consume it. Furthermore, if the treatment or recovery from illness is dependent upon otherwise impermissible alcohol, than according to both maraja’ it can be consumed to the extent necessary.