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Hanging in there: The ‘Myrkl’ pill that might change the way Oxford drinks

Miracle or sham? Hangover pills reviewed

Hangover anecdotes tend to interest their teller more than their audience. So, I’ll let you read some triumphant exceptions to the rule written by P. G. Wodehouse and Tom Wolfe while I go get a Coca Cola and wait for my fingers to stop jittering all over the keys.

This comes from The Mating Season and is brilliant for Wodehouse’s unwillingness to divulge exactly what he means when he identifies his six types of hangover: “the Broken Compass, the Sewing Machine, the Comet, the Atomic, the Cement Mixer and the Gremlin Boogie”. I can’t tell you what “the Sewing Machine” explicitly refers to, but I understood it immediately as the way I felt on New Year’s Day.

And here’s Tom Wolfe’s washed-out journalist Peter Fallow in The Bonfire of the Vanities waking up after a big one: “The telephone blasted Peter Fallow awake inside an egg with the shell peeled away and only the membranous sac holding intact. Ah! The membranous sac was his head, and the right side of his head was on the pillow, and the yolk was as heavy as mercury, and it rolled like mercury, and it was pressing down on his right temple… If he tried to get up to answer the telephone, the yolk, the mercury, the poisoned mass, would shift and roll and rupture the sac, and his brains would fall out”. Substitute the telephone for an 8:30 alarm and Wolfe has dissected a good proportion of our Friday mornings with yucky accuracy.

I have never discussed hangxiety, occult pick-me-ups and hungover horror-stories more often than since I got to Oxford. Luminous signature cocktails and cheap college wine might be to blame but every morning this town is suffering. The tell-tale sunglasses on overcast days, that odd rum-pickled-garlic-pork odour you secrete and the shaky handshakes with wild-eyed panic upon introductions in the AM say more than your stuttering description of the night does.

So, I thought it worth trialling Myrkl, a Swedish “hangover pill” at Cherwell’s expense. It is classed as a supplement and not a medicated product and so cannot (obeying MHRA regulations) explicitly describe itself as a hangover stopper. Their suggestive ads playing on a hammy stereotyping of the Swedish: nonsensically umlauting consonants and authenticating wobbly science with recourse to a perception that the Scandinavians are in some way just more sensible than the British. It launched in the UK and Ireland in the summer of 2022 and differentiates itself from its competition: British brand Upswing which launched a year earlier and the American start-up No Days Wasted. But its USP is its patented bacterial cocktail, AB001™. It was apparently formulated thirty years ago when the owner of Myrkl’s parent company, De Faire Medical, Johan De Faire observed that pigs which ate bacteria-inoculated rice bran (called koji in hipster cookbooks) were rarely sick and so he isolated the strains to observe their effects on metabolic and digestive processes in non-human mammals. De Faire claims that AB001™ breaks down alcohol into water and carbon dioxide in your small intestine before it can reach your liver, where typically alcohol is broken down into acetaldehyde and acetic acid: the chemical often held responsible for the full-body, brain- eating festival of pain that is a hangover.

The two clinical trials “proving” AB001™’s ability to break booze down were funded by De Faire themselves and their authority has been slated by medical journals like the New Atlas who wrote: “if you take Myrkl every day for a week, without drinking, and then have two to three standard drinks’ worth of strong alcohol, you might only feel the effect of one to two standard drinks, and the effect may not scale up if you drink more than that”. Flying in the face of Myrkl’s suggestive advertising which hints that the physical and mental debt for a week of big Christmas parties can be written off by popping two little cream pills, I was not hopeful that Myrkl was about to remedy the particularly virulent strains of wine flu undergraduates infect themselves with by freaky speedy pint chopping and shot shotting.

My section editor sourced me the drugs and at this point I relinquished any real claim to a scientifically unimpeachable trialling of Myrkl in the wild, asking only that my guinea pigs drink as they normally would when they want to get trollied and write a report. Here is what the first guinea pig (GP1) pinged back verbatim, “Magdelen” and all.

I took the pills about two hours before I started drinking. I had volunteered quite willingly, as I would be doing a college bar crawl that night. A pint in Univ and Pembroke was all we had managed by about 9 PM and it wasn’t looking good as most of the bars were closed. This was until we infiltrated the Magdelen ‘Wild West’ bop. 4 pints in quick succession meant that I was well on the way. Indeed I quickly succumbed to the alcohol as DJ Dipper’s tunes thundered around the medieval room. At one point or another we continued our Grand Tour and ended up at the enormous haven of the St Catz bar. Having scanned the beer available, I chose a pint of Corona and proceeded to play the worst drunk Pool I have ever played in my life. It was truly embarrassing. We stumbled through the city, ending up at Balliol. From the outside, it just didn’t seem seem worth it and I can’t actually remember why we didn’t go in, but a second later I had a kebab wrap from Hassan’s in my hand. At this point we must have gone back to college, because we continued by doing a centurion in my friend’s room. About an hour later, I was apparently asleep on my friend’s sofa, though confusingly I woke up in my own room. At some point during the night I must have completed the final leg of this Odyssey and somehow made it back to my own room. Needless to say, I remember none of it. I woke up in a terrible state. I was disorientated, dizzy and struggled even to speak when greeted with a visitation from my friends at about 11 AM. About an hour later, an editor messaged me as to the results of this experiment. All I could manage was ‘I don’t have a headache but I’m definitely still drunk’. Absolutely nothing helped, and for the rest of the day I was both exhausted and violently ill. I think I probably far exceeded the amount of alcohol the this pill is designed to combat, and so in my experience it simply didn’t work.

By the time that account came in I had rid myself of any hope for an all-caps declaration of their Myrkl-ous hangover deletion in the wake of a big, massive bender. I had gone out the same night, popped Myrkls and drank with hubris. At 11AM next day I was also still drunk but unwilling to recognize the fact and so had gone around knocking on people’s doors to preach the good news that I was feeling Myrkl-ously chipper. By 2PM I was in the familiar mental and physical wasteland, so poisoned it was as if someone had hooked me up to dialysis in the night and replaced all my blood with bin water and battery acid.

But then came what the second guinea pig said.

Having decided at the very last minute to indulge myself in a Bridge Thursday, I popped two hangover pills just minutes before I started drinking at about 9pm. With the aim of getting hammered as quickly as possible – the only way to avoid a violent case of the ick within seconds of entering Bridge – this was followed by a quick succession of three double (maybe triple) gin mixers. Potentially it was a placebo effect, or maybe it was a result of my unintentionally dry January, but I felt drunk much faster than usual. By 10:30 I was skipping down Jowett Walk in the direction of the most sacred pre-Bridge venue: Four Candles. I ordered an unimaginative double vodka lemonade and set to work having many conversations that invariably merged together in my memory, and half of which seemed to occur in a single toilet cubicle. At the point when time had begun to lose any significance and the Spoons bouncers were herding students downstairs, someone made the brave decision to lead a campaign to the Bridge Spirit entrance. The queue was much too short for it to have been later than 12pm when we stepped inside, but true to form, I was wandering back down Broad Street in search of drunk munch at the unimpressive hour of 1:45. After a post-party, pre-parting DMC with my mates, it was lights out at 2:30. Whilst this was an admittedly tame night, I would still expect to get out of bed in the morning and feel the room swirl around me. When I leapt out of bed to see not a single black spot in my vision, I realised that these hangover pills had the potential to be a game-changer (disclaimer: this might have also been the result of a decent night’s sleep, since I woke up at 10am). In fact, I genuinely felt like I hadn’t drunk anything at all the night before. Pros: they were so good that I was able to have morning sex. Cons: this turned into a net negative when I forgot I had an 11am class and staggered in red-faced a whole 45minutes late.

Looking past the indulgent outro (you proud sex-haver you!!), the common amnesiac journey from club to kebab in both guinea pig accounts points to a similar if not equivalent level of inebriation. This makes their testimony of rabbit-like chipperness incredibly interesting but some details in the story perhaps tarnish its trustworthiness. Importantly, their narrative ends at 11:45am, just as GP1 and I began slipping into the icky abyss in our trials and where scientifically a hangover technically should be said to begin (when blood alcohol shrinks back down to zero again). Secondly, an ungenerous arbiter of fun might accuse an eight-shot evening replete with a responsibly timed Hasan’s and sensible afters behaviour like talking about one’s feelings as a B+ drinking effort. Compare it with GP1’s impromptu centurion on return to college and successful descent into an alcoholic oblivion where sofas resemble beds and then disturbingly become beds on contact with sunlight. It was also contradicted again by GP3’s glib precise of their experience.

It is slightly hard to judge the true effects of the hangover pills as I did not follow the packet instructions exactly when I took them. I only took the pill 5 minutes before my first drink despite the instructions recommending 2 hours. Throughout the night I had around 7/8 shots so did not drink loads. The next morning I didn’t feel hungover as such, but extreme tiredness made this slightly hard to judge. This possibly wasn’t the best test of the pills but based on this I would say they did reduce the effect of the hangover the next day. Unfortunately I had not drunk really heavily though, so am not sure what their limit is. And they certainly do nothing for exhaustion levels!

Though their decision to “not drink loads” was essentially unhelpful, GP3’s account does back up the discrediting of GP2 because they knew that eight shots isn’t really trying and says as much. One salient glob of information GP3 offers the study is that the B12 and Vitamin C (the same stuff in a plain old Berocca that can hold back a full-blown “Gremlin Boogie”) isn’t very concentrated or long-diffusing in Myrkl so that they didn’t even feel pepped from a baseline sobriety. But GP3 illuminates a key dimension of Myrkl with that choice officialese: “exhaustion levels”. I can imagine consultants writing it in big blue sharpie on a flipchart at the Myrkl office’s weekly brainstorming board meeting. Its target market is thirty-to-forty-year-old corporate hacks who must show face at work drinks three times a week and prove to colleagues in conventional fashion that they aren’t at all conventional and buttoned-up.

Although no guinea pig reported this, I had shared an experience that Nick Connellan’s reported on Myrkl when conducting a similar bit of brilliant gonzo journalism for Australian culture mag Broadsheet :

Feeling a bit impervious,” I wrote in a group chat soon after [taking the pills]. After 3.7 drinks I wasn’t even tipsy. While I never had any doubts Myrkl would do what it claimed, feeling it de-alcoholising each drink was disconcerting, then remarkable. My precise tolerance to alcohol, my body’s exact response to it – these things are as familiar to me as my own face. Myrkl is like looking in the mirror and seeing a different you.

Imagine feeling what Conellan describes but you’re in Merton’s college bar. Imagine alcohol suddenly doesn’t work and you’re trapped where fun goes to die. If I had been anywhere else, I might not have remembered my uncanny new alcohol tolerance. I had lifted the three pints of Heineken to my lips, glugged it down the oesophagus and burped proportionately. Why was I then sitting there sober as a judge in the most injudicious space for the teetotal in Oxford. From left and right came “I mean, mate, Posh Nosh really puts Hasan’s to shame to be fair” level chat. Situationally traumatizing  in Merton’s dungeon-like bar where the jukebox only plays ‘Come on Eileen’, maybe Myrkl’s buffering effect has its uses for an enterprising, reptilian undergraduate like myself. They could help when we need to cosplay corporate hacks ourselves so to speak.

For example, it could keep your tongue sharp whilst you are seen to do the done thing at a society social or another thinly veiled networking event and drink the drinks. Perhaps, though, this potential style of popping myrkls is a little farfetched. Especially when a box of fifteen “doses” set Cherwell back £30.00 whilst having the spine to withstand drink-pressure costs you nothing. Lots of people are teetotal, lots of people drink low-or-no alcohol drinks and who am I kidding when I valorise a sharpened tongue? When we drink, we drink to loosen our language and soften our protective shells, opening us up to the vulnerability of real interpersonal connection.

Moreover, myrkl is just one snake oil in the modern food and drink industry’s arsenal of spurious products promoting “wellness” whatever that is to commodify non-commercial decisions. For example, if you didn’t drink alcohol you tended to drink water – the IWSR reported that “no-alcohol beer [is] projected to drive growth at more than +11% CAGR over the study’s 2021-2025 forecast period”. Granted I use terms like “snake oil” and “spurious”, I’m not cantankerous enough at my big age of 20 to lament the dwindling of a destructive binge-drinking culture the “BIG JOHN BOSHPILATION” which my algorithm spewed up this morning is the hilarious by-product of. I don’t think the allure of Bella Hadid’s “karmic collision” aka multi-million dollar drink brand deal with Kin Euphorics which promises to get you a little bit high legally with a mocktail of “adaptogens”, “nootropics” and “spirit-centering botanics”. I think the pandemic catalysed a profound change in the way that drinkers have been drinking drink. Without its pub, its landlord, its branded glass or its fellow drinks to clink against, a pint of beer no longer held any romance in all its 568.261 millilitres of sloshing suds. What had lubricated the social machinery of the Big Night Out, infecting legs with the sense that they can do anything (the splits, clearing four-foot fences in one hop, skanking etc.), was reduced to a chemical buffer against feeling too much reality for one bored, lonely evening which resembled the one before it and had no prospect of being different from the next. The decision to reach for a drink could no longer be justified with any appeal to the appropriateness of a scenario, instead the gesture had been simplified into signifying only that we wanted a numbing, dopamine-boosting chemical.

Around 150, 000 British adults officially participated in Dry January this winter according to Alcohol Change UK, a figure swollen from the 100, 000 pre-pandemic. Yet if you drink at Oxford, I doubt you could count yourself among that number. But I’m not browbeating from up on my pious little horse, I had no intention of keeping off the sauce for any longer than 48 hours at a time and I have not. I have matched every January raindrop with a lager-y sud because it has been miserable.

Plus, story-time! I pretended cocktail connoisseurship when this truth brushed a little too close to home and I could then see all its ugly bits, descending to what my cousins in County Down would term “pure chancer talk” where I could seriously convince myself that drinking five different Bloody Marys in an evening wasn’t about drinking ten shots of Russian Standard but to decide which infused vodka tasted best: jalapeno or horseradish. It’s horseradish, but did I actually have to get slaughtered to know? I believe alcohol’s mythology was ruptured for so many in the UK because of the elucidating but unwelcome simplification of our relationship with it the pandemic enforced.But that’s my belief, Cherwell offers you the verdict that Myrkl is a load of bollocks and totally unequipped to assist the standard student drinking lifestyle with a sliver more objective authority. Upswing, Myrkl’s competition I mentioned earlier, explicitly targets students with infantilizing pastel colour-schemes and dude language promising relief with the same lack of any scientific basis for its claims. Its ingredients read just the same as Myrkl’s and so until Cherwell proxies me drugs again, I’d echo Reagan rhetoric and counsel against entrusting our happiness to big pills. Stick to the powders! They work!

Image credit: Sean Hartnett

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