The Doctor Is In

Q: I’ve been hearing about this non-alcoholic drink that causes a similar reaction as drinking, but without the hangover. The ingredient list includes GABA, phenibut, caffeine and a bunch of other scary-sounding things. Is this safe to drink?

While I agree that these are some pretty scary sounding ingredients, have you looked lately at the ingredients in your kid’s frozen chicken nuggets or package of Twinkies? Twinkies, for example, have 37 ingredients, with only five that are commonly recognized.

The major difference between these products and Kin, the name brand of this non-alcoholic beverage, is that the FDA oversees the food and prescription medications that we consume. Kin is considered a dietary supplement, which does not undergo the same degree of scrutiny by the FDA.

It markets itself as a “euphoric” beverage that elevates your mood and allows you to connect with others without a hangover the next day. The idea is that you drink it over ice (with tonic and lime) in a social setting to reduce stress, and it offers a pleasant buzzy feeling.

Scientifically, however, there are no good studies to back up the claims that these chemicals do what the company maker says they should do. In addition, there is no good way of knowing about the quality and purity of the purported ingredients.

If you read further on the beverage website, it claims to have two types of chemicals: nootropics, which enhance cognitive functioning like memory and intelligence, and adaptogens to help the body adapt to the effects of stress.

Although these claims sound great in theory, the American Medical Association states that there is no such thing as a “smart drug.” The adaptogens, on the other hand, have only been studies in fruit flies and mice, which make it challenging to extrapolate the results to humans.

So, what could be wrong with a natural mood elevator? Well, cocaine, for one, is a mood elevator that comes from a plant. Does that mean it is safe? Similarly, tobacco and marijuana are plant-based mood altering substances with real safety concerns.

Let’s take a closer look at two of the ingredients in this potion: GABA and phenibut. GABA is a neurotransmitter naturally produced in our body that is the primary inhibitory chemical in our brain that can reduce stress, anxiety and promote sleep.

While this sounds good, there are no good studies to show that orally ingested GABA supplements actually get to our brain to produce the desired effects. And, we have no idea what dosage would work even if it could get to the right receptors in the brain.

Phenibut is also a central nervous system depressant, and I have personally seen that this chemical has been abused by some of my patients admitted to a drug rehab facility.

It is legally sold online as a nutritional supplement, but in high doses, patients feel sedated similar to prescription drugs like Xanax or Klonopin. And, they can experience physical withdrawal symptoms like agitation and insomnia when they stop using the product.

While the idea of feeling connected to others without using alcohol is a great concept, this can clearly be accomplished without using any sort of drink at all. Going out for a delicious meal with friends or going for a group run will boost your mood and feelings of connection as well.

Physical exercise is the best natural mood elevator around. If you do not have a problem with alcohol, having a drink with friends is still a good option.

The social and health benefits of moderate amounts of alcohol have been well documented. The key is moderation.

If after reading this, you still want to try Kin to see how you feel? It may be healthier than the frozen nuggets and Twinkie you had for lunch.