Perhaps it’s something about the weather, or the great British beer tradition. But whatever drove them to it, it should come as no surprise that it’s researchers in London who are on the verge of making a great breakthrough in the way that we approach alcohol. They have developed the alcohol equivalent of the electronic cigarette.
The great breakthrough
The drug these scientists have developed is reported to give the user all the benefits of getting drunk without the side effects. Drinkers will get the giddiness and fun of intoxication without the hangovers. And, more seriously, it should remove the health risks that come with alcohol abuse, such as liver damage and the crippling the problems of addiction.
Alcohol addiction is a serious problem. According to some figures, 10% of the people who drink will become alcoholics. Of over a million deaths from alcohol each year, nearly all are addicts.
The substitute drug directly acts on the neurotransmitters which send messages, including pleasure and pain, around the brain. By doing this it tricks you into feeling the same things you would while drunk, including the enjoyment and the loss of inhibitions. The results can be indistinguishable from the real thing.
This comes with an extra benefit, quite aside from the health issues. Because the drug is directly interacting with the brain, an antidote can be taken that will block its effect straight away. You might be able to go out for a few drinks, take the antidote at the end of the evening, and be safe to drive home or go back to work. Suddenly office Christmas parties take on a whole new tone.
The man behind the science
This work is being led by Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London, one of the leading neuropsychopharmacologists in Britain. A specialist in the effect of drugs on the human brain, Professor Nutt was chairman of the government Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs until 2009, when his scientific opinions clashed with government policy. Speaking in favour of classifying drugs according to objective scientific criteria, Professor Nutt pointed out that alcohol and cigarettes were more harmful than many illegal drugs, the implication being that they should be re-classified. He also spoke out on the issue of cannabis use, down playing its risks and suggesting that its re-classification as a more dangerous drug had been driven by politics, not science.
Professor Nutt has since sought to battle problem drugs through research rather than policy, and he believes that his new breakthrough could bring about a “serious revolution in health”. He is so serious about his drug that he has tested it on himself, getting ‘drunk’ on the substitute and then sobering up with the antidote.
The problem with money
But Professor Nutt has hit a snag, and that snag is money. The drinks companies obviously have no interest in funding work that could undermine their whole business. So other sources of funding, not normally interested in this area, have to be found. Professor Nutt has appeared on TV to talk about his work, calling to investors to fund his research.
He has suggested that the drug could be incorporated into a range of cocktails, giving it the social potential that alcoholic drinks have. This also creates a business opportunity – e-cigarettes have shown that there is a market for drug substitutes, and if pleasant drinks can be made that give the alcohol buzz without the hangover then there’s no doubting people will buy them.
It seems likely that someone will step in to fund Professor Nutt’s research. And in the meantime, he has the chance to keep trying it himself. Lucky him!