Kin is looking to disrupt the alcohol industry. Part adaptogen and part nootropic, Kin calls itself a “euphoric” that will “elevate your state, connect with others, and take back our morning afters.” But what exactly does any of that mean?
Kin is essentially a dietary supplement in beverage form. Its active ingredients consist of supplements like GABA, 5-HTP and rhodiola extract. It also contains caffeine.
Individually, these active ingredients might be known for their promised nootropic or adaptogenic benefits (in some cases, both), but Kin isn’t marketed as a dietary supplement. This “euphoric” is meant to be sipped like a cocktail.
Jen Batchelor, one of Kin’s co-founders, was working in the wellness industry when she found herself fed up with what she saw as extreme diets and “detox culture.” So she and her co-founder set out to create something different, a product that could reduce stress and offer a pleasant buzzy feeling, similar to alcohol but without the hangover.
Scientifically, however, it’s difficult to say what, if any, impact there might be from drinking Kin. Mahtab Jafari, Professor and Vice Chair of pharmaceutical studies at the University of California at Irvine, says the bottom line is “there are no conclusive, well-designed clinical studies” that have evaluated Kin’s claims about their nootropic and adaptogenic blend.
Nootropics, according to the American Medical Association, are a category of drugs and supplements claiming to enhance cognitive functions like memory and intelligence. Only there isn’t much evidence to support these claims. The American Medical Association, for example, explicitly cautions that there’s no such thing as “smart drugs.”
Adaptogens, on the other hand, are nutrients and supplements that purport to help the body adapt to the effects of stress. There’s not much in the way of scientific evidence to support these claims either. “Many of the claims…were done in animal models, which in my mind are a great place to start,” says Jafari. “But a fruit fly or a mouse is not a human, and the results cannot be extrapolated.”
Jafari has studied rhodiola rosea, one of Kin’s active ingredients, for the past 13 years in her lab. She’s currently in the process of writing a comprehensive review paper on the botanical and, while she says there are some promising studies, it’s unlikely any of them apply to Kin.
Some small clinical studies of rhodiola rosea in humans show some beneficial results for treating fatigue and improving cognition, for example, but these improvements were seen at very specific dosages taken over time, not as part of an occasional beverage, and only with extracts of a certain quality.
Batchelor says she’s confident in the quality and source of Kin’s ingredients. “The rhodiola we use in High Rhode is a very particular strain known for its ability to boost vitality & curb stress response over time while lowering cortisol in small doses, called rhodiola rosea,” she says.
The problem is there’s really no way to know if that’s true. Dietary supplements simply aren’t well-regulated like prescription drugs, so there’s no legal requirement that these products live up to the claims on their labels.
Explains Jafari, “the fact that the label of a dietary supplement reads ‘Rhodiola rosea’ does not necessarily mean that the product is made from a high quality extract,” adding that “the FDA’s regulation of the manufacturing of dietary supplements is far less rigorous than that of pharmaceuticals.”
Even though Kin calls itself a “euphoric,” it’s hard to pinpoint what that means. According to the company, “euphorics are different for everyone, but produce an overall feeling of rising: an elevating blend of sensations including relaxed focus, replenished energy, and lifted mood.”
That all sounds pretty good but Jafari points out the same could be said of a wide range of all-natural mood-boosters. “[I]f this is true,” says Jafari, “we are dealing with pharmaceuticals and they should be regulated.” After all, “cocaine improves the mood too and it is a natural substance. But is it safe?”
Batchelor acknowledges that Kin’s claims aren’t backed by scientific evidence. “We are not attempting to cure anything with this product,” she makes clear, “other than, of course, loneliness. Our only guidelines here were to achieve a sense of balance for the individual, which will obviously vary per person.”
What might be most interesting about Kin isn’t what’s in the bottle at all. The company seems to be trying to hone in on something far less tangible—the many mood-boosting benefits that come from the communal experience. What Kin really set out to answer, Batchelor says, is “how can we design that feeling of joy?”
Going out for drinks isn’t just about consuming alcohol. There’s the opportunity to connect with people, whether that’s meeting someone new or deepening existing friendships. There’s the mood-boosting benefit that a change of scenery offers—going out rather than staying in, hosting a party, trying a new bar or restaurant. Finally, there’s the experience of taste. Depending on the quality, wine, beer and spirits can all offer incredibly complex flavors to pique the senses. Even a really bad-tasting drink offers something new.
Of course, it’s also important to understand that most of these mood-boosting benefits can be achieved both without alcohol and without Kin. Running can boost mood. Going to see live theatre can change perspective. Eating out at a new restaurant or hosting a dinner party can provide new stimulus and opportunities for social connection.
Jafari argues that “the most effective mood-boosting intervention is physical exercise,” which is certainly supported by plenty of evidence.
But unless everyone signs up for running clubs tomorrow, going out for drinks will probably still be a popular pastime well into the future. For those looking for a buzz of the non-alcoholic variety, Kin may be worth trying.