Oh, and it doesn’t have calories.
Alcarelle is the brainchild of David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacology professor at Imperial College London and former adviser on substance abuse to the British government. It’s the brand name for a pair of alcohol substitutes that contain chemical compounds, which Nutt calls “alcosynths,” that mimic the fun of alcohol without the consequences.
Alcarelle has not undergone a regulatory or scientific peer review, Nutt said.
Nutt has pursued patents for roughly 90 chemical compounds that have the effect of knocking a couple back, and two of those lab creations have already been tested in humans. They could come to a bar near you if his newly formed company, also called Alcarelle, can raise the money needed to bring it to market, he said. The substitute would be sold as a liquid and added to your favorite cocktail or nonalcoholic beverage in lieu of vodka, rum, gin or other libations.
“I’ve gone from this stage of being just me, the mad scientist, to having business partners,” Nutt said in a phone interview. “They’re the people who are hopefully going to get me the investors.”
The various compounds that Nutt has developed work in one of two ways. Some replicate the direct effects of alcohol, specifically affecting the area of the brain that makes you feel loose but not the area that makes you fall-down drunk. Others mimic the indirect effects of alcohol, altering your serotonin or dopamine levels so that you might feel happier or more energetic.
Researchers can also engineer the chemical compounds so that their effect on the brain maxes out after so many drinks, reducing the desire to drink excessively and the risk of alcohol poisoning or blacking out, he said.
“My ambition would be for my grandchildren to never be exposed to alcohol,” Nutt said.
Tackling the harmful effects of alcohol has been Nutt’s focus since his days as a doctoral student in the 1970s. It was also part of his work during a stint in the 1980s as clinical science chief in the National Institutes of Health’s alcohol abuse and alcoholism division. The challenge, he said, is that alcohol is fundamentally toxic to the human body. Indeed, health professionals have long warned that excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption can be detrimental to the brain, heart and liver, among other organs.
So 10 years ago, Nutt authored a paper for the British government calling for greater research into alcohol alternatives.
“Over the last couple of years, this research has come to some fruition. We now have found substances that can do what alcohol does in terms of giving people a relaxing experience and social experience, but without having the downsides of anger and aggression and addiction,” Nutt said.
Read more from The Washington Post’s Innovations section.