Miracle Vine

So it seems that the answer to the epidemic of binge-drinking among teenagers and college kids is, literally, all around us, at least if you live in the South. According to the AP (via the Birmingham News), a Harvard researcher has discovered that pills made from kudzu, "that ubiquitous vine," can reduce the desire for alcohol. Apparently anecdotal evidence from China has suggested this effect for a while, and a 2003 study at the University of North Carolina found a similar phenomenon in rats, but now its efficacy in human, college-age drinkers has been definitively established.

It is, however, pretty funny that the story has been given an anti-alcoholic spin. As it turns out, the reason kudzu pills make you want fewer beers is that they increase blood alcohol levels, making you feel the effects of inebriation after fewer drinks than it would ordinarily take. That's right - kudzu makes you drunk faster, which somehow doesn't seem like such good news for the forces of temperance.

Kudzu, normally seen as an invasive nuisance, does have its uses (and an "amazing story"), but this seems to open up new avenues.

Perhaps we can look forward to a new Southern tourist industry based on picturesque kudzu vineyards and relaxing weekend leaf-tasting tours for bourgeois vacationers.

Or maybe a darker future awaits us. Instead of sniffing glue, will juvenile delinquents hang around chewing kudzu leaves? How long before the rural South teems with kudzu-pill-making labs, our inner cities with smoky, crime-infested kudzu dens inhabited by the lost and desperate?

Also: how does one get picked as a subject for one of these experiments?

Researcher Scott Lukas, with Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, had no trouble finding volunteers for the study, which required them to hang out in an "apartment" complete with television, recliner and fridge stocked with beer. This apartment-style laboratory was set up in the hospital, and the volunteers were told to spend a 90-minute session drinking beer and watching TV.

Those who took kudzu pills drank an average of 1.8 beers per session, compared with the 3.5 beers consumed by those who took a placebo.