Jason Burke, MD
If you’re a Star Trek fan, you may have heard “Synthehol” mentioned. In the TV show, this fictional alcohol analog has largely replaced real alcohol, or more specifically ethanol, as the drink of choice. It promises the smell and taste of real alcohol without any of the other effects, like hangovers, addiction – and drunkenness. Overall, it doesn’t sound much fun.
Not too far from reality, British professor David Nutt claims to have come up with a real-life alcohol substitute he calls “Alcosynth.” Professor Nutt promises his invention will revolutionize drinking and completely replace traditional alcohol by 2050. He claims Alcosynth will “reign supreme” because it won’t cause hangovers or even extreme intoxication.
No headache, nausea or dry mouth the morning after a huge bash? Even more interesting, drinkers will “max out” the effects of Alcosynth after about 5 drinks, but you’ll still get “tipsy” and enjoy an authentic taste. If these claims prove to be true, drinkers may no longer need IV hydration to feel better the morning after.
Professor Nutt asserts that long term use of Alcosynth will not result in liver or cardiovascular damage, which can happen with traditional alcohol consumption. This is major news in the UK, where overconsumption of alcohol is a huge public health issue. The British are big drinkers and alcohol use is the third highest contributor to deaths in the UK. However, there is still no evidence from Professor Nutt on whether users of Alcosynth will be prone to addiction to the new substance.
So far, everything about Alcosynth sounds great. But don’t throw away your liquor cabinet just yet. There are several unresolved issues regarding the Alcosynth revolution.
First off, we don’t know any of the ingredients, and Professor Nutt has so refused to disclose them, citing trade secrets. However, we do know that his early experiments into synthetic alcohol used benzodiazepine-derived compounds.
Benzodiazepines are a class of anti-anxiety medications, including drugs like Valium. While they have legitimate uses in medicine, benzodiazepines are considered addictive and are controlled substances. Although Nutt maintains that the current incarnation of Alcosynth is benzo-free, it is unknown how the new invention generates its intoxicating effects.
Professor Nutt has come under scrutiny in his past role as a government drug advisor. More specifically, he once claimed that ecstasy use was not dangerous. He was subsequently removed from that job in 2009.
Assuming everything about Alcosynth is true, could it completely replace traditional alcohol? Doubtful. After all, drinking is a social experience. While you can just as easily share an Alcosynth brew with a buddy as you could a real beer, what about connoisseurs and enthusiasts? Substituting Alcosynth for naturally-produced ethanol in mass-produced beer is all well and good, but could it really be used in craft beers that are brewed in small batches? That’s to be determined.
At our Las Vegas IV clinic, we see patients who have been slipped various sedative drugs while at a Vegas club the night before. These were likely “Rufis,” which are in the benzodiazepine class and some of the patients had horrible hangovers requiring IV therapy. If Alcosynth is intoxicating to any degree, it likely contains a benzo in some form or another.
Furthermore, if all alcoholic beverages are replaced by synthetic ethanol analogs, the pleasure of enjoying a 40-year-old scotch or a century old wine will be lost. Collectors will drink through their treasures and find themselves unable to replace their bottles with new vintages that age as well. A generation of brew masters, distillers, and vintners will be the last of their trade. Family owned vineyards and breweries will fall by the wayside.
Such a tragedy is unlikely to happen. For every new technology invented, there will always be those who insist on doing things the old way, the hard way, and – perhaps – the better way. One thing that’s for sure, you can always count on Hangover Heaven for your hangover cure.