A Pill That Could Get You Drunk

“Drunkenness is the vice of a good constitution or of a bad memory—of a constitution so treacherously good that it never bends till it breaks; or of a memory that recollects the pleasures of getting intoxicated, but forgets the pains of getting sober.” —Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon

In A Nutshell

David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London, has identified molecules that emulate the effects of alcohol consumption. His pill affects GABA, a chemical found in the brain, in a way that produces a feeling of inebriation. Unlike alcohol, however, which affects other areas of the brain negatively, the pill only affects GABA receptors. Additionally, there is an antidote pill that reverses the effects on the brain, sobering the individual immediately. Nutt asserts that the pill could, with the proper funding, revolutionize the health field by reducing alcohol addiction and the high death rates associated with drinking.

The Whole Bushel

David Nutt is a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and founder of DrugScience, an independent scientific committee on drugs. He may also have developed the newest and safest form of recreational intoxication.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory chemical in the brain that reduces excitability of the nervous system. Alcohol affects the body by mimicking GABA and inhibiting neural signaling, which causes the euphoric feeling of being drunk. The toxin affects other areas of the brain as well, along with organs like the heart and liver. The toxic effects of alcohol can cause short- and long-term health problems.

Professor Nutt’s research on the effects of drugs has led to the development of a pill that affects GABA receptors in a similar way to alcohol, without the same negative side effects of drinking. Nutt claims that in experiments of this GABA receptor manipulation, he has been able to produce a feeling that is indistinguishable from alcohol consumption.

Nutt claims that the pill will help reduce cases of alcohol addiction, as well as prevent symptoms such as aggression and memory impairment that come with intoxication. The pill’s selective targeting of GABA would also theoretically remove the ill effects that come the morning after a night of recreational drinking, effectively eliminating the hangover from the equation altogether.

In addition to the pill that emulates the effects of alcohol, Nutt has developed an antidote pill. The antidote would block the effects of the alcohol pill, allowing the user to return to a complete state of sobriety. If the antidote works as intended, the user could operate a vehicle and go to work almost immediately with no danger of lingering impairment. Nutt claims to have tested both pills personally, stating that both products serve their intended purposes.

Nutt has called upon the UK government to help fund his venture, stating that allowing substances such as his to be legal would “improve on the health of our people” and that the government should make a recommendation encouraging the drug’s development in order to attract investors.

This isn’t the first time that Nutt has been at odds with the government. He was removed from his position on the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs after speaking out about his concern over the government’s drug policies and their lack of consideration for scientific evidence of the effect of drugs. Due to this outspokenness, Nutt won the 2013 John Maddox Prize, an award given to those who advocate science despite facing adversity in doing so.

Nutt would like to take his new drug to market, but he has found that investors are hesitant due to the possibility of government regulation. He is not surprised by this reaction, but continues to urge people that mimicking drugs in this way is a benefit to the medical field, as it helps in the fight against addiction and drug-related deaths.

Show Me The Proof

Imperial College London: Synthetic alcohol substitute could eliminate health risks and hangovers
Telegraph: Get drunk without the hangover on Professor Nutt’s pill
DrugScience: Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs
Imperial College London: David Nutt wins the 2013 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science