Right now, doctors have a limited number of drugs to choose from when treating alcoholism. The medications that do exist have many side effects. So researchers near Boston are turning to nature for a possible solution. A pesky weed from the Southern United States may hold some new answers.
It’s been called “the weed that ate the South.” We’re talking about kudzu, a wild vine that grows so fast, it’s engulfed millions of trees in the Southeastern United States. For centuries, the Chinese have used an extract from this plant to treat conditions such as alcoholism.
Scott Lukas, Ph.D., wants to know if it really works. “We are actually testing just the kudzu root itself to see if, in fact, it can reduce drunkenness or reduce the intoxication that’s produced by drinking alcohol,” says Dr. Lukas, a pharmacologist at MacLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.
In the study, participants receive the kudzu extract or a placebo. Days later, they have 20 minutes to guzzle down three shots of either vodka or a dummy drink.
Of the people studied so far, those who took the real kudzu and then drank alcohol felt less drunk. Furthermore, their blood alcohol levels were lower than expected.
“We think that kudzu may actually be working by two different mechanisms,” says Dr. Lukas. “The first is to reduce the amount of alcohol that’s released from the stomach. So that would, in fact, reduce the amount of alcohol that could get to the brain. The second mechanism may be that kudzu might actually interfere with brain chemistry and therefore reduce the good feelings that occur when one drinks alcohol.”
If taking kudzu stops a drinker from feeling buzzed, Dr. Lukas thinks they may lose interest in alcohol altogether. “They’re not getting the high and not feeling good,” he says. “So why pay all that good money for a nice bottle of wine when they don’t really even feel it?”
According to Dr. Lukas, kudzu is safe and has no side effects. Although kudzu extract may be available in your local health food store, he notes that it’s not the same kind used in his study. While taking kudzu won’t hurt you, he advises people with a drinking problem to talk to their doctors first.