Humans have always had a thing for drugs. Whether it’s to enhance performance or open a portal to the cosmos, humans have experimented with mind and body-altering substances since our appearance on the planet.
Such experimentation has always come with consequences, whether it’s a long strange trip or prayer to the porcelain gods. This is the body’s way of saying, “I’m glad you had fun, but let’s not do that again too soon, OK?”
Now, David Nutt, the former drug adviser to the British government is designing a revolutionary substance that affects us like alcohol without the risk of hangover — a proposition that sounds awesome, but might have some not so awesome results.
Healthier: Alcohol consumption is the third-largest risk factor for disease and disability in the world. In middle-income countries like America (you heard me) it’s THE LEADING risk factor. However, Nutt’s new alcohol-mimicking drug frees us from much of this risk, since it targets neurotransmitters in the brain directly, delivering all the pleasures of drinking without the toxins.
No Addiction or Abuse: In addition to taking it easy on our liver, Nutt claims his drug will also reduce poor behavior associated with alcohol use and addiction. “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 writes in the Guardian. “Alcohol therefore relaxes users through mimicking and increasing the Gaba function. But we also know that there are a range of Gaba subsystems that can be targeted by selective drugs. So in theory we can make an alcohol surrogate that makes people feel relaxed and sociable and remove the unwanted effects, such as aggression and addictiveness.”
Instant Sobriety: Like most drugs, Nutt’s mock-alcohol has an antidote. Unlike most antidotes, however, this one takes effect almost immediately. This could allow you to partake as much as you want at the office holiday party, then immediately sober up so that you can drive yourself home.
It’s hard to argue with the advantages of a non-alcohol “alcohol” as outlined above. But we have to remember this is humanity we’re talking about. We’re masters at finding a way to misuse and exploit just about anything, and if it makes it to market, I doubt Nutt’s drug will be any different. It’s this doubt, the not knowing, that’s at the root of most of the cons.
Impact of Frequent Use: Without the typical consequences of hangover or disease, there’s very little to encourage people to use this drug in moderation. What will be the impact of stimulating your neurotransmitters in this fashion, day after day? Nutt claims that our brains won’t become addicted, but we’re capable of becoming addicted to some crazy things. Will this drug just swap one addiction for another?
Testing: What happens if you leave the office party without taking your antidote? You might get pulled over for erratic driving, but a breathalyzer will be useless. Just like with legal marijuana, the law enforcement system will be forced to come up with a new system of standards for safe vehicle operation, etc., and affordable ways to field test.
Psychological Implications: Most people use drugs to alter their mood because they want to escape something. Perhaps it’s emotional pain, financial struggles or just crippling shyness. This is an unhealthy tactic, because escape prevents us from acknowledging problems and working toward a real solution. Although it might not give you liver disease or put you at risk for a DUI, this drug is still a drug — and people will still use it to avoid, dull and shirk the sensations of being a human in this crazy world.
What do you think? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Tell us in the comments.
Image via Thinkstock
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