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Tree Extract Holds Promise as an Antidote for Drunkenness

There’s no doubt that an antidote for drunkenness would have a wide range of uses. Take a pill and all of the sudden, calling Shelia and confessing your undying love for her and her sister doesn’t seem like such a great idea anymore. Decide not to get plastered on a Friday night, take a pill, and not be able to go back on your decision later. Take a pill and then not have a hangover. The possibilities are endless and now, a study lead by Jing Liang of the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that these possibilities might also be possible.

An extract from a Chinese variant of the Japanese raisin tree, Hovenia dulcis, has been used as a hangover cure in China for over 500 some years. Recently, researchers started playing with dihydromyricetin (DHM), a component of the extract and what seems to be doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to intoxication blocking. So far, tests on drunk lab rats have looked promising and a preparation of DHM designed for humans is ready for testing in the near future.

In her study, Liang tested the ability of a drunk lab rat to stand up straight after getting seriously hammered. She put them on their backs in a V-shaped cradle, and timed how long it took for them to get upright. First, she injected the rats with an amount of alcohol that got the rats as drunk as a human being would get after slamming 15-20 brewskis over the course of two hours. In other words, positively ossified. Understandably, it took these rats about 70 minutes to stand up straight on average, presumably because they were too busy crying hysterically about how they only really feel feelings when they’re drunk and trying to find their cellphones so they could tell Shelia how they really feel.

The other group of rats — whether or not they’re the lucky ones is up to you to decide — got a similar dose of booze, but cut with 1 milligram of DHM for each kilogram of body weight. These guys got up in an average of 5 minutes. Needless to say, that’s a marked improvement. Experiments involving drunk and drunk+DHM rats in a maze turned up similar results. Rats that were just plain drunk had a tendency to cower in corners, soaking in the meaningless blackness of existence, while the “drunk” rats with DHM looked around like any normal, sober rat would do.

Lastly, rats who were routinely taking DHM didn’t tend towards alcohol when given a choice between sweetened water and sweetened alcohol solution. Studies have shown that your average rat in that scenario will start drinking more and more booze, out of boredom I imagine. DHM rats, on the other hand, tended to drink no more than a quarter of what their non-DHM brethren worked their way up to.

It seems that the reason DHM works, is because it keeps alcohol from getting to certain receptors in the brain, receptors for a neurotransmitter called gamma aminobutyric acid or GABA. Now while this will stop the cognative effects of drunkenness, it won’t do much else. The thought is that in human application, it might be able to stop alcoholics from drinking by basically taking the fun out of it, but in severe cases of alcoholism, there are chemical dependencies at work. There’s also an argument to be made that this might make people drink more. With this, you could go to the bar, get sloshed, take a pill, drive home and sleep easy, and while the pill makes you feel not drunk, your liver still has to duke it out with an excess of toxin, and you don’t have to feel the pain that reminds you not to do it again tomorrow.

All that being said, it hasn’t been proven to be safe for humans yet, but upcoming tests should be able to clear that up. In any event, whether it encourages drinking or discourages it, DHM holds the promise of reducing all kinds of alcohol-related accidents so long as it’s reasonably available. Granted, that’s probably a ways off, but it may be in sight. Until then, you’ll just have to settle for hair of the dog as a hangover cure.

(via New Scientist)

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