One of the U.K.'s leading neuropsychopharmacologists has published an op-ed in The Guardian detailing his research efforts to come up with a synthetic, non-addictive substitute for alcohol. David Nutt's hope is to do for alcohol what e-cigarettes have done for smoking. Nutt has identified five chemical compounds that target the same neurotransmitter system in the brain as alcohol, leaving people feeling relaxed and friendly. These compounds also present the possibility for concocting an antidote that would instantly sober you up.
So how realistic is an alcohol substitute? What stands in its way are obvious funding, marketing, and regulatory issues. Nutt went on BBC television to make an appeal for investors, saying that the alcohol industry, not surprisingly, has turned him down.
But the doctor has been experimenting on himself, apparently. "After exploring one possible compound I was quite relaxed and sleepily inebriated for an hour or so, then within minutes of taking the antidote I was up giving a lecture with no impairment whatsoever."
It remains to be seen whether a synthetic alternative to alcohol would really cut down on millions of deaths, traffic accidents, hospitalizations, addiction, and the other social tolls from the Western world's favorite drug. In the meantime, an increasing number of U.S. residents, at least, have legal recourse to another recreational substance: marijuana.