Could the era of drunks at parties be coming to an end?
Hangovers and the abolition of suffering
By Damian Thompson
Just as I’m approaching the 20th anniversary of my last alcoholic drink, Prof David Nutt – sacked as government drugs tsar after he suggested that horse-riding was more dangerous than Ecstasy – announces that he’s working on a hangover-free alternative to booze.
As he puts it: “In theory we can make an alcohol surrogate that makes people feel relaxed and sociable and removes the unwanted effects, such as aggression and addictiveness.”
Would I try it now? Like a shot. It’s not booze, so it wouldn’t count as a “slip”, the most dreaded word in the lexicon of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is an antidote that renders you instantly sober. And I’m curious.
For centuries, mankind has searched in vain for a mood-altering substance that doesn’t find a way of kicking you in the backside (or making said backside bigger, in the case of Ben & Jerry’s viciously addictive cookie dough ice cream). Hangovers, tranquilliser withdrawal, “those extra inches”… they’re all different versions of karma.
Or so we thought until recently. Hangover-free beer is a fun talking point, but what’s exciting is the sense that we’re close to discovering the Holy Grail of punishment-free pleasure, brought to you by Big Pharma
A few weeks ago I wrote about modafinil, the drug that helps you concentrate. Not only does it work, but it also feels nice; the “punishment” takes the form of difficulty getting to sleep – very mild compared with the existential torment of a proper hangover. And although some psychiatrists think it could be addictive, they’ve yet to produce the evidence.
The human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. So far it’s given up only a tiny percentage of its secrets. Experiments in psychopharmacology yield mixed results: of the millions of Britons who benefit from antidepressants, many are experiencing only a placebo effect, so hit-and-miss is the drugs’ targeting of neurotransmitters.
It’s only a matter of time, though. Maverick philosophers such as David Pearce argue that “superior designer drugs” will lead us towards the abolition of suffering. “Think of your ideal fantasy,” he says. “The reality could be millions of times better.”
Pearce also envisages gene therapies that endow everyone with “a profoundly loving, MDMA-like consciousness”. MDMA is the main ingredient of Ecstasy; but, unlike the drug-taking clubbers, we’d feel no comedown effect because we’d be naturally high and/or happy. (Would there still be a distinction between the two?)
Admittedly, that sort of genetic engineering is a long way off. In contrast, drugs that raise our pleasure threshold are being tested now. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which the population is blissed-out by a “delicious” drug called soma, looks far more prophetic than George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Tweaking smart drugs when cancer sufferers still have to endure the poison of chemotherapy may strike you as a scandalous waste of money. But here’s a troubling thought.
What if doctors, unable to cure a woman’s breast cancer, offer her instead the next best thing – a drug that, taken alongside painkillers, wipes out her fear, so that she faces death without apprehension? Will that ease the suffering of her family? If not, there will presumably be drugs they can take, too.
That’s deeply creepy, you may say: there are more dignified ways of coping with suffering. I agree. But we may feel differently when the specialist’s pen is hovering over the prescription pad. … …
The Good Drug Guide
mental health in the third millennium
The Pursuit of Happiness
The Secret of Happiness?
Depression and Chronic Pain
Health, Wealth and Happiness
The Futile Pusuit of Happiness?
Depression and Antidepressants
Big Pharma and Madison Avenue
Happiness: a Buddhist Perspective