Anti-Energy Drinks: Weed in a Bottle or Over-Hyped Vitamin Water?
After the boom in caffeine laden energy drinks in the 90′s, a new trend has emerged in the last decade: anti-energy drinks. A recent CNN report lumped in these drinks with a different category of (medically prescribed) beverages which are spiked with marijuana, suggesting that while they don’t contain THC, they do feature “ingredients which mimic it”. The notion that the two kinds of beverages are at all comparable is at best misguided, and at worst dangerously misleading. With solid information about anti-energy drinks thin and fragmented, and marijuana laced beverages gaining more media converge, it’s worth examining what anti-energy products are and aren’t. This article will look at the former category, with drinks containing actual THC covered tomorrow.
Let’s examine the composition of the top three anti-energy beverages case by case. The least known in the United States, but most popular in countries like Canada is known as Slow Cow. Its name and packaging are a play on the wildly popular Red-Bull energy drink, and its main psychoactive (AKA “weed substitute” in the apparent jargon contemporary popular media) ingredient is called L-Theanine. Not only is L-Theanine certified as entirely safe by the FDA and sold over the counter at any drug store, it’s found in everything from tea to Vitamin Water to SoBe. Given Vitamin Water and SoBe are owned by Coke and Pepsi, respectively, putting a weed substitute in their beverages would seem counter-productive. I mean sure, their flagship sodas have caffeine in them and Coca-Cola used to put cocaine in their soda but…uh…well that’s beside the point.
Onto the much better known, and hence inevitably more controversial, similar drinks found in the US. Unlike Slow Cow, whose only playful nudge was towards the makers of Red Bull, the anti-energy beverage known as Drank seemed destined to illicit controversy from the very beginning. As any self respecting dirty south gangster rap fan such as myself knows, “Purple Drank” is a mixture of persription cough syrup and a soft drink like sprite. Now admittedly, given rhymes like 3-6 Mafia’s “Knock you out, make you fall asleep when you’re on them wheels” in a song about sipping on purple drank, I can see why some might feel a bit concerned about making something similar available unregulated to customers of any age.
Problem is, just as none of these anti-energy drinks are anything like bottled weed, drank is related to the purple variety in name only. Purple drank, also known as “sizzerp” or “lean” contains either hydrocodone or codeine, powerful opiates highly subject to abuse. Hydrocodone is also found in Vicodin, a pill notorious for its addictive potential and another drug mentioned often by singers getting high.
By contrast, the most serious drug in the anti-energy Drank is melatonin, a natural chemical already produced in the brain which can be picked up with no more trouble than Advil at your nearest Rite Aid. Melatonin in the dose found in Drank is about as anti energy as a cup of tea is “pro-energy” and has no abuse potential whatsoever. As such, comments along the lines of calling Drank “one of the worst things I’ve ever seen with corporate immorality” by Ronald Peters, a professor in Texas, seem more than a bit unfounded.
Finally it’s worth considering Mary Jane’s Relaxing Soda. As with Drank, the inventors clearly had no intention of shying away from stirring the pot, and it’s hard to defend their name choice if they actually wished to avoid the weed in a bottle accusations. Mary Jane’s main “laced drug” is kava, which unlike the previous two drinks actually does have the potential to mess you up in high doses (as, to be fair, does caffeine). Still, it’s easily obtainable at herbal shops or online, not controlled or age limited by the FDA or DEA, and has no proven ill health effects. More importantly, as my refrain has been all along, it’s nothing like marijuana. If anything kava has much more in common with alcohol, and ironically instead of focusing on a potentially valid point, like studying the effects of Mary Jane’s and driving, critics are still stuck in “no legal marijuana substitutes!” mode.
The companies producing Drank and Mary Jane’s are having the last laugh at present. The ensuing controversy linking their beverages to canned weed has just served to boost their sales, and so far no legal action has been taken. With legislative focus currently on caffeinated alcoholic beverages like Four Loco, which seem to stand a good chance of being effectively banned in the US, Drank and Co. look safe for now. Attempts to force these anti-energy drinks off the shelves with smear campaigns appear set to fail, but regardless the status of anti-energy drinks should be the least of our worries.
As I will be covering in a subsequent article, what’s most troubling to the caring consumer is the danger present in lumping anti-energy drinks with new marijuana laced beverages like the ones being produced by Canna Cola. These drinks, which are currently available at medical cannabis clubs in California and Colorado, look disturbingly similar to the anti-energy beverages discussed here. But unlike anti-energy drinks, they contain an amount of THC comparable to several grams of marijuana, and last much longer than the smoked variety. As anyone whose ever tried a pot brownie or shake can tell you, orally consumed marijuana is a far cry from any drink on the market. These actual weed in a can drinks (as opposed to the misbranded anti-energy beverages) are not something you’d want your kid stumbling across while he was looking for a soft drink, or a Drank for that matter. That is why it’s vitally important that as the publicity of both anti-energy drinks and marijuana laced beverages increases that the media maintains the distinctions between the two, lest a mix-up turns into something much more serious.
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