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… not only do we have at least one homeopath using heat to treat burns (yes, really! That piece of burning stupid – to use an Oracian aphorism – is admirably covered here by Grant), but we also have the Daily Mail announcing that scientists have discovered – ta-daah! – a hangover cure (hat-tip to David Winter for passing the story on):

New drug lets you enjoy a drink without getting drunk, and wake up without a hangover – at least if you’re a rat

Well, at least they mention that the work’s been done in rats, which is a step up from many such reports (although I suspect that the first clause is what most readers will remember). What else do they have to say? From the sub-header we learn that the drug

  • [was] extracted from [an] ancient Chinese remedy
  • stops hangovers, prevents rats passing out

and that

  • rats given [the equivalent of] 20 beers in two hours…. recovered their balance in 15 minutes [when given the drug].

The drug is “now moving to tests in humans.”

O-Kay…

The drug in question is called dihydromyricetin, or DHM, “a flavonoid component of herbal medicines.” It’s not unknown for ‘ancient remedies’ to turn out to actually have some pharmaceutical benefits. Think willow bark, for example. So we can go with that. But this ‘stops hangovers’ bit – how on earth would they know? (Hint: the research was done on rats, which I seriously doubt go round groaning “oh my aching head” the morning after.)

Anyway, what was the actual scientific study about? The full article is behind a paywall but you can read the abstract for free here. It turns out that the researchers weren’t looking for a hangover cure, & in fact were not looking at hangovers at all. They were instead looking at potential means of treating ‘alcohol use disorders’ (AUDs), which they describe as “the most common form of substance abuse” & characterise thusly:

The development of AUDs involves repeated alcohol use leading to tolerance, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and physical and psychological dependence, with loss of ability to control excessive drinking.

In other words, they’re talking about alcoholism.

It seems that when rats were injected with DHM they didn’t develop “acute alcohol intoxication”; nor did they suffer from withdrawal symptoms. The drug also cut back on the animals’ drinking. It seems to do this through its effects on particular receptor molecules in the brain, some of which are inhibited and others enhanced. Identifying some of the key molecules in the brain that are involved in addictive responses to alcohol, and of a compound that seems to block the development of this addiction, opens the way for the possibility of developing a pharmacological means of treating alcoholism.

But a hangover cure, it ain’t.

Y.Shen, A.K.Lindemeyer, C.Gonzalez, X.M.Shao, I.Spigelman, R.W.Olsen & J.Liang (2012) Dihydromyricetin as a novel anti-alcohol intoxication medication. The Journal of Neuroscience 32(1): 390-401. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4639-11.2012