Leaving the European Union could allow Britain to enjoy a new generation of hangover-free drinks, a leading think-tank has claimed. Heavy-handed EU regulations have been holding back the development of synthetic alcohols, which allow people to enjoy the sensation of being tipsy without giving users the hangover or long-term health hazards, according to the Adam Smith Institute.
Researchers believe the substances are up to 100 times safer than regular alcohol, with them potentially able to have "seismic effects on public health".
Research is being pioneered by Professor David Nutt, the former government drugs advisor who was controversially sacked in 2009 after claiming in a report the class A drug ecstasy was safer than horse riding.
Effects of one of his products, known as alcosynth, are designed to last around a couple of hours – the same as alcohol – with researchers saying its potency could be limited to ensure it's impossible to ever feel "too drunk".
He said he has so far patented 90 different alcosynth-type compounds, with two being tested for widespread use.
His research team say they are trying to do to alcohol what the rise of e-cigarettes did to tobacco consumption.
"It will be there alongside the Scotch and the gin, they'll dispense the alcosynth into your cocktail and then you'll have the pleasure without damaging your liver and your heart," Prof Nutt told the Independent.
"They go very nicely into mojitos. They even go into something as clear as a Tom Collins. One is pretty tasteless, the other has a bitter taste."
The Imperial College professor said the substance, a derivative of anti-anxiety drug benzodiazepine, is being developed so it does not cause withdrawal symptoms.
But a report into its potential, published by the free market think-tank the Adam Smith Institute, said the product's development had been blocked by "morality police" using heavy-handed EU regulation.
It accused public health officials of "pursuing abstinence campaigns to the detriment of risk reduction products that could save thousands more lives every year".
Britain leaving the EU will give the UK government the opportunity to become a "world leader" in reducing the risks of drinking by doing away with current EU legislation governing substances like those developed by Prof Nutt, the report added.
Sam Bowman, executive director of the Adam Smith Institute, said: "It's innovation not regulation that got us e-cigarettes. They emerged and prospered in spite of regulation, proving to be the best way to get people to quit quickly that we know of.
"But despite this, misguided public health officials are trying to clamp down on them because of evidence-free and dangerous fears that they 'normalise' smoking.
"Other products like synthetic alcohol and reduced-risk tobacco products promise to repeat the success of e-cigs for new people, but only if we let them. It is crucial that the government does not stand in the way of hangover-free alcohol."
He added: "Britain can be a world leader in safe alternatives to alcohol and cigarettes, but we need regulation that foster those things instead of stamping them out."
Prof Nutt said it was still uncertain whether alcosynth would be restricted by the UK's new Psychoactive Substances Act, which came into force in May. He has already complained that uncertainty over whether it would be approved for market had stifled investment in its research.
Nutt is also developing a second drug known as "Chaperone", which reduces the intoxicating effects of alcohol, allowing consumers to use alcohol but effectively sober up.
The science behind synthetic alcohol (source: Adam Smith Institute)
- Prof Nutt's synthetic alcohol targets one or more neurotransmitter systems in the brain, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid or Gaba.
- Some of the pleasurable effects of alcohol work by mimicking and increasing the Gaba function.
- According to Nutt, there is also a range of Gaba subsystems that can be targeted by selective drugs.
- One of his new synthetic alcohols, "alcosynth", reduces the gastric damage and cardiac damage of alcohol but produces a feeling similar to that of being tipsy.
- Alcosynth is a positive allosteric modulator (PAM) of the Gaba system, with Nutt believing it is possible for the substance to be consumed without being addictive.
- Since these types of synthetic alcohol are entirely novel products there is no regulatory environment or government guidance about how to introduce them onto the market at either the UK or EU level.