Synthetic Alcohol?

I’m not quite sure what to think about this development, but I can’t imagine how it could be a good thing. On Friday, the New York Times had an interesting list of 32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow. There are some truly amazing items on the list, which if they come to fruition, would indeed change our everyday lives. But one seems just odd, at least to me. Number 20 envisions “A World Without Hangovers,” with the development of “synthetic alcohol,” by none other than British neo-prohibitionist windbag, professor doctor David Nutt. Here’s how the Times describes it:

Researchers at Imperial College London are closing in on a formula for a new kind of booze — synthetic alcohol, it’s called — that would forever eliminate the next morning’s headache (not to mention other problems associated with drinking). The team, led by David Nutt, a psychiatrist and former British drug czar, has identified six compounds similar to benzodiazepines — a broad class of psychoactive drugs — that won’t get you rip-roaring drunk but will definitely provide a buzz. According to Nutt, the alcohol substitute would be a flavorless additive that you could put in a nonalcoholic drink. And when you want to sober up, all you’d have to do is pop a pill.

Now doesn’t that sound appetizing? An N/A beer with a “flavorless additive” made from “psychoactive drugs.” How on Earth did the Times decide that this one even deserved to be on such a list of innovations. Who would want this? Why would you take a natural product and turn it into a chemical substitute for it. Essentially, this is like taking something natural, like coffee, stripping the caffeine out of it and then adding a chemical compound back into it that simulates the original caffeine, but at lower levels. Wouldn’t it be easier to just advocate drinking less or choosing lower alcohol, session beers? Yes, yes it would, but then people would have to be responsible for their own actions. Nutt and the rest of his neo-prohibitionist crew would much prefer controlling peoples’ behavior. They seem to honestly believe that since some people can’t drink responsibly, then no one can. That’s always their rationalization for the outlandish propaganda they’ve spouted over the last few years, things like “beer is more dangerous than heroin” and “no level of alcohol is safe.”


According to the graphic accompanying this item, synthetic alcohol is at least two to four years away, but I’m hoping enough people will recognize this for the abomination that it would be, and no one beyond the lunatic anti-alcohol fringe would be in favor of turning such natural drinks like beer, wine and whisky into chemical-laden soda pop for adults.


    • darren mirfin says

      They developed methadone and bupe for heroin addicts, so why not make this available to recovering alcoholics?

  1. Graham Brown says

    Well, if you think about the benefits of such a system for a moment. How about one night you get yourself drunk on synthetic alcohol right? Instead of leaving your car parked and having to retreive it later, when you take the “Antidote pill”, you will be sobre enough to drive home afterwards. You completely remove the possibility of driving under the influence. No more hangovers? I think that prospect will appeal to a greater number of people than you openly laugh at. Regardless of people’s initial thoughts on this, it will revolutionise the industry and provide a safe alternative to alcoholic beverages. I think the benefits outweigh people’s initial rejection of such a thing. Reduce the number of people with liver failure, heart desease and accidents / crimes caused through alcohol altogether. I don’t see a single reason why an alternative with all these benefits is so openly laughed at.

    • says

      You “don’t see a single reason why an alternative with all these benefits is so openly laughed at?” I guess you don’t enjoy the taste of beer or having a drink with your mates, because I can think of many reasons why laughing at this proposal is not only warranted but the only rational response. The only people who could think this is a viable alternative are people who don’t drink, who don’t understand why people drink and who think the main or only reason people drink it to get drunk. While I’m sure there are such misguided, immature people out there, the vast majority of people drink for reasons other then simply to get drunk. Believe it or not, many of us actually like the taste of beer. Synthetic alcohol that tastes of nothing will hardly be a replacement for the hours of enjoyment that sipping beer affords us. The flavors of beer and wine pair with whatever foods we eat to create an experience that’s more than the sum of its parts. Substitute synthetic alcohol, that’s flavor neutral, and it would ruin those combinations of flavors that such pairings bring to enhance a meal. And it will remove all of the social conventions of sharing a pint with friends, ritual drinking that’s been with civilization since its very beginning and the shared bonds that such social interaction creates. Imagine, if you can, how hollow a wedding toast would be without the champagne.

      And frankly, your assertion that no more hangovers would be a good thing strikes me as completely wrong and counter-productive, even from your point of view. No one enjoys a hangover, but they do act as a potent reminder of what over-indulging can bring, and as such help to moderate people’s behavior over time. People learn their own limits and will moderate their alcohol intake to avoid a hangover the next morning. Remove that as a consequence, and synthetic alcohol could actually increase drunkenness, albeit unnatural drunkenness, because there’s no more risk of a hangover. And speaking of unnatural, given that beer, wine and most spirits are made from entirely natural, mostly agricultural, ingredients, how could a chemical cocktail that synthesizes alcohol be honestly considered an improvement? Or safer? Or having no side-effects of their own? It’s highly unlikely. Sure margarine seemed like a good idea, but real butter is so much better on so many levels that it’s hard to imagine any chemical substitute ever being better than the original.

      There are obviously a minority of people who cannot handle alcohol responsibly, but the alcohol itself is not to blame. Removing it from society with a chemical substitute punishes the majority of people who enjoy alcohol in moderation and who drink it responsibly. It would be like killing every cow and giving people veggie burgers to stop them eating too much red meat. So yeah, I’m still laughing and will continue to “openly” do so because I can think of more than just a single reason why this is a very bad idea.

      • Graham Brown says

        Now now, people acted strongly against “Alco pops” when they first hit the scene, people were getting out of the heads on alcoholic sodas and stuff. I never meant to say that this would replace alcohol altogether. I think that would be a little counter productive as we all know what happened when prohibition came in the last time. All I’m saying is that people will have an alternative. It’s like full calorie soft drinks or diet soft drinks. People can choose the level at which they enjoy their evening. For example, it’s sunday night and I go out, I know I’m working in the morning and if I drink regular alcohol, I know that the next day isn’t going to be pleasant at all. But if I drank the synthetic version, I could spare myself a counter productive day and actually not worry about cutting a night short because of commitments in the morning. And I don’t think this stuff could ever really replace the taste and flavour of actual alcohol. I enjoy drinking alcohol for the taste as well. But overall it’s very similar to like E-Cigarettes, you have normal ones that have all these chemicals in them that do you harm, but the electronic version has a lot less and does a lot less of the harm that the regular ones do. A lot of people may be out with their pitchforks and torches in outrage at such ideas in support of a ban before they even get off the ground. But others actually wait, and see what happens before they make up their minds. I’m sat on the fence, I will wait and try something before I make up my mind on whether it’s worth keeping around. But I wouldn’t want to deny myself an experience.

      • James Bell says

        There are a few things I feel must be pointed out here.

        First, I see a lot of rage about “Chemical Cocktails” and how they are replacing a natural substance with a chemical one. Let me point out that dihydrogen monoxide is a chemical used everyday by people all over the world. Unfamiliar with dihydrogen monoxide? It’s more commonly known as water.

        Just using the chemical designation for something doesn’t mean it isn’t naturally derived. Granted, they are “Synthesizing” a new form of “Alcohol”, which does imply the content is not of natural origin.

        Which brings me to my second point. Why are people so concerned about a “Synthesized” substance. Do you like 5 hour energy shots? Guess what. Multiple synthesized compounds.

        Drink and form of store bought soda? Well congrats. You are drinking one of the most heavily synthesized concoctions on the planet.

        My point is that “Synthetic” doesn’t automatically make it dangerous, especially in moderation.

        My third point is that you have to weigh the benefits compared to the risk of drinking too much alcohol today. With this “Synthehol” (hehe Trekkie reference) you can drink with your friends, and at the drop of a hat, sober up to leave. No cab rides, no DWI, no risk of endangering innocent bi standards.

        There is also no way to get yourself completely out of control drunk. You would get to the happy buzz mildly inebriated state, and maintain that feeling until you pop the sober pill/strip.

        I’m done ranting, but seriously people, don’t go tearing down achievements in science just because you don’t fully understand it.

      • Don Jake says

        (I know this reply is a few years late, but I had to say something)
        The facts are:
        While ethanol (drinking alcohol) dehydrates you and can cause you to wake up rather uncomfortable, it is the methanol, acetone and other higher or lower BP alcohols that cause the gnarly hangovers everyone is afraid of.

        Actual “synthetic alcohol” (ethanol) is identical in every way to distilled alcohol, if both are purified correctly. Industrially it is produced by acid-catalyzed hydration of ethene. It itself, when pure, while affect your body in exactly the same way as distilled ethanol itself would.

        In addition to ethanol, other drugs can affect you in a physiologically similar manner. Ethanol interferes strongly with receptors in the brain that are activated by GABA, and also with receptors that are activated by glutamate. In addition to the aforementioned benodiazapines, clomethiazole, GHB, gabapentin, phenibut and numerous other drugs are implicated in their interaction with the GABA system.

        As both a chemist and naturalist, I grow increasingly frustrated with the pervasive misconception that “if it comes from nature, it’s safer than from a lab or factory.” If two substances share the exact same chemical formula AND molecular geometry, they are not different in any way whatsoever no matter where they are synthesized or obtained from. HOWEVER, natural sources often contain thousands of compounds. Non-distilled beverages may serve as an example here. The practice of modern medicine and chemistry seek to refine these components so that we can induce predictable effects in our bodies. The effects of chemically pure ethanol, at this point, are highly predictable in humans–though not very palatable. I like beer as much as the next man, but I would appreciate an alternative to methanol and acetone in my glass. I’ll also add: God created natural sources that have proven entirely beneficial to humans–seemingly everything they contain is healthy, but in subduing the earth it is our responsibility to ascertain which plants/animals/fungi/protists (yes, also archaea and bacteria) are beneficial and/or what parts of them are. It is difficult to mimick the antioxidant/phenolic/flavanol cocktail of red wine in a lab. There is something to be said for both natural products and synthetic ones.

        And on the topic of hangovers being an important inhibitory factor for irresponsible drinkers, do you really think they stop imprudent people? If they do, won’t the consequences of their drunken actions serve the same purpose? I welcome innovations that reduce negative side effects for responsible people, negative effects like cancer, liver cirrhosis, and of course hangovers.

  2. David Styverson says

    The only intelligent comments here are by Graham Brown. Meanwhile, the author of the article (Jay Brooks) is a mindless frat-boy who needs to resign from journalism.

  3. Joe Sko says

    I don’t understand why the author of this article doesn’t seem to understand how awesome this product is. It’s essentially taking all the bad out of alcohol while leaving in all the good. The bad, hangovers and poisons your body. The good, it allows you to be carefree and social. I love the feeling of being buzzed, but I hate that I have to poison my body with alcohol to do it. If what I understand from this article is true, this synthetic does nothing more but target specific parts of the brain to give you that social happy go lucky feeling any time you want it without jeopardizing your health.. in my case.. being a guy who loves the gym and lifting weights.. jeopardizing my muscle gains. For me, this is HUGE and I hope to see it come to fruition sooner rather then later.

  4. Erik says

    But it´s a good thing for us who don´t tolerate alcohol due to medical reasons and miss being able to get a buzz from drinking. I still would grant drinkers their right to a proper bourbon, so why can´t there be both?


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