Alcohol abuse remains one of the leading causes of death and disease throughout the world. While the number of people drinking is slowly on the decline, massive amounts are still spent in aiding those who have fallen foul of the drug. So what can be done? The money is clearly better spent elsewhere, but the current social environment we live in, coupled with the thoughts of the majority who drink to moderation, means that alcohol is not going away. Professor David Nutt, a neuroscientist at Imperial College London, has provided a potential solution: Alcosynth.
Alcosynth is a synthesized alternative to alcohol, developed to maintain the feel-good factor while taking away the negative effects. So, if introduced, Alcosynth will mean no more nausea, headache or dry mouth in the morning, as hangovers are confined to history. But the implications could be far more significant than that. Alcoholic dependence is a severe medical issue, so anything that can be used to help those that are addicted deserves close examination.
So what makes the synthesized alcohol so much safer than fermented alcohol? There are many aspects of the mechanism behind it, but one of the most significant properties is that when broken down by the liver the synthetic alcohol does not produce acetaldehyde. It is this compound which is the primary cause of liver cirrhosis and heart damage, and as such, using the synthetic form should result in much lower instances of these alcohol-related diseases.
Furthermore, synthetic alcohol is virtually calorie free. By comparison, a standard alcoholic drink contains more than 1,000 times the calories of an Alcosynth version. Alcohol consumption is a significant cause of obesity so it would be expected that issues arising from this would also begin to see a decline. It is also suggested that, unlike traditionally produced alcohol, Alcosynth is self-regulating. This means that the effects will only ever be able to reach a certain level before leveling out, no matter how much is drunk. This self-regulation could be of huge benefit in the binge drinking culture that many people find themselves in today.
However, the development of synthetic alcohol is not without controversy. It is known that the cognitive impact of alcohol far outlasts the period in which people feel intoxicated. As such, it is argued that without the typical ‘hangover’ effects of alcohol, there is a greater danger of high-risk decision making in the window after the feeling of intoxication has gone, but before the effect of alcohol has passed. It is also true that the interaction with the compounds within Alcosynth and other drugs are currently unknown, and so vital research needs to be undertaken before a product is made available to the public.
The journey has only just begun for Alcosynth. In fact, its composition is still undergoing research. 90 different possibilities have been patented by Professor Nutt, of which two are undergoing more intensive investigation. However, it is expected that before too long there will be a synthetic alcohol alternative in the shops in much the same way as there are e-cigarettes as a replacement for tobacco.
The hope will always be that alcohol can be replaced worldwide by a less damaging substance. But if the research does not come out favorably, it should not be the end for Alcosynth or any of its derivatives. Alcoholic dependence is a crippling illness that can destroy lives, so if Alcosynth can play any part in reducing the number of people that have to suffer it will be a worthwhile venture. And for this reason, it deserves the time and investment to get it right.