Later this year Britain will see its first anti-hangover pill hit the shelves. Legend has it that the drug - called RU-21 after the American legal drinking age - was created accidentally by the Russians during the cold war. Apparently scientists were working on a tablet that would allow KGB agents to drink adversaries under the table and steal secrets without getting three sheets to the wind themselves, but it didn't quite work. The agents still got drunk, but the pill produced an interesting side-effect - no fuzzy head the next morning.
RU-21, according to its makers, blocks the toxic chemical acetaldehyde which can damage tissues - thus preventing hangovers. Hollywood stars are said to be huge fans of the wonder drug as it enables them to stay out late on the party circuit with no visible signs of the night before to dent their expensive plastic surgery. At its launch in the United States last May, RU-21 was notching up sales of $10,000 (£5,600) a month. By December it was close to $1m (£560,000).
Purely in the interests of science, I thought I would try out RU-21 for myself. Recalling something about always using a "control" when doing experiments, I called upon Neil, a fellow Englishman living in Austin, Texas. Although Neil's a little older than me he is about the same build and I knew he couldn't resist a pint or two. My girlfriend, Courtney, would be the designated driver. And so it was one chilly Texas evening last week that we braved the bars of Austin for this extremely vital scientific experiment for my fellow countrymen.
The protocol was simple - I would take one RU-21 pill per alcoholic drink, as printed in the instructions. Neil would just, well, drink for England. And Courtney would watch us both make fools of ourselves.
We started out at a run-of-the-mill pub in downtown Austin. It served Fuller's ESB on tap - far better than most of the watered-down American beers on offer in the city. I hadn't eaten a thing all day, so we ordered some pizza slices and then made our way to the next pub, where we drank a pint each of locally brewed Austin pale ale. As Neil reminded me to pop another pill, I wondered whether this would look slightly dodgy in an English boozer. Still, if it worked, I guessed it would be worth a confrontation with a bouncer suspecting I was taking drugs.
It was time to pick up the pace. Neil was on a mission to get me smashed. We went into a dark watering hole on 6th Street - the main drag in Austin - and necked a Long Island iced tea (vodka, gin, rum, tequila, triple sec and coke), followed by a shot of Jaegermeister herbal liqueur, while Courtney thrashed us both at pool.
Across the road we drank a gin and tonic each, as an almost-naked Japanese man bounced around on the nearby stage to feedback guitar.
"This is awful," Neil said. "If you really want to test this thing you need a shot of everything in my drinks cabinet."
So we made our way to Neil's living room where he poured us a shot each of Southern Comfort. Followed by apple vodka. Followed by 99%-proof banana schnapps liqueur. Followed by another gin and tonic. And a vanilla vodka. And two further shots of Jaegermeister. I know all this because, thankfully, I wrote it all down.
I will spare you the detail of what happened next. Suffice to say I was violently ill for a good few hours that night and the next day I didn't rise until about 1.30pm. For the rest of the day I nursed a throbbing head and bad stomach. The results of the experiment were disastrous. Neil, meanwhile, had got up and gone to work at 9.30am feeling fine .
At around six o'clock I managed to pick up the phone to call Spirit Sciences, the California-based company that manufactures the drug. I was put through to Emil Chiaberi, its chief executive.
"Er, is there a limit to the number of drinks you should have when using this product?" I asked gingerly. "I don't think it worked for me."
Chiaberi sounded a little shocked. "It's rare that somebody has said it didn't work," he said. "For most people it has worked after excessive amounts of alcohol, but that's not something we promote. It's not for binge drinkers," he insisted. "Your body still has a limit, and if you over-drink you'll make yourself ill."
The product, he says, is really aimed at reducing the risk of serious diseases associated with alcohol. "How many drinks did you have? This pill is really for moderate drinkers."
I am just hoping he has done his research into British drinking habits.