Scientist David Nutt said the product he is developing, called Alcarelle, would be able to stimulate the Gaba receptors in the brain to produce the same 'tipsy' effects as alcohol but without all the adverse health impacts.
Nutt says that synthetic alcohol may only be a few years from passing all relevant safety standards and appearing on liquor store shelves.
“We know where in the brain alcohol has its ‘good’ effects and ‘bad’ effects,” he told The Guardian. “(Also) what particular receptors mediate that – Gaba, glutamate and other ones, such as serotonin and dopamine. The effects of alcohol are complicated but…you can target the parts of the brain you want to target.”
The negative long-term health effects of alcohol are myriad and include brain and nervous system damage, increased blood pressure, increased risk of having a stroke or developing cirrhosis of the liver, dementia and stomach and bowel cancer.
Alcarelle, which Nutt says would not produce toxicity like alcohol does, would allow drinkers to bypass all these problems. In the short term, it would also cut out the hangovers, headaches and irritability that plague many after drinking.
— Complex (@Complex) March 26, 2019
Synthetic alcohol could revolutionise drinking
The synthetic alcohol, or synthalcohol, is a derivative of benzodiazepine, a class of medication often used to treat anxiety disorders. It would not have the withdrawal symptoms often associated with those drugs.
Nutt acknowledged that identifying the relevant molecule was hard, but progressing his product through the regulatory hoops before it can be offered commercially will likely be even more challenging. His plan is to manufacture Alcarelle not to produce his own hangover-free drinks, but to sell it to beverage companies who would then work it into their products.
Drinks industry analyst Johnny Forsyth said many within the world of booze were interested in the possibilities Nutt’s work offers.
“The industry is increasingly investing in alcohol alternatives,” he said. “If the science is right, and if it’s easy to mask the taste, I think it’s got a great chance.”
Given the alcohol’s industry enthusiastic embrace of CBD-infused drinks, Forsyth may be right to suggest it is open to new variants on relaxing drinks.
Nutt first hit upon the idea back in 1983 when he discovered an antidote to alcohol while a PhD student. While his discovery had the potential to cause seizures and was thus not a feasible product, it did get him thinking about the possibility of one day developing a safe and commercially feasible alternative to intoxicating drinks.
Along with his business partner David Orren, Nutt secured seed funding late last year to move towards raising the £20 million (about $26,500 million) needed to commercialise the product.