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Friday October 16, 2020

By Erin Hiatt

420 Culture

When COVID-19 took hold in March, after panic buyers hoarded all the toilet paper and disinfecting wipes, one of the next items to disappear rapidly from store shelves was isopropyl alcohol (ISO). For cannabis consumers who like to keep their glass and accessories clean (which we highly recommend since clean pieces are better for aroma, taste, and health), a shortage of ISO left a lot of people wondering how they could keep their pieces clean. 

As the pandemic lingers on, shortages of household items like disinfecting wipes remain. But what about ISO? Is there a shortage of this cannabis consumer must-have item?

Understanding the Isopropyl Alcohol Shortage

As it turns out, the relationship between disinfecting wipes and isopropyl alcohol is a close one. In fact, ISO is a key ingredient in hand sanitizers and other disinfectants. The coronavirus created an unprecedented demand globally for ISO, which predictably led to a decrease in supply and a dramatic increase in price. 

U.S. manufacturers did not anticipate such massive demand for ISO, so their supply was steady based on fluctuations – such as flu season – from previous years. Like most businesses, manufacturers try to keep supply in pace with demand since storing excess product requires both space and money. 

Cleaning supplies and hand sanatizer
Hand sanitizers, disinfectants, and other cleaning supplies, all containing ISO, are also in low supply. photo credit

In response to increased demand, manufacturers have been struggling to adapt by making fewer products, cutting back on production of their most popular items, and turning to nontraditional suppliers like distilleries for ingredients. Even the EPA has stepped in by expanding its list of approved disinfectants. 

But even as those adaptations are made and more product becomes available, the downstream consumer won’t necessarily find ISO on store shelves. Major suppliers are more likely to send ISO to industrial and healthcare facilities first, based on demand and order volume. 

When Will ISO Be Back on the Shelves?

Even though firms are slowly but surely adapting and catching up with isopropyl alcohol demand, the uncertain economic environment still leaves companies on unsure footing as they try to guess which segments of the economy will reopen, and what increased demand will look like when they do.

Empty shelf at store witha a sign that says due to unprecedented demand, we are temporarily out of stock.
It's unsure when these items will be back on the shelves. photo credit

Supply chain experts think that supply and demand will return at some point to normal levels, but whether that is a pre-COVID “normal” or one that is forever heightened remains to be seen. As for availability, manufacturers have expanded and shifted production to produce enough ISO to make the hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes we once took for granted, but they are still playing catch-up.

Like legal cannabis regulations, COVID-19 policies have been rolled out piecemeal in a state-by-state and locality-by-locality fashion. This leaves producers guessing about ISO distribution, so whether you have ISO or probably depends on where you live and the level of infection in your community. 

As for when you’ll be able to find a steady supply, experts predict the middle of 2021.

In the meanwhile, if you have been searching for ISO and come up high and dry, try looking in stores off the beaten path, like a small neighborhood pharmacy or convenience store. Just make sure before spending your cash that the ISO is at least 70 percent alcohol. 

How has COVID affected your ISO supply? Share your experiences in the comments!

Photo Credit: Matthew Rutledge (license)


Erin Hiatt Erin Hiatt

Erin Hiatt is a New York City-based writer who has been covering the cannabis industry for more than six years. Her work - which has appeared in Hemp Connoisseur Magazine, PotGuide, Civilized, Vice, Freedom Leaf, MERRY JANE, Alternet, and CannaInvestor - covers a broad range of topics, including cannabis policy and law, CBD, hemp law and applications, science and technology, beauty, and psychedelics.

Erin's work and industry insights have been featured on the podcasts The Let's Go Eat Show, In the Know 420, and she has appeared as a featured panelist on the topic of hemp media. Erin has interviewed top industry experts such as Dr. Carl Hart, Ethan Nadelmann, Amanda Feilding, Mark A.R. Kleiman, Dr. James Fadiman, and culture icons Governor Jesse Ventura, and author Tom Robbins. You can follow her work on LinkedInWordpress, @erinhiatt on Twitter, and @erinisred on Instagram.

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