Sentia is meant to replicate the 'buzz' effect of alcoholelevate / PxHere

All of the benefits of alcohol without any of the drawbacks – seems too good to be true, right? Well, that’s what Professor David Nutt and his team are promising with his drink Sentia.

Professor David Nutt is a professor in neuropsychopharmacology, specialising in the research of drugs which affect conditions such as anxiety and addiction. He has an impressive list of credentials, including serving on the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD); a position he and a number of his colleagues resigned from in 2007, following disagreements over the disconnect between the legal status of certain drugs and their safety. Since then, he has gone on to chair Drug Science, a non-profit organisation which provides impartial, evidence-based advice on drugs. He believes that alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the UK. Alcohol is the most common reason for death in men under the age of 50, and the statistics for women are fast catching up. Three young people die a week in Britain from alcohol poisoning, not to mention the many more that die from alcohol related car accidents, violence, or other injuries.

These tragedies are what drove Professor Nutt and his team to develop Sentia. In May 2006, they set out to find a drink that would mimic the positive effects of alcohol, but which wouldn’t be metabolised by the body into acetaldehyde – a brain-damaging neurotoxin. Any student will probably be familiar with alcohol’s positive effects including increased sociability, relaxation, and an anxiety relieving effect. This is due to alcohol’s impact on the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain has two main neurotransmitters: glutamate and GABA. Glutamate can be thought of as the ‘on switch’ of the brain, as it’s a neurotransmitter which promotes cell firing; it stimulates learning and memory but can also in excess cause anxiety and seizures. GABA can be thought of as an “off switch”, as when GABA binds to its receptor, the cell is less likely to fire, causing sedation, calming and muscle relaxation. When alcohol enters the brain, it blocks glutamate receptors, preventing glutamate from binding and exerting its effects. This shifts the delicate balance of glutamate and GABA in the brain, producing alcohol’s effects. Glutamate’s role in memory function is disrupted by alcohol, which is why “blackouts” are so common. Sentia mimics these effects as its ingredients weakly bind to GABA receptors. This weaker form of binding makes it impossible for Sentia to swamp GABA receptors and, therefore, far less harmful, as in theory you cannot overdose on it. However, this also means that with Sentia, only a “buzz” is possible, and you cannot get drunk. Professor Nutt does not see this as a downside, however, as he says himself, he is “not trying to find an alcohol equivalent”, but instead provide an alternative for sober and sober-curious people, which has some of the positive effects of alcohol.

Prof Nutt and his team at Sentia labs are now trying to develop a patented molecule Alcarelle, which would work the same way as Sentia. Alcarelle could be sold to drinks manufacturers, who could use it to develop their own GABA enhancing drinks. However, the development and patenting of a molecule involves far more challenges than Sentia did. This is because Sentia is a mixture of herbs that are all already approved, whereas Alcarelle would be a new drug. Far more stages of clinical testing and licensing would be required for it, which will take years. As it stands, Professor Nutt and his team aim to get regulatory approval from the FDA some time in 2026, five years after Sentia’s launch in January 2021.

I recruited some friends to try Sentia for me, and the feedback was mixed. Overall, the taste was described as pleasant, however many of them didn’t report the promised “buzz-like” sensation. This could have been because they were only given the equivalent of one shot, so the effect was unlikely to be drastic. I see potential for Sentia and Alcarelle, however some of my friends remain unconvinced. Will Professor Nutt revolutionise the beverage world? That remains to be seen.

Q and A

How far does Prof Nutt see Sentia going? Is this the ‘beginning of the end’ for alcohol?

Professor Nutt is more interested in giving people a choice. Some people feel like they are missing out because they don’t drink – he’s more interested in giving them an alternative so they feel like they can join in.

Is there any risk of addiction with Alcarelle?

This is much less likely, due to it only binding to GABA receptors partially. However, this will be studied further in the clinical trials.

Is it safe to drive after consuming Sentia?

It’s not illegal, but Professor Nutt advises strongly against it. However, as Sentia wears off far more quickly (in 45-60 minutes), theoretically you will be safer to drive sooner after consuming Sentia than you would be with alcohol.

What is your opinion on recovering alcoholics drinking Sentia?

Although no studies have been done, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s not a trigger, and is even a positive if they feel they can join in again. However, Varsity would not recommend it for anyone who identifies as an alcoholic before you consult with appropriate medical professionals first.