In the not too distant future if you’ve had one too many and are too drunk to drive home you won’t have to call a cab. After you’ve taken the antidote pill the bartender has stocked behind the bar, you’ll be driving home sober as a judge.
And according to Professor David Nutt, the best part is you won’t even get a hangover. It sounds like science fiction, but Nutt says these ambitions are well within the grasp of modern neuroscience.
Professor Nutt is currently the Edmond J. Safra professor of neuropsychopharmacology and director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Centre for Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Imperial College London.
Instead of limiting consumption of alcohol, Professor Nutt claims his alternative strategy of making a safer version of alcohol offers greater health benefits.
Professor Nutt explains that the main target for alcohol in the brain is the neurotransmitter system gamma aminobutyric acid (Gaba), which keeps the brain calm. Alcohol relaxes users through mimicking and increasing the Gaba function.
“But we also know that there are a range of Gaba subsystems that can be targeted by selective drugs. So in theory we can make an alcohol surrogate that makes people feel relaxed and sociable and remove the unwanted effects, such as aggression and addictiveness.”
The Professor has identified five such compounds and needs to test them to see if people find the effects as pleasurable as alcohol. Nutt plans to prepare the new drink in the form of an appealing cocktail.
“The other great advantage of this scientific approach to intoxication is that if we target compounds that affect the Gaba system, then it is possible to produce other drugs that could be sold alongside the alcohol substitute as an antidote,” he says.
Professor Nutt has actually sampled two new compounds and said, “After exploring one possible compound I was quite relaxed and sleepily inebriated for an hour or so, then within minutes of taking the antidote I was up giving a lecture with no impairment whatsoever.”
All Professor Nutt needs now is funding to test and put them on the market. A few contacts within the alcohol industry suggest they are interested but have understandably hesitated because they see this new invention as a threat to their sales.
But the Professor points out this is a similar situation to that of the tobacco companies when e-cigarettes were being developed.
“They stood back at first but now own many of the companies making the safer alternatives to cigarettes. Likewise, without investing in a new approach to alcohol, we shall not realize the enormous health potential of a safer alternative.”
Alcohol is both one of the oldest and most dangerous drugs, responsible for about 2.5 million deaths worldwide, which is more than malaria or Aids.