‘Blowfish’ for Hangovers: Cure or Red Herring?

Dec 6, 2011 3:10pm

An Alka-Seltzer-like tablet that claims to cure hangovers is set to hit New York City drug stores in January.

The tablet, called “Blowfish,” combines aspirin, caffeine and an antacid to fight the headache, fatigue and upset stomach typical after a night of drinking. When dropped into a glass of water, it fizzes up a lemony brew that packs the hangover-fighting power of two extra-strength aspirins, three espressos and a greasy breakfast.

“It’s the only over-the-counter drug that’s specifically hangover related,” Blowfish creator Brenna Haysom told ABC News. “The [Food and Drug Administration] has specifically said our formula is effective for treating hangover symptoms.”

The FDA did not immediately return ABC News’ requests for a comment. Contrary to recent headlines, the agency did not approve the drug. Because the over-the-counter formula combines drugs that are already approved, it didn’t have to. It does, however, regulate the manufacturing process and the drug’s packaging.

“Like all drug packaging, it has a lot of warnings for people with certain conditions,” said Haysom, describing the health risks of aspirin – a blood-thinner – for people with bleeding conditions.  “And pregnant women should not take it, but hopefully they don’t need to be taking it!”

A hangover is a collection of symptoms that emerge when alcohol’s intoxicating effects start to wear off. Research on hangover treatments is scarce, but alcohol is thought to trigger an inflammatory response – a process blocked by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin. The inflammatory response is similar to the body’s defense against flu, and is linked to lethargy – an energy lull boosted by caffeine. Finally, the chemicals produced by the body to break alcohol down are hard on the stomach – collateral damage tempered by an antacid.

But it’s unclear whether Blowfish, which contains acetylsalicylic acid and citric acid — both of which could mitigate some of its stomach-soothing effects — is better than the age-old hangover remedy: Aspirin and a cup of coffee.

“Almost no research at all has been done on the hangover state,” said Dr. Timothy Collins, associate professor of medicine and neurology at Duke University Medical Center’s Pain and Palliative Care Clinic. “One of the things we know from headache clinical trials is that at least 25 percent of patients getting a placebo say it worked really well for them. One in four people are going to say this helps, but we just don’t know.”

A two-tablet dose of Blowfish (which is what the makers recommend for a typical hangover) contains 1,000 milligrams of aspirin, 120 milligrams of caffeine 816 milligrams of sodium and 25.2 milligrams of phenylalanine. The makers, West Village-based Rally Labs, are so convinced of their product’s hangover-quashing effects they offer a money-back guarantee.

“People are skeptical because there have been so many weird hangover cures over the years,” said Haysom, describing herbal hangover remedies not controlled by the FDA. “Word of mouth is really important for us.”

Other purported hangover treatments have to be taken before a night of drinking – a forethought that doesn’t always come easy.

“Out of personal experience, the worst hangover is the one you didn’t expect on a morning you have to do stuff,” said Haysom, who abandoned her job in finance to create Blowfish. “It really came out of my own experience of wanting to go out but having to work really hard the next morning.”

Because it’s marketed as a hangover treatment, Blowfish has sparked worries that people might be more inclined to drink too much.

“Anything you advertise as being effective is going to be seen in some areas as promoting the overindulgence,” said Collins. “There’s this perception that if you drink too much and have a hangover, you deserve it.”

Blowfish is already sold at Ricky’s in New York City, and will be sold nationally early next year.

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