After New Year’s Eve, and in the light spirit of the holidays I decided to investigate what Nootropics, if any, can be applied to help hangovers. I’ve done a little bit of research for fun, and come up with some interesting conclusions. This should not be taken as serious science, as it is mostly an interesting hypothesis, and related to the relevant literature and anecdotal evidence I can find. It is in no way a recommendation to take these if you are suffering from a hangover, nor should it be construed as medical advice or anything other than what it is – a fun thought experiment.
What Causes A Hangover?
In order to figure out how to treat hangovers, it’s important to take a look at what the causative factors of hangovers are. Once we can figure out what the root causes of a hangover are, we can look at which Nootropics could potentially work to mitigate these factors. The main causes of a hangover are (please note, not an exhaustive list):
- Dehydration 
- Buildup of Acetaldehyde 
- Hypoglycemia 
- GABA “rebound” effect 
How Can We Treat These Causes With Nootropics?
Let’s look at how to fix the main causes of Hangovers. Causes 1 and 3 (Dehydration and Hypoglycemia) can be treated rather easily. The absolute easiest way to cure dehydration is to drink water. It’s important to drink water while drinking alcohol, and also to drink water after alcohol intake. In order to fix hypoglycemia, the easiest thing to do is to eat.
What about the more difficult ones? How do we handle the buildup of Acetaldehyde? The liver converts Ethanol to Acetaldehyde through the enzyme Ethanol Dehydrogenase. Acetaldehyde is 10-30 times more toxic than ethanol. It is then converted to Acetic Acid through Acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. I was unable to find a better source for this, but Wikipedia states that the these two reactions cause Pyruvate to be diverted from other critical pathways in the body. A lack of Pyruvate can seriously impact gluconeogenesis. And so we come to our first potential Nootropic for handling hangovers, Pyruvate. I have no good studies on taking Pyruvate to alleviate hangovers, but I have some studies that are related to Pyruvate in hangovers. . It’d be nice to see if we could get some anecdotal or study evidence regarding the effectiveness of Pyruvate in treating hangovers, but it seems a good potential target.
How else can we help mop up and handle Acetaldehyde? Cysteine is mentioned around the internet quite a bit, and mentioned as a possible treatment in one PubMed study that I found, although it mostly seems to refer to Cysteine as being touted on the internet.
Cysteine is an amino acid that specifically is involved in turning Acetaldehyde into Acetic Acid. By taking more Cysteine, it is absolutely possible that we could speed up the rate at which the liver can transform Acetaldehyde into Acetic Acid, and get rid of that nasty toxin. There was a study in rats where rats were pretreated with cysteine before being exposed to alcohol. Rats with the cysteine treatment were 80% more likely to survive acetaldehyde toxicity than control. So, we reach our second potential chemical, Cysteine.
Reaching our fourth and final cause, the GABA rebound effect. Ethanol directly stimulates GABA receptors. Once the consuming of alcohol is ceased, GABA levels are thrown majorly out of balance. Because ethanol is removed from the body very quickly (at a commonly cited one drink per hour), the body reacts strongly from the sudden removal of ethanol, and the GABA receptors then drop significantly, causing withdrawl symptoms. Around the internet I found quite a bit of anecdotal evidence citing Phenibut as a great way to avoid hangovers when taken AFTER alcohol consumption. The theory for taking Phenibut as a hangover cure is similar to the “hair of the dog that bit you” cure of drinking more alcohol the morning after. Many people cite benzodiazepines as a good cure for hangovers, because they modify the GABA levels on a longer term than ethanol does, allowing the user to maintain sleep and to not deal with as sharp a withdrawl on the GABA receptors. Phenibut’s half-life is 5 hours, which if taken after alcohol consumption but before hangover symptoms begin, could theoretically slow the “come-down” so to speak and prevent withdrawl symptoms. Caution should be used here, however, as Phenibut can cause withdrawl symptoms on its own if too much is taken. When combined with Alcohol, it can lead to CNS depression and can be a potentially fatal combination. Please consult with a doctor before attempting this. If you attempt this, please take the proper precautions and be careful about it as you do this AT YOUR OWN RISK. This is simply an interesting theory which could have tragic consequences if done wrong.
While not directly related to any of the causes I mentioned before, I have heard quite a few stories of Pyritinol working as a hangover cure. Pyritinol, which is modified Vitamin B6, has been shown in a few trials to help eliminate hangovers.
It looks like in addition to drinking water and eating, the following Nootropics can help cure hangovers: Pyruvate, Cysteine, Phenibut, and Pyritinol. If I have made any errors in this post, please let me know. Please also comment with any of your hangover cures, or anything that I may have missed. If you try any of these out, or have any anecdotal experience with these, I’d love to read it in the comments as well.