Tequila, whiskey, or the green fairy, there’s one thing all alcoholic drinks have in common: They get people drunk. But new research may pave the way for a drug that keeps drinkers sober— no matter how much alcohol they’ve consumed
Researchers at University of California, Los Angeles say dihydromyricetin (a.k.a. DHM) can counteract the intoxicating effects of alcohol. The substance comes from a Chinese raisin tree that’s been used as a hangover cure for centuries. The drug works by interacting with brain receptors for the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), the same receptors alcohol binds to.
So far the scientists have only tested the effects of DHM on rats (drunk ones are very easy to come by in NYC subway stations), but the substance may work the same way in humans. Researchers injected rats with a drunk-inducing solution (which contained the alcoholic equivalent of a human consuming 15 to 20 beers in two hours) before placing the rodents on their backs and observing how long it took them to get up. (Note: This experiment is not for trying on drunk friends this weekend.) Some of the injections also included a dose of DHM (about one milligram per kilogram of the rats’ body weight). After being injected and flipped on their backs, the rats that ingested DHM were upright in just a few minutes, while the drunkards that didn’t get the sobering stuff took more than an hour to stand up. And, in other experiments, post-party injections of DHM seriously reduced the rats’ hangover symptoms.
Researchers are hopeful that DHM could help treat alcoholism by decreasing the desire for alcohol. Rats exposed to alcohol usually develop an addiction within three months, but studies found rats that received DHM injections drank significantly less than the group that didn’t.
Though results from the rat studies look promising, scientists haven’t conducted clinical trials with humans. But lead researcher and pharmacologist Jing Liang says DHM will be available on store shelves soon as a nutraceutical supplement, or a food product with medical benefits. Liang is currently evaluating different ways to package the substance, including gum, a patch, and a traditional tablet. The classiest option on the table? Adding DHM directly to wine!
For some, research on DHM recalls memories of similar sobriety solutions previously created but never sold because of potentially dangerous side effects. And certain health experts worry DHM might actually encourage excessive drinking because it eliminates the possibility of a hangover. (Those giant shades don’t hide what anyone was up to last night.) But, Liang says, based on her team’s studies with rats so far, DHM is safe.
Even if DHM has real sobering power, the drug won’t eliminate all the potential long-term health risks of alcohol consumption. And, until the drug officially hits the market, keep the 99 bottles on the wall and instead try these effective ways to stop hangovers.