My Night As a Guinea Pig: Drinking In the Name of Science

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Hangover-for-sure recipe: PBR and Fireball, held by Post writer Jason Ruiz. Photo by Dennis Dean.

The marimbas of my iPhone sound off like a World War II air raid siren. Bombs were dropped and Bulleits were fired. I’ve gone to war with my liver once again, leaving my head and insides feeling like a cratered Parisian avenue.

The hangover has set in and the struggle is so very real.

That’s the typical sentiment after a long night of painting the town red. Battered, broken and half asleep, I desperately echo the same thoughts as that child in the “David After Dentist” video. Is this going to last forever? Is this real life?

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S P O N S O R

We live in a modern age where cars can park themselves and toasters can tweet—truly fascinating, mind-blowing advances. We’ve eradicated smallpox but still countless people spend mornings lamenting a night filled with bad decisions, good drinks, and the best of friends.

Then along came a Walter Thornburgh. This knight in shining armor also happens to be a senior microbiology major and chemistry minor at CSULB. Sir Walter tweeted the Post last week stating he had found the Holy Grail of irresponsible drinking: he’d synthesized a formula to make these tortuous mornings disappear forever: a cure for hangovers.

This kind of assertion cannot go unverified. I felt, as both a journalist and advocate for science, a personal obligation to the scientific community—and the greater good—to go down this rabbit hole and binge-drink in the name of journalism. The story of this noble savior needed to be told and his research substantiated.

Our clandestine meeting happened at a 2nd Street coffee shop Memorial Day weekend where two-thirds of The Prime Company met myself and our web designer Dennis Dean. Prime, Walter’s brainchild for the better part of a year, is a supplement designed to be ingested while drinking, its effects allowing you to live a pain-free existence in the morning. The prototype he brought for this experiment also resembles a number of illicit drugs when stored in a baggie like Walter had done.

“I’ve never done any scientific tests where people inhaled it,” Walter joked following my comment about doing rails of Prime off the bar top. “So, I don’t know what the biochemical consequences of snorting Prime are. You’re really playing with fire there.”

20140515150119-1964898 10202930700405686 1663540673 nOver the course of the next hour, Walter and Marlo Miller (Prime's public relations director) broke down the intricacies of Prime: how it works, how research was conducted, and how many intentional hangovers were doled out to the unfortunate placebo group. Both Long Beach natives have international roots and fittingly the seed of the idea was planted while on vacation overseas.

“When you go abroad, you want to drink, you want to go out, you want to do all that,” Marlo explained. “And the next day you also want to hit the Louvre and go see things in Madrid. You can’t really do both.”

Walter eloquently broke down the inner workings of Prime, recounting the initial failures that he himself suffered through. I came into this experiment fairly skeptical. After all, could a 21-year-old college student on a shoe-string budget really accomplish such a feat in his spare time? Maybe I’m a sucker for scientific poets, but listening to Walter rattle off six-syllable enzymes made me more at ease with my potential impending doom.

PrimeInfographicBear with me as I try to explain the science.

When your body uses alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme to metabolize consumed alcohol, it produces a by-product called acetaldehyde, a toxic substance that is a main contributor of hangover symptoms. Your body naturally produces two substances—acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and glutathione—that attack the acetaldehyde in your blood stream. However, it can only produce a finite amount. The remaining acetaldehyde wreaks havoc on the body in the interim while more glutathione and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase are manufactured.

This is where Prime comes in.

In a procedure that sounded more like dinosaur-building than hangover-remedy, Walter said he found a way to bridge the inadequacies of the body’s depleted glutathione production. Unlike other products on the market, Prime aids the body’s own natural production. According to his research (which included reagent, chemical, and chromatography testing) Prime resulted in a 73% reduction in acetaldehyde blood concentration.

“It’s basically a jigsaw puzzle piece for your body’s amino acids,” Walter said. “When you start drinking, your body starts producing the chemical building blocks of glutathione, but it can’t quite make all of them.”

The group’s branding of Prime has gone hand-in-hand with their research. In the surreptitiously scientific world Walter operates in, participant’s urine is bartered for free booze. Those roughly 40 test subjects allowed him to devise and tweak his formula over the past six months from its original flavored malt beverage concept to the current state: a mix-in-a-liquid concoction composed of FDA-approved materials that—if everything plays out well—will be sold for roughly $3 at every BevMo!, 7-11, and bar in Southern California.

I’ve never gone into a situation trying to achieve a hangover; they usually just happened organically. It’s such a foreign concept to set misery as the end game. But this night was different. This night was dedicated to science.

The agenda for the night was to go against all conventional wisdom: we mixed Pabst Blue Ribbon and Fireball, beer-before-liquor, and any other wive’s tale about drinking, shunning all logic in the name of achieving the slimiest, most downtrodden hangover possible.

Walter and IThe integrity of the experiment was dependent on Dennis and I being coherent enough to remember to mix in our supplement with a glass of water—which is recommended for every 1-4 drinks—while not looking like we were sneaking off to enjoy some sweet, sweet nose candy. The prototype packaging and flavor were things Walter promised would be improved if Prime’s Indie Go Go campaign is successful.

“If we don’t hit our mark, we’ve been pro-bootstrappers up until now,” Walter said. “We can operate on a shoestring budget but it’s just going to delay the process.”

It didn’t take long for Walter’s packaging to draw the attention of a surly bar owner. I’m not certain if her comment about one of her regulars being a police officer was a threat, but her confiscation of our Prime made it clear that her establishment didn’t support progress.

The march to regret continued on like this for the next eight hours. Bar after bar, drink after drink, cab after cab, Dennis and I imbibed our shameful supplement concoction in alley ways and dark corners of dive bars. This was the first time I hoped a product review would turn out to be positive. Maybe that violates the ethics of journalism but my morning surely depended on it.

I am an early riser and often times I forget that my phone is set to jar me out of bed at 6AM every day. That gets exponentially more annoying on mornings following nights like these, where excessive consumption has clouded my memory making me fail to slide that toggle switch to the off-position.

Today was different though. When my phone lit up and started to rumble its way across my night stand, I didn’t stab at it violently in an attempt to mute its ear-piercing jingle. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely hit snooze, but it was because my comfort level was higher than it had been in weeks. An unintended side-effect of Walter’s product is that it actually promotes a good night’s sleep by soaking up excess amino acids that prevent the body from entering REM sleep.

There was no nausea, no sensation of a speed-bag being knocked around in my head, and no clinging to some awkward position because that was the only safe place to lie. Neither Dennis or I fell into the 8% of people that Prime might not work for—something Walter admitted he was worried about post-interview. Did we just become best friends, Prime?

Walter and Marlo defended their company as one that promotes being productive the morning after and not illegal the night of. Prime blocks the hangover—not the intoxication—so you still need to cab it around town. Although Prime and other like products are certain to face scrutiny for rewarding excess drinking, the group stands by their intentions and most importantly their science.

“People have been getting drunk since the beginning of civilization. I didn’t create excessive drinking,” Walter said. “I created the cure for the morning after. I didn’t create the hangover; I destroyed it.”

Prime's Indie Go Go campaign started on May 16 and will close on June 15. Donors are rewarded with samples of Prime, tee-shirts, and the satisfaction of knowing you're helping advance a truly remarkable scientific breakthrough.

Top left: From left to right, The Prime team - Long Beach natives and CSULB students Marlo Miller and Walter Thornburgh, and UC Berkeley student Andrew Shrout. Courtesy of Prime.

Bottom left: Both attempt to look as inconspicuous as possible as Walter Thornburgh hands off a zip-lock bag of the Prime prototype to Long Beach Post writer Jason Ruiz in a 2nd Street back alley. Photo by Dennis Dean.



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