A FORMER UK drugs adviser has called on Scotland to help develop a "safe" alternative to alcohol.

Professor David Nutt, once head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, is working on a substitute for alcohol which he claims mimics its relaxing effect without the hangover.

Speaking at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Professor Nutt said: "I want Scotland to be the first country to actually encourage the development of a safe alcohol.

"When you become independent I want you to make this a public health priority and I will very happily come here and work with the great pharmacologists."

Professor Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, first announced he was working on a pill which mimics the effect of alcohol last year.

Last week around 150 people attended his talk called Alcohol Without the Hangover, organised by Scotland Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) - a campaign group formed by medical professionals.

At the event he said his pill is at a "prototype" stage, explaining: "It mimics the good effects of alcohol but it does not mimic the bad effects. It relaxes you, it makes you feel pleasant and sociable without making you aggressive, without becoming dependent.

"It is not addictive in the same sense [as alcohol] because of the pharmacology of it and you can have an antidote that can make you sober up quite quickly so you can drive home quite safely."

However, members of the ­audience, which included GPs and psychiatrists, questioned whether an alcohol substitute that relaxed users could possibly be non-addictive: surely people would want to keep enjoying its effects, they said.

They also asked if it would give young people the wrong message about using mind-altering substances rather than avoiding them completely.

Dr Peter Rice, a consultant psychiatrist in Tayside and chairman of SHAAP, said: "The reason this [new drug] is being thought about is because of the very extensive harm that you get from alcohol.

"Any introduction would need to be very carefully balanced in terms of its regulation. With the introduction of any new drug people need to understand that it would have its risks and how to manage those risks."

Asked whether the substitute alcohol would taste good, Professor Nutt said: "The plan is to make it as a cocktail so it tastes nice and also because we have changed our drinking culture to the point where most drinking goes on in front of the TV, and that is another reason why we are trying to put alcohol back into pubs and bars.

"I want it to be part of a social exercise."

Professor Nutt, sacked from his adviser's post in 2009 after saying ecstasy and other illegal drugs were less risky than alcohol, used his talk to underline the damage alcohol causes. He said it was toxic to most organs and the most common cause of death in men under 50 in the UK.

He was speaking on the day data was released showing the level of drink-related deaths had fallen more steeply in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, though rates were still higher north of the border.

Professor Nutt said: "If alcohol was invented today it would be illegal. The only reason it is not illegal is because it has been around for a long time and we have all become blind to its harms."