Ah, Science. From the discipline that brought us classics like penicillin, light bulbs, and adorable mice with ears implanted into their backs, comes possibly its greatest achievement yet: alcohol without the hangovers. Happy news for our proud nation of p**sheads!
Of course, it isn’t really “alcohol” as such that we’re talking about – rather, it’s a compound that mimics the positive effects of being drunk (relaxation, increased sociability, lowered inhibitions, dancing terribly in your lounge to Ke$ha at 4am). More importantly for society, it also removes the negative effects of drinking – and I’m not talking about just those mind-curdling hangovers that eat up entire Sundays, but also the health effects that pickle your body from the inside, and the addictive properties that can destroy lives and families. There’s even potential to “switch off” its effects by using an antidote – meaning you can return to your usual sober state in the same amount of time you’d usually have to wait for a painkiller to kick in.
The potential drug is being called a “serious revolution in health”, and is pioneered by former Government drugs advisor Professor David Nutt, who has identified five potential compounds and is now putting them through tests. The compounds work by targeting the neurotransmitter system gamma aminobutryric acid (Gaba), which works to keep the brain calm and has previously been identified as the main target for alcohol. This means that other drugs which increase the Gaba function could work as an alcohol surrogate, providing us with the same pleasurable effects but without the adverse health effects.
Of course, we can expect some moralising and finger-wagging about this from people who will see it as little more than another “legal high” - albeit one that’s been researched, tested and peer-reviewed by the scientific community. But Nutt’s no stranger to controversy; he was famously ejected from his position as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in 2009 after trying to inject dangerous ideas like “science” and “logic” into the political debate surrounding drugs by pointing out that marijuana isn’t actually very dangerous.
For some reason (presumably nostalgic attachment to our history as booze-swilling ale-chasers), using alcohol is deemed an acceptable way of altering our mental states in a way that nothing else is, despite it being enormously dangerous. We now have as many words for being drunk as eskimos purportedly have for snow: tipsy, p**sed, wasted, wrecked, trolleyed, battered, three sheets to the wind (I could go on); despite this, we stubbornly refuse to engage in a proper debate about its health effects.
Alcohol is highly toxic to all bodily systems, locks about 10 per cent of users into addiction and is responsible for more deaths worldwide than either malaria or Aids. Estimates suggest alcohol-related harm in England costs the NHS £3.5bn a year. But when it comes to decreasing the potential for harm, minimum pricing strategies aren’t exactly vote-winners with the public – and we already know that prohibition fails miserably.
The truth is, alcohol or otherwise, we’re never going to be able to stop people from chasing altered states; we’ve been doing it ever since the moment we first crawled out of the swamps and stumbled upon some dodgy looking mushrooms. But in this age of biological enlightenment and advanced neuroscience, there’s really no reason for us to be unnecessarily risking our health just to get a few jollies; which is why Nutt’s idea of an alternative, legal inebriant deserves due and proper consideration, not to mention some capital investment. To do otherwise would be nothing short of irresponsible.
In the interim, Prof, if you’re looking for volunteers for testing then I’ll happily offer up my body and my services. I can promise you over-enthusiastic angry ranting about the current government, ordering of takeaway in the early hours of the morning, and a sterling rendition of Black Velvet by Alannah Myles. It’s all in the name of science, after all.