'Safer alcohol': No hangovers, plus an antidote to sober you up

British neuroscientist David Nutt says his substitute booze would still be relaxing, but without the negative side effects.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
3 min read
Soon, shots might not leave you feeling like you've just been shot the next day. Video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

Imagine having a few drinks to ease your nerves before a key meeting or a big date. Maybe you even get a little tipsy, but right before show time you take a special antidote, and within minutes all traces of impairment are gone and you're fully sober and good to go.

That's similar to the experience that leading British neuro-psychopharmacologist David Nutt claims to have had after sampling from an "alcohol surrogate" compound -- one of five Nutt has identified as a possible "safer version of alcohol."

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Nutt explains:

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.

Nutt says the new as-of-yet-undetailed booze compounds work by more specifically targeting subsystems of the neurotransmitter system that produces the familiar relaxing feeling in response to taking in a few cocktails: "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."

Also, no hangovers, and less quality time spent with your face in a toilet, though Nutt's extensive past work with the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines (found in prescription doses in drugs like Valium and Xanax) makes us worry that no hangovers could also mean no ability to stand up after drinking.

"I have carried out research on replacing ethanol in 'alcoholic' drinks with a safer alternative, such as a benzodiazepine; ideally these drinks would be impossible to get drunk on, producing a moderate buzz with no increase in effects at higher doses, and could be switched off at the end of the night with a 'sober pill,'" Nutt has said.

I'm having a hard time deciding if this is the most notable scientific breakthrough since this micro-drunkenness-inducing spray, or the beginning of an apocalyptic new society.

Imagine a world in which everyone is secretly buzzed all the time, or at least up until two minutes before getting behind the wheel of a bus or starting some sort of important meeting. There's so much potential for both hilarity and tragedy in that vision that I almost want to move to Paris and become an existentialist -- but I'd want to be able to bring some traditional booze along for that journey, too, so now I'm really confused.

Regardless, it's going to be a while before this new magical hooch is available in a psuedo-liquor store near you. Nutt's experimental stash seems to be all that's available right now. Nutt is a bit of a controversial figure who was fired from an influential government position as chair of Britain's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, in part for his outspoken views that legal drugs including alcohol are more dangerous than many illegal ones like cannabis.

With funding for his safer alcohol project not immediately forthcoming from government or alcohol-industry sources, Nutt has taken his pitch for investors to the public.

So now, in my mind, the race is on. Which will become reality first: a supersonic hyperloop or super-awesome hangover-free margaritas?

I, for one, raise a glass of traditional poison distilled from the finest Russian wheat in the hope that it's a tie. I'm going to need a little something to ease my nerves before my first hyperloop ride.