According to study author and inventor Joseph Fisher, the device has found a way to interrupt this trigger while still keeping the person safe. The patient is outfitted with a gas mask, which connects to a supply of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The mixture of gases they breathe in causes them to hyperventilate, while the device then feeds them back enough carbon dioxide that the body doesn’t involuntarily freak out.
“With each breath, it is designed to allow the normal amount of carbon dioxide to escape and any excess is returned on the very next breath,” Fisher, an anesthesiologist and senior researcher at University Health Network in Toronto, said in an email. “This is all done in a simple way by a mechanical valve so it is foolproof—without needing electronics or computers.”
To test out the device, Fisher and his team recruited five healthy volunteers and told them to get mildly intoxicated (the beverage of choice was 80-proof vodka mixed with 500 milliliters of water). In a series of experiments conducted over two days, they were monitored as they both sobered up naturally and by using the device for up to a half hour. Their level of alcohol was measured via breathalyzer and through blood samples taken throughout the experiment. Compared to the natural method, the volunteers appeared to sober up three times faster while using the breathing device.