Imagine a substance that could mimic the pleasant effects of drinking without the downside. You could drink yourself silly on the stuff, and then reverse the inebriation with a "sober pill" and drive home safely. Hangover? What hangover?
If that sounds like fantasy, get this: Dr. David Nutt a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at the Imperial College of London, says an alcohol substitute may soon be a reality.
The substance would let you get drunk without alcohol by targeting specific neurotransmitter systems in the brain.
"We know that the main target for alcohol in the brain is the neurotransmitter system gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which keeps the brain calm," Nutt wrote in a post in The Guardian's comment and opinion section. "Alcohol therefore relaxes users through mimicking and increasing the GABA function."
Nutt told BBC Radio 4, "We can mimic the effects of GABA using drugs that are more selective and much less toxic than alcohol. And also, because they're drugs and work on a receptor directly, we can have an antidote."
Nutt's plan to develop a "drunk without alcohol" drug dates back to 2009. But only recently has the neuropsychopharmacologist identified five Valium-like compounds that he believes would produce the feeling of relaxation commonly associated with alcohol. As Nutt sees it, the substance could be ingested even more effortlessly by placing it in a drink. That way, drinkers could still sip their favorite beverages, but, instead of ethanol, the drinks would contain the alcohol substitute.
Now, Nutt says, all he needs is to secure funding and test how subjects react to each compound.
Just how realistic is Nutt's proposal? Some experts have their doubts.
“We would urge caution on this,” Emily Robinson, deputy chief executive of the U.K.-based charity Alcohol Concern, told the Telegraph. "We should focus on what is going wrong in our drinking culture rather than swapping potentially one addictive substance for another.”