May 1, 2019

The Euphoric Alchemy of Botanical Beverages

Better Living Through Chemistry?

Brain in lifebuoy isolated.

For many of us, a glass of wine at the end of the day or a few beers on a Friday evening act as a line of demarcation: on the one side, lie work, stress, and responsibilities; and on the other lie home, relaxation, and self-care. And given that an alcoholic beverage is so much more than the sum of its physical parts, who can blame those who enjoy what it represents almost as much as the buzz it offers. So it is with some interest that we learned of a shift that is taking place. Whether it’s current enthusiasm for all things wellness-based – from activated charcoal to vitamin IV drips (we couldn’t find an example for ‘Z’) – or that consumers wiser than this writer now accept that a celebratory ushering in of the weekend is just not worth the subsequent hangover, the fact is that people are looking to other beverages to mark the start of downtime.

But let’s be honest for a moment. Does a seltzer water with a twist of cranberry really cut it? And just how many glasses of orange juice can you really down in an evening before your internal organs need a floatation device? And for those of us without a medical reason to abstain from alcohol, the utter lack of a buzz from juices, fizzy waters, or sodas is, frankly, a buzz killer. So what’s a person to do? Fortunately perhaps a solution may be at hand – have you ever tried Kin?

By definition, nootropic is a compound that increases mental functions including memory, motivation, concentration, and attention.

Kin Euphorics is a line of non-alcoholic beverages which make daringly grand claims. Created with the promise of ‘bring[ing] us back to bliss on a cellular level’ the product aims to balance the body’s hormonal response to stress through the use of adaptogens, nootropics, and botanicals.(1) As you will recall from our earlier article ‘How Putting the Fun into Fun-ctional Foods May Lead to Brand Confusion’, adaptogens are herbal compounds that have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to help the body to resist the physical effects of stress. Working on many systems of the body – from the adrenals to the metabolism – adaptogens such as eleuthero, ashwagandha, and rhodiola are used to treat insomnia, chronic fatigue, and mild depression, as well as to improve heart health and brain function. But what are nootropics? We were unsure so consulted the National Institutes of Health for clarification and apparently nootropics are defined as ‘well-known compounds or supplements that enhance the cognitive performance. They work by increasing the mental function such as memory, creativity, motivation, and attention.’(2) In fact, according to an article by Noor Azuin Suliman, ‘Establishing Natural Nootropics: Recent Molecular Enhancement Influenced by Natural Nootropic,’ published in the NIH’s US National Library of Medicine, these so-called ‘smart drugs’ are  ‘responsible for the enhancement of mental performance. By definition, nootropic is a compound that increases mental functions including memory, motivation, concentration, and attention. There are two different nootropics: synthetic, a lab created compound such as Piracetam, and notable natural and herbal nootropics, such as Ginkgo biloba and Panax quinquefolius (American Ginseng).’(3) Acting as a vasodilator, nootropics increase blood flow to the brain at the same time as bringing an increase of nutrients and decreasing inflammation. According to Suliman et al, natural nootropics have been demonstrated to increase dopamine levels, enhance the uptake of choline, and ‘act as a positive allosteric modulator for acetylcholine or glutamate receptor.’(4)

So they enhance cognition, protect against chemical damage, and increase the efficiency of the mechanisms that control neural firing. Which seems to be a good thing but, as with any substance that acts on the brain, we do worry about the potential dangers of overdoing it. Is it possible to consume too much? According to Kin, the answer is no. The adaptogens and nootropics are delivered via a technique Kin calls liposomal encapsulation which creates particles on the nano scale. And assuming a consumer partakes of no more than the recommended four drinks per day, the euphoria induced by the beverage should be relatively safe and enjoyable.

Given the apparent health benefits of adaptogens and nootropics where is the customer base? Which demographic is the target market for this product? Interestingly, as a post on the Giannuzzi Group LLP website notes, ‘there are at least 50 shades of sobriety’ and Kin can be marketed to any and all of them.(5) Socializing without imbibing alcohol can be an awkward experience yet there are myriad reasons why a cocktail or glass of wine might not be optimal for health and well-being. So Jen Batchelor, co-founder of Kin Euphorics, recognized what she called the ‘gaping hole in the black and white world of drinking or not drinking, and [decided that] rather than fill it with a mocktail (where the insult is baked right there into the nomenclature) we chose to craft a solution that had their modern, driven, inspiring lives, goals, and dreams in mind.’(6) Coming from a background in the ‘wellness industry,’ Batchelor grew disenchanted with what she perceived as the Detox to Retox cycle – the hamster wheel of healthy behavior such as yoga or a spin class in order to compensate ahead of time for an evening of alcoholic excess. Speaking of her experiences in New York City, she also noticed the growing disconnection between people. As online connections and social media leave us increasingly isolated from real life relationships, Batchelor hoped to create a product that encouraged socialization without a loss of control or next day hangover.   

So how does it taste? It may be a question of personal preference, but with so many ‘healthy’ and ‘natural’ products tasting like dirt (hello, wheatgrass!) it’s hard to be confident that Kin’s product line will be different. But according to one tester writing in Popsugar, it is surprisingly good.

…but I got “drunk” off the booze-free beverage (granted, I had four). What I did not get was the slightest sign of a hangover come 8 a.m.

Sipping on the Kin High Rhode, Katelyn Evans comments that ‘over ice with a splash of lime juice and topped with tonic water, it tastes like a light, hibiscus-infused gin and tonic — yum!’(7) And if Evans’ experience is anything to go by, the drink seems to be effective. ‘After one Kin and tonic, I did not feel much, or I didn’t think I did. Kin’s website suggests it takes 10-15 minutes to kick in and I liked the taste, so I was inclined to pour another. With the last sip of my second Kin and tonic, I felt a wave of stress wash away and my mood change. I had a burst of energy […] I felt good. So good, I poured another (and then another). By number four, max serving capacity, I still had that elevated feeling, but things were starting to get alcohol-fuzzy. My bed was calling my name. Kin’s website says “each subsequent serving sustains — not intensifies — our rise,” but I got “drunk” off the booze-free beverage (granted, I had four). What I did not get was the slightest sign of a hangover come 8 a.m. It really is “all bliss, no booze.”’(8)

Saturday night bliss without Sunday morning regret – it’s an alluring promise.

Which is probably why Kin Euphorics is not the only player on the field. Across the Pond in the United Kingdom, Seedlip, a family owned company, claims to be the first in the world to produce distilled alcohol-free spirits. Inspired by recipes in physician John French’s book, ‘The Art of Distillation’ which dates back to 1651, Seedlip’s founder drew on more than three centuries of his family’s farming heritage to address the fundamental question: what do you drink when you’re not drinking? Seedlip offers three different beverages – Spice 94, Garden 108, and Grove 42 – each with their own unique flavor notes, and all three have seen significant interest from the non-drinking consumer. Debuting in high-end store Selfridges in 2015, the first 1000 bottles of Grove 42 sold out in 3 weeks. The next batch of 1000 were gone within 3 days. And the third batch of 1000 spent less than an hour on the shelves. From individual connoisseurs to Michelin-starred restaurants, the demand for a high-quality cocktail spirit was clear, extending even to Buckingham Palace where the Royal Family also enjoyed the fruits of Seedlip’s labors. 

With royal approbation, some of the charm of this style of beverage is the rustic, old-world allure of craft and quality. Products like Seedlip and Kin which rely heavily upon the use of herbal and botanical ingredients seem to promise a passage back to a time before mass production, before the rampant commercialization and soulless automation of food manufacture. They suggest a wholesomeness derived from artisanal crafting, attention to detail, small batch production driven by devotees to the craft. But in this bucolic vision one important point is overlooked: product regulation.

In the eyes of the consumer, herbal or botanical ingredients are broadly considered to be non-harmful. After all, they’re natural compounds so how dangerous can they be? This is of course a rhetorical question – cocaine is derived from a natural source, as is hemlock, arsenic, and digitalis and we certainly would not be recommending their consumption. Furthermore, herbals and botanicals are considered to be dietary supplements and, as such, are not regulated in the same way products by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food. Of course, depending upon the specific ingredient, this may or may not be a problem. But let’s take 5-hydroxytryptophan (or 5-HTP) as an example.

Found in Kin Euphorics’ product High Rhode, 5-HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid used by the body to produce serotonin, the neurochemical that plays an important role in mood regulation, sleep, and appetite. Because of its ability to elevate levels of serotonin, 5-HTP has been used as an alternative to anti-depressants, and in the treatment of obesity, insomnia, and fibromyalgia. All good so far. However, there is a dark side: when coupled with more traditional anti-depressants, a patient runs the risk of having too much serotonin coursing around their brain, bringing with it the risk of Serotonin Syndrome. In a classic rebuttal of the old saw ‘you can’t have too much of a good thing,’ serotonin syndrome presents with symptoms such as generalized agitation, tremors, sweating, diarrhea, elevated blood pressure, high heart rate, and increased temperature. In severe cases, it can be fatal.

So is the answer to take a low dose of 5-HTP if there is any risk of an interaction with pharmaceutical anti-depressant medication? No, unfortunately not. Part of the issue is that, according to the National Capital Poison Center, there is ‘no clear ‘therapeutic’ dose of 5-HTP.’(9) Moreover, 5-HTP is a chemical byproduct of a better known compound, tryptophan, which, in 1989, caused a large scale public health scare. With patients presenting with severe and generalized myalgias, doctors saw a steep uptick in cases of Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome, or EMS, a chronic multisystem disorder. In a paper cataloged in the National Institutes of Health archive, ‘Post-epidemic eosinophilia myalgia syndrome associated with L-Tryptophan,lead author Jeffrey A. Allen notes that the ‘epidemic’ of EMS cases was linked to a batch of L-trytophan (L-TRP) supplements manufactured with the use of genetically-engineered bacteria.(10) Toxicological analysis of the supplements found 60 impurities in the product, 6 of which are directly linked with incidents of EMS. As Allen et al note, ‘Removal of L-TRP from the market was followed by swift resolution of the EMS epidemic.’ (11)

And would this contamination have occurred if regulatory oversight had been in place? Would the FDA have been able to ensure that Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) protocols were fully developed, documented, and followed? Would adherence to cGMPs have meant that doses of other naturally occurring substances used in this new generation of products would be standardized for consumer protection? Phenylethylamine, for instance, is an empathogen and entheogen – a psychoactive substance used for visionary purposes in spiritual practices – and is a component of Kin’s High Rhode.(12) Surely this raises questions of regulatory oversight? Moreover, does standardization of ingredient amount, source, and quality imply consistency of experience when it comes to other compounds such as 5-HTP, GABA, and rhodiola?

Unless or until the FDA mandates the regulation of supplements in the same way as it does pharmaceuticals, we will not know the answers to these important questions.

While ‘feel good’ beverages such as those crafted by Kin Euphorics are marketed as a perhaps safer alternative to alcohol (‘all bliss, no booze’), the potential lack of oversight in their manufacture may be a cause for concern. At this time we could find no publicly available information on the company’s adoption of HACCP, for instance, and we would certainly like to know more about its processes. With that said, the promise of a delicious adult beverage that could either stand in occasionally for alcohol or replace it entirely is extremely alluring. For consumers concerned at the health impacts of their alcohol consumption (Hello, weight gain! And we’re looking at you, liver problems…) but who still wish to maintain an active social life in a world that revolves around meeting for drinks, Kin Euphorics represents a new generation of alternatives. And it is one that we are excited to see develop as the product gains traction. So much so, in fact, that this writer has placed an order for the High Rhode …just for research purposes only, naturally. Dedicated as we are to bringing you such cutting edge information, we will report back regarding the experience in due course…

Do you find the idea of euphoria-inducing beverages alluring? Are you searching for a replacement for your nightly G&T? Would you be willing to ‘take the High Rhode’ at the bar? We’d love to know your thoughts!


  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  6. ibid
  8. ibid
  11. ibid

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