healthHealth and Medicine

ICYMI: A Synthetic Alcohol Substitute That Doesn't Make You Hungover Exists


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Would you like alcosynth with that? Igor Normann/Shutterstock

The vomiting. The migraine. The dehydration. The disgusting breath. The frankly unnecessary bowel movements. Hangovers are, without a doubt, the worst – and if we could, we’d banish them, just like astrology and alternative facts.

David Nutt, a renowned professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, engineered a possible remedy to this a few years back, and it’s doing the rounds again online – so we thought we’d revisit it. Unbelievable as it may sound, this chemical substitute for the world’s most dangerous drug produces inebriated-like effects but without any side-effects, and has zero calories.


These so-called “alcosynths” – currently under the brand name Alcarelle – have currently not undergone peer review. Nutt, however, is a world-leading expert on the science behind drugs and their effects on the brain, so it’s unlikely he’d make a false claim.

As of last year, Nutt had formed his own company, and he’s applied for patents on around 90 different chemical compounds that have the same effect as alcohol. So far, two have been tested out on people, and he’s currently seeking more investment and scientific testing.

“I’ve gone from this stage of being just me, the mad scientist, to having business partners,” Nutt told the Washington Post. “They’re the people who are hopefully going to get me the investors.”

It’s not yet clear what exactly these chemical compounds are, but they are reportedly flexible enough to be tweaked into having varying effects. One would merely mimic alcoholic indulgence; another would simply trigger the associated hormonal releases that engender a sense of happiness.


The company website even hints that “these alternatives” won’t cause “addiction or aggression.”

Could this be a thing of the past? Danomyte/Shutterstock

In a recent interview, Nutt said he understands that people will be dubious. After all, what he’s claiming sounds essentially magical – a giant leap into hangoverless partying rather than the incremental steps that one would normally expect with the nature of scientific discovery. His objective, nevertheless, is one few could disagree with.

“Ethanol is a small molecule, it gets into your brain fast and – it's toxic. Isn't it funny how we drink the same stuff we put on our skin to kill bugs?” he explained. Pointedly, he then said that “if there were 3.3 million people dying every year from terrorism there would be a huge outcry.”

The point of the substitute isn’t necessarily to replace all alcohol, though. Instead it's designed to ultimately improve public health by giving people the chance to avoid it, whilst still partaking in social drinking.


“We are asking, with all the science available today,” the company website notes, “what if there were safe and responsible alternatives to alcohol which everyone could enjoy?”

Watch this space, tipple-fanciers.


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