When the drunken festivities of the night before turn into the crushing headache and existential dread of the morning after, who hasn’t come to regret that last glass of wine.
The good news is that hangovers could soon be a thing of the past. According to researchers, synthetic alcohol that provides the buzz without the aftereffects could be available to purchase within the next five years.
The man behind this magical elixir is David Nutt. Nutt is someone you may have heard of: he used to be the UK’s government drugs advisor but was promptly sacked when he argued horse riding (one serious adverse effect per every 350 exposures) was more dangerous than taking ecstasy (one per every 10,000). Afterward, he published an investigation in The Lancet concluding booze is “more harmful than heroin and crack”.
"The industry knows alcohol is a toxic substance," Nutt told The Guardian in an interview.
"If it were discovered today, it would be illegal as a foodstuff. The safe limit of alcohol, if you apply food standards criteria, would be one glass of wine a year." Not that he abstains from alcohol himself. Indeed, he co-owns a London-based wine bar with his daughter.
Nutt now works as the director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College London in the UK.
The synthetic alcohol (or “alcosynth”) Nutt is developing is called Alcarelle. The idea being it offers all the relaxing and socially lubricating effects of alcohol without any of the withdrawal symptoms or health problems. It comes with the added benefit of preventing you from getting absolutely paralytic. Instead, drinkers will be able to enjoy a prolonged buzz, an everlasting state of tipsiness. The plan is to design a “peak effect” that would mean that no matter how much Alcarelle you took, you would not surpass that peak.
The Alcarelle story began in 1983 when Nutt, a PhD student at the time, discovered a way to rewind the effects of alcohol – an antidote if you will. He was the first to prove that alcohol affects the brain by stimulating the GABA receptors and, thereby, slowing down the firing of neurons. By administering a chemical that blocks the GABA receptors to boozed-up rats, he was able to sober the animals up. Unfortunately, this wonder drug was too dangerous to give to humans – if you take it while sober (by accident or on purpose) it causes seizures. But both technology and medical understanding have improved a lot since the 1980s.
Now, Nutt knows there are 15 GABA receptor subtypes in different parts of the brain. While alcohol, he says, is “promiscuous” and will take to them all, alcosynths can be developed to bind to specific receptors, producing different effects. One type may be a party drink. Another might be more appropriate for a business lunch or night with the in-laws, for example.
There are a few small issues with the product in its current form that need some ironing out, including safety issues (so far, only Nutt and his team have tried it) and taste (he admits it needs some work). But the team has developed a five-year plan in which time they hope it will pass regulations as a food additive or ingredient. From there, their goal is to supply Alcarelle to drinks companies looking for alcohol alternatives.
It is fair to remain skeptical – it's been a long time in the making and some have compared Nutt's endeavor to the colonization of Mars. But there's reason to be hopeful. In November 2018, seed funding was raised, meaning Nutt and business partner David Orren can begin the task of raising the £20 million (about $26,500 million) required to bring Alcarelle to the market.
[H/T: The Guardian]