A New Alcohol Without Hangover?
August 25th, 2014
Categories : Blog
Imagine being able to enjoy a merry tipple (and all it's usual trappings) without the risk of a hangover the next day, or being able then to take an antidote that would allow you to drive safely home. Sound too good to be true? Well, if this were the 80's i'd agree with you, but thanks to the wonders of modern neuroscience these ambitions are well within grasp.
According to statistic published by the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol has been accountable for around 2.5 million deaths worldwide, making it both the oldest and most dangerous drug of its kind. It is no secret that alcohol is toxic to all bodily systems, particularly to the liver, heart and brain. As it reduces inhibition, alcohol is a very common factor behind violence and addiction. It is highly probable that if alcohol were only discovered today, that it would never see the light of day; mainly due it being far too toxic. The discovery of the alcohol might be reported on the evening news along with those noxious bath salts.
The former drug adviser to the British government, psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist professor David Nutt, is now designing a revolutionary drug which offers the positive effects of being drunk, but without the health risks, or the dreaded hangover. Professor Nutt is a well known figure not only within the scientific community but the general public too. His views on drugs, drug policies and police enforcement regularly come under scrutiny and are embroiled in controversy. Tabloid tales aside, professor Nutt and his team at Imperial College London are said to be pioneering the research to this new alcoholic wonder drug. In an article he wrote (posted by The Guardian) "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."
"I have identified five such compounds and now need to test them to see if people find the effects as pleasurable as alcohol. The challenge is to prepare the new drink in a fashion that makes it as tasty and appealing. This is likely to be in the form of a cocktail, so I foresee plenty of different flavours. 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."
"I have sampled both new forms. 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."
The only hurdle standing in front of professor Nutt and his team is "funding to test and put them on the market.“ Maybe someone would like to volunteer?
Marijuana to the help?
With a long-awaited hangover cure on the horizon (that doesn't consist of bacon and eggs) could we soon bear witness to a new healthier form of alcoholic indulgence? Maybe so. But what about the here and now - or rather our brains and livers? Well, marijuana could prove to be significant in the fight against brain cell damage at the hand of alcohol abuse.
A study that took place in 2009 (and published in the journal of Neurotoxicology and Teratology) saw 42 teenager participants undergo a diffusion tensor imaging test (DTI). The teens aged between 16 - 19 years of age were divided into three groups; the control (who neither binge drank nor smoked marijuana), binge drinkers (who didn't smoke marijuana), and binge drinkers who were also heavy marijuana users (or seemingly invincible).
Following the test, researchers uncovered some remarkable differences in the brain structure between the binge drinker group and the binge drinker/heavy marijuana users group. Results found that the teens who were binge drinkers and heavy marijuana smokers, had less brain damage in separate regions of the brain compared to that of the group who simply binge drank. These finding therefore suggest that marijuana may in fact protect the brain against certain types of brain damage caused by alcohol.
To prove conclusively that this is indeed the case, more research needs to be conducted on the neuroprotective qualities of marijuana. Putting things squarely in perspective, it is clear that binge drinking has a profoundly negative effect upon the brain regardless of the age. That being said, it is in our teenage years where we are most at risk of serious or even fatal damage - as the brain is still in its developmental stages. It is also important to mention that the study isn't suggesting marijuana is good for the teenage brain, only that it may lessen some of the damage caused by alcohol.
As aforementioned, more research is needed to build a much more sobering picture, but the early indications are looking very promising indeed.
The World Health Organizsation’s Global status report on alcohol and health: