In 2009, David Nutt was dismissed from his role as England’s chief drug adviser when he claimed LSD and MDMA were less dangerous than alcohol. Though it’s surely a nuanced argument, Nutt was referring to the relative toxicity between the substances – a fact overshadowed by the cultural stigma surrounding them. And now he’s trying to take that conviction to market with an alcohol substitute called Alcarelle, which gives users the buzz without the horribly toxic side effects.
“The industry knows alcohol is a toxic substance,” said Nutt in an interview with the Guardian. “If it were discovered today, it would be illegal as a foodstuff. The safe limit of alcohol, if you apply food standards criteria, would be one glass of wine a year.”
This hasn’t slowed the consumption of alcohol as the trillion-dollar global industry continues to flourish. Meanwhile, alcohol is attributed to nearly 6 percent of all deaths globally every year – that’s about 3.3 million people killed from alcohol-related issues.
While Nutt’s career is marked by his many breakthroughs studying the psychologically therapeutic effects of psychedelics – and earning him the lengthy title of neuropsychopharmacologist – he’s had his idea for an alcohol alternative on the back burner for decades.
Ever since he began studying alcohol antidotes that reversed the drug’s inebriating effects, Nutt realized that GABA receptors in the brain could be targeted to produce intoxication, while avoiding the elements that damage the liver and other vital organs. And now he believes the market is primed for a release of his product as the extent of alcohol’s adverse effects have become more widely understood.
He also believes the Silicon Valley doctrine of creating “disruptive” technologies has set the stage for his product to infiltrate the behemoth that is the alcohol industry.
In fact, he says he believes the industry will be receptive to his product as major liquor, wine, and beer brands are already investing in alternatives such as cannabis, at the behest of their customers; notably the newer generations that have access to more data and are more health conscientious.
But instead of trying to convince alcohol producers to revamp their entire process, Nutt says Alcarelle could simply be added to existing product, while the alcohol content is synthesized out or the product not distilled at all.
Nutt has identified the serotonin, dopamine and GABA receptors in the brain that alcohol works across and says he can individually target disparate receptors to achieve desired effects.
Not only could Alcarelle vary in the level of intoxication it induces, but it can also deliver a “capped” drunkenness where, after a certain point, you won’t get any drunker no matter how much you imbibe.
Nutt is currently working on acquiring $26 million in funding to have it properly tested and approved by the appropriate government regulatory agencies, before taking it to market. He already has one investor who provided the seed funding to get the product off the ground.
For now, only a handful of people, mostly he and his colleagues, have had the pleasure of trying his drug, and all are in concurrence that it’s as effective, if not more pleasant than alcohol. If it truly evades liver damage and a hangover, he may have an incredibly desirable compound on his hands. And coming from a man who owns a bar of his own and intends to one day sell Alcarelle at his establishment, it all sounds pretty promising.