Scientists working to develop 'safe' alcohol

Dec 20 2017

Scientists working to develop ‘safe’ alcohol

A British psychiatrist and addiction specialist has developed a new synthetic alcohol (alcosynth) he says can deliver most of the enjoyable effects of alcohol, without hangovers or any of the other, negative consequences of over-use. David Nutt, who teaches at Imperial College London in the UK, hopes to market a drink called Alcarelle.

“Alcohol kills more than malaria, meningitis, tuberculosis and dengue fever put together,” Nutt told The International Business Times UK. “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could replace alcohol with something that led to almost no deaths? That would be one of the greatest public health developments in the history of the world.”

Alcarelle’s chemical composition is different from alcohol. Unlike alcohol, when it is digested by the body, it does not produce acetaldehyde, a toxic substance that can build up in the body if the liver cannot process it fast enough. The result is the unpleasant effects we associate with drinking too much, such as vomiting and hangovers.

Nutt says the absence of acetaldehyde also means there is much less risk of addiction, and death from alcohol poisoning would be “virtually impossible.”

The Alcarelle team includes researchers in psychopharmacology, psychiatry and addiction biology, a pharmaceutical physician and pharmacologists. The company says it plans to target young drinkers in the 18 to 25 age group, most of whom haven’t been drinking long enough to develop problems, and tend to be more conscious of health effects than older adults.

On his blog, Nutt outlined some of the scientific findings about the many health risks of consuming alcohol. The International Agency for Research into Cancer has shown that drinking increases the risk of seven types of cancer, including: mouth, throat, esophageal, larynx, breast, liver and bowel.

And, recent new research published in the British Medical Journal has indicated a potential link between moderate drinking and shrinkage of the hippocampus, a brain region associated with memory. Even moderate alcohol consumption may result in permanent alteration of the brain structure, researchers say.

Nutt notes that the latest guidelines published by the UK Chief Medical Officer suggest that detrimental health effects can be result from even small amounts of alcohol. “In spite of this, an extensive recent University of Sheffield study revealed a shocking general lack of health awareness in the general population, including that nine out of ten people were unaware of alcohol’s link to cancer.” 

Being able to enjoy the pleasurable effects of alcohol without the painful side effects may sound enticing, but at least one scientist has sounded a cautionary note.

Scott Edwards, an assistant professor of physiology at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center of Excellence told Live Science that alcosynth is similar in molecular structure to the GABA neurotransmitter, which controls a number of brain functions, including motor functions and vision.

“GABA is one of the most abundant neurotransmitters in your brain, so we have to be extra careful about messing with this system,” Edwards told Live Science. Altering GABA activity can cause “significant impairment of judgment and motor function, with all the associated sociological and legal consequences.”

Meanwhile, Nutt still has plenty of testing to complete before making Alcarelle available to consumers. He’s planning on another three years of testing to verify its safety. Nutt and Managing Director David Orren are working to raise seven million pounds to bring one of the compounds they’ve developed to market, either in the United Kingdom, European Union, U.S., or Canada.