Can Science Find a Safe Replacement for Alcohol?
There is a knot of pain just behind my right eye that throbs in time with my pulse. My eyes feel raw. My mouth is dry. Last night’s booze-induced heroics are a distant memory. In the harsh light of day, I feel simply terrible, and yet, next weekend, I’m liable to do it all over again.
When it comes to legal intoxicants, alcohol is essentially the only choice available. It is the world’s most widely used drug, and can be safely deemed toxic, addictive, and linked to violent behavior. As the failed American experiment with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and 30s demonstrated, the desire for easy intoxication will seemingly always be a part of our society. But with a massive pharmacopeia and scientific infrastructure at our disposal, why do we still rely on such an imperfect means to accomplish that goal?
That imperfection was on display in a study released last week by the Center for Disease Control (CDIC). Their researchers have determined excessive drinking to be responsible for the deaths of 1 in 10 working-age adults in the US. In total, 88,000 Americans die every year from alcohol.
Sex, Snow, and Cocaine: My Life As a Ski Resort ‘Chalet Bitch’
Belle de Neige (“Beautiful Snow”, if you didn’t take French) is a blog about what people who work ski seasons get up to when they’re not fixing snow blades, or delivery apres-ski drinks to Jemima Khan and whoever else goes on ski holidays. The writer just condensed a bunch of her blog posts into a book, so we asked her to condense her book back into a blog post. This is that.
I’ve been blogging about all the unpalatable shit people get up to on ski seasons for five years. And I’d say I’ve covered all the major bases: sex, ill-advised drug consumption, orgies, avalanches, immoral workplace behavior, rich delinquents, Russian prostitutes—everything you’d expect when you mix young people with high altitudes. So wrapping that all up into one snappy article should be easy, right? All I need to do is reel off a few anecdotes involving undignified sexual encounters as a result of British teens exporting British drinking culture, and I’m set.
But the problem is that I don’t want to start out like that, because perpetuating bullshit myths is boring. And because not everyone behind the scenes of Europe’s ski resorts are Harrovian drop-outs or braying packs of Hollister homeboys. In fact, many “seasonaires”—the word for people who work ski seaons up in the mountains—aren’t like that at all. Many of those who I know are laborers, or lost their jobs in the recession.
Scotland Loves Buckfast, the UK’s Version of Four Loko
At about 3 AM on a deserted suburban street in central Scotland, the guy in front of me chugs a bottle of Buckfast in one, then spews it back up into a sticky red puddle between his legs. “That’s fuck all, bullshit, just a wee bit of puke,” he mutters, looking disappointed at wasting the last of his beverage. In case you were wondering, why yes, Buckfast has become a symbol of the country’s rampant alcohol abuse problems. How did you guess?
Unless you’re from some quite specific parts of the UK or Ireland, you may not be familiar with Buckfast. The simplest way to describe it to Americans would be to call it the British version of Four Loko—it’s a fortified tonic wine, that, while not crazy strong at 15 percent, has more caffeine by volume than Red Bull and is loaded with tons of sugar and other tasty chemicals. Interestingly, it’s also made by a community of Benedictine monks living in Devon, England, which doesn’t seem very Christian or whatever but it does make the abbey some pretty big money.
Buckfast is syrup-thick, tastes like a palatable mixture of berry flavored cola and cough medicine, and gets you pretty uniquely trashed. (Full disclosure: I actually like it.) It’s wildly popular with certain of my countrymen—usually, the ones the rest of the country doesn’t want much to do with because they spend most of their time hanging around on street corners getting into fights and breaking things. “Neds,” they’re called in the local vernacular (some say it stands for “non-educated delinquents,” if you were curious). Accordingly, it has earned Buckfast nicknames like “wreck the hoose juice” as well as the catchy unofficial slogan, “Buckfast: gets you fucked fast.”
Is ‘Vodka Sam’ a Role Model for American Women?
On August 31st, during a University of Iowa–Northern Illinois football game, 22-year-old Samantha Goudie was arrested at Kinnick Stadium for public intox. At the police station, it was recorded that she blew a .341 BAC, a level so high that it’s the equivalent of being in a medically induced coma. Experts (and concerned citizens) concurred that she was lucky just to be alive. Elsewhere, inspired in part by Goudie’s hilarious livetweeting of her arrest, her behavior was all but celebrated—after all, here was a chick who out drank all the frat boys at the big game.
A confession: I attended a major football college, and Goudie’s “epic” party behavior isn’t all that surprising, even if her BAC is. Another confession: When Goudie’s story surfaced, I was sort of proud of her. I mean, certainly proud enough to comment on a friend’s post that she was “a role model for American women everywhere.” In hindsight, I may have been drunk when I wrote that (just kidding—I don’t drink anymore.)
The sad thing is, it’s kind of obvious, especially to those of us who have survived football school, that Goudie is basically a bourgeoning alcoholic. Sure, her tweets were nothing short of Apatow-movie glory—“Girl waiting for court with me goes ‘I wish I knew the girl who blew a .341’ I said hi” [sic]—but then her Vine clips surfaced on a college-party–themed website called Barstool U and they reveal a beautiful, elaborately eyelashed young woman pounding shots, hanging out on her futon alone with her dog and cradling a handle of Hawkeye vodka, and, in one clip, looking kind of frozen in terror. At least for me, all of my creepy, latent hero-worship for “Vodka Sam” was sucked out in an instant, eclipsed by the dense shadow that inevitably falls late at night over a day of drinking that began at 2:30 kickoff. I remember it all too well.
Californian Vintners Are Petting Weed in Their Wine
I absolutely love to get fucked up. I’m in my mid-30s though, and I’m no longer free to casually sample mind-altering substances and swim through an ocean of debauchery. I have to be healthy and responsible, at least to some extent. Which is why, if someone stuck a gun to my head and only allowed me one vice for the rest of my life, I would choose weed wine.
California weed wine lore dates back to the late 70s and early 80s in a fuzzy cloud of memories floating above the California vineyards between Santa Barbara and Sonoma. These burgeoning wine regions housed young vinters experimenting with uncultivated soils and nontraditional vines. People were fermenting grapes and smoking a lot of weed. Early rumblings of the marriage of the two activities convinced winemakers to step up their fermentation game and create sophisticated altered states.
With any proper experiment comes trial and error. The art of winemaking involves both chemistry and agriculture, which make crafting weed wine a highly coveted skill. White wine lends itself to more natural aromatics, a healthy arrangement of marijuana and grapes, lower alcohol levels, and more balanced weed wines. Red grapes can overpower the pot, produce higher levels of alcohol, and provide a high that is similar to the one you get when you eat too many weed cookies and end up with moments of sheer panic and terror. Pinot Noir winemakers, always sure of themselves, are rumored to make a palatable blend of weed wine. Rosé is an obvious experimental juice for winemakers as it often thrown by the wayside rather than bottled and sold.
Inventing drugs is a tradition that dates back to Homer. From the Odyssey and its lotus-eaters to the psychotropic inventions of the substance-addled Philip K. Dick, from the ambrosia and manna of mythology to the psychedelic Spice of the desert planet Arrakis, fake drugs populate the literary canon in all kinds of unlikely places.
Why create fake drugs when there are so many varieties of existing substances in the world? Well, sometimes it’s a plot conceit: how else are those babies going to be born with telekinetic mutations, or those interstellar captains going to see safe paths through space-time? Most of the time, however, a fake drug in literature or film plays a very specific metaphorical role.
- by Claire Evans