What Are Adaptogenic Beverages and Are They Good for You?

Botanical-infused drinks offer the perks of alcohol without the negative side effects. But do they deliver?

Medically Reviewed
adaptogenic drinks hemp plant fiber
Sure, botanical-infused waters look pretty, but what’s underneath all those shiny claims?
Yaroslav Danylchenko/Stocksy

Alcohol might be the original functional beverage — after all, it definitely has certain effects on the mood of whoever’s drinking it. But as more people give up booze because of its harmful health effects, new kinds of supposedly mind-altering drinks are taking its place. Sometimes called euphorics, or adaptogenic drinks, these beverages contain a cocktail of herbal and plant-based ingredients, from ginseng to CBD, and make claims about increasing mental alertness and energy, or helping you relax.

They stand out with eye-catching packaging and equally dramatic marketing — one brand is called Psychedelic Water and has an iridescent label — but do they actually have the mind-bending powers they say they do? We asked experts to weigh in on whether these new drinks are actually healthy or not, and what you should know before you try them.

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are nothing new. The term was first coined in 1947 by Nikolay Vasilievich Lazarev, MD, a Soviet and Russian scientist and toxicologist, according to the European Medicines Agency?(PDF). The name is fitting: It refers to herbs and other plant materials that help the human body adapt to stress. Uma Naidoo, MD, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and author of This is Your Brain on Food, describes adaptogens as nutritional shock absorbers for the body.

“They can enhance physiological processes towards homeostasis — balance — over time, or as the body becomes ‘adapted,’” Dr. Naidoo says. “Many people turn to adaptogens as a more natural way to manage ailments, including stress, fatigue, and poor sleep.”

You’re probably already familiar with some adaptogens. Many have been used for thousands of years. The native Asian plant ginseng, for instance, has been used for a variety of health purposes in Chinese and Korean cultures, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

“While adaptogens have been used in Eastern medicine for a very long time, it’s a new way of saying ‘dietary supplement,’ in American lingo,” says Debbie Petitpain, RDN, a South Carolina–based media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and CEO for Synergy Health Tech. “Any of us need all the help we can get to feel more energetic, less stressed, not quite as grumpy or ill-tempered. Reaching for a product on the shelf that’s going to do that is very appealing to the consumer.”

Enter adaptogenic sparkling waters. Brands like Dram, Recess, and Aura Bora all offer sparkling waters with herbal blends that provide natural flavors and possible health benefits.

What Are Some Adaptogenic Ingredients?

The NCCIH lists dozens of herbs that have been shown to have positive effects on health. However, some of the most popular botanicals include:

Hemp?Although this term is often used interchangeably with marijuana and any derivative of the plant Cannabis sativa L, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?distinguishes between hemp products derived from the seeds of the plant, which have little to no THC (the chemical that gets you a high) or CBD (see below). Hemp seed–derived products can be a great source of amino acids, healthy fats, and other micronutrients, according to the?U.S. Department of Agriculture.?While the FDA generally considers hemp, including hulled seeds, protein powder, and oil, safe to add to food, a review published in 2020 in the journal Molecules noted that most of the health benefits-associated research of industrial hemp has been conducted under pre-clinical conditions, and called for more research to be done on hemp’s benefits for medical and nutritional purposes. One?review published in 2019?found that using hemp and cannabidiol oils may impact liver function, so it is always best to consult a physician before taking products containing these ingredients.

CBD?One of the more than 100 compounds identified in the cannabis plant, CBD is a hot newcomer to the adaptogen scene. It’s the main compound in cannabis that doesn’t get you high — but research?has shown that it may reduce anxiety (though at a much higher dosage than you’d get in a 12-ounce can of sparkling water), while other?research?suggested it can improve sleep. The first wave of research?on CBD's potential health benefits came in the 1960s. Since then, research has grown, but there’s still a need for more, especially in humans.

Is adding the isolated CBD to a beverage more beneficial than overall hemp extract? That’s tough to say, says Petitpain. “Is it better for your body overall to eat the carrot, or just the beta carotene from the carrot?” she asks. “The research in this area is still emerging, whether you’re talking about carrots and beta carotene, or CBD and hemp. We just don’t know yet.”

It’s also important to know that the CBD products, such as CBD seltzers, used as dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Many products on the market have been found to contain significantly less CBD than they claim, receiving warnings from the FDA. Additionally, the FDA?has noted that taking CBD may result in liver damage, mood changes, gastrointestinal issues, problems with sleep, and may negatively impact male fertility. It may also interact with other medications and alcohol, and the effects on developing fetuses are unknown, so anyone who has a preexisting health issue, takes medications (prescription or over the counter) regularly, or is pregnant should consult a primary care physician before taking products containing CBD.

Other popular adaptogens include:

  • Ashwagandha?This long-used shrub, sometimes called Indian ginseng, has been shown to reduce anxiety in adults, according to some research. Side effects such as drowsiness and digestive discomfort have been reported, but tend to be minimal and short-term, according to research, but MedlinePlus?warns that ashwagandha may also cause negative or dangerous interactions with a number of medications and supplements, including sedatives and medications for diabetes and high blood pressure. Pregnant women will also want to avoid this supplement, and anyone else considering taking it should consult a doctor first.
  • Turmeric?Naidoo says this “recent media darling” contains a compound, curcumin, that at least one study has found can help the body regulate cortisol levels, which helps modulate stress. Other studies show that turmeric has promise in reducing inflammation for people with ulcerative colitis. While the NCCIH?notes few side effects from consuming turmeric, high doses may upset your stomach. The spice is also has been known to have anticoagulant properties, which may increase the bleeding risk for anyone on blood thinners, according to research from Oregon State University. Turmeric and its primary compound, curcumin, may interact with several kinds of medications, including those used to treat depression and cardiac disease; certain chemotherapy drugs; and antibiotics and antihistamines, according to one review, so check with your doctor if you take any of those medications. And women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid taking supplements including turmeric.
  • Kava. Emerging in popularity is the Piper methysticum plant, also known as kava. The plant has been used for thousands of years, and the NCCIH notes that studies have shown it has an effect on reducing anxiety, though other health benefits need to be studied more, as well as potential risks. Using kava has been linked to headaches, digestive trouble, dizziness, and liver damage. Research published in October 2020 in the journal Nutrients concluded that there needs to be standardization on how the plant is harvested and used to accurately measure its effect, and more research needs to be done to better understand how kava works in the human body.

In addition to adaptogens, some of these beverages and supplements also claim benefits from probiotics (beneficial bacteria already found in the guts) and prebiotics (the carbohydrates from plant fibers that help the probiotic bacteria thrive). Adaptogens don’t affect your gut microbiome — instead, these herbs, mushrooms, and other plants claim to have an effect on your mood or mind. They may offer other health benefits as well, but they’re not bacteria-focused.

What Are the Risks of Adaptogenic Drinks?

There is a tendency to regard adaptogens as safer than prescription medications, even though they are not regulated as well and, according to the NCCIH, “research has demonstrated that these products carry the same dangers as other pharmacologically active compounds.”

Some past research has found that certain adaptogens may interfere with medications. The NCCIH does point out, however, that there is not a lot of research on the interactions of common herbals and prescription drugs, so such claims have not been proven to be a widespread concern.

Still, if you’re taking any prescriptions, it is best to speak with your primary healthcare provider or a registered dietitian before adding adaptogens to your diet.

It’s also important to remember that these are beverages, so they’re not regulated like medication. They’re food, which means they’re safe to consume, but not guaranteed to provide the health benefits they claim.

When considering CBD or hemp beverages, Petitpain notes that not everyone reacts the same way to these adaptogens. “The issue right now is there is a wide variety of reactions to it,” she says.

And adaptogenic sparkling water can be expensive — more than $2 a can, and going for nearly $5 a can and more when featuring CBD. “It’s better to spend that money on food … like fruits and vegetables,” Petitpain says. “A gym membership or even a nutritionist or psychologist just may be a better use of those dollars.”

Should I Try Adaptogenic Drinks??

Unless your doctor notes a possible interaction with one of your medications, there’s likely no harm in trying these sparkling beverages. They’re not a substitute for a healthy diet, but the sparkling water itself is hydrating. Think of them as an addition to a healthy lifestyle, not a replacement for one.