I substituted alcohol with 'Psychedelic Water,' a kava seltzer that's gone viral on TikTok — and found it's the perfect drink for the sober-curious

·4 min read
Psychedelic Water
My friend and I drinking Psychedelic Water on a walk after work.Hannah Towey/Insider
  • Younger generations are changing their relationship with booze amid the "sober-curious" movement.

  • Alcohol alternatives, like kava seltzers and CBD drinks, are becoming more popular as a result.

  • I drank Psychedelic Water as an alcohol substitute to see what the trend was all about.

It was a Thursday night, and my friends were hosting a dinner party at their apartment. They sipped on wine and margaritas, and after a long day at work, I was tempted to join in.

Instead, I sat down on the couch and cracked open a shiny metallic can of what looked like hard seltzer.

"Psychedelic Water?" my friend Robbie asked. "Are you tripping right now?"

I told him no, not at all, and explained the story behind the drink in my hand. Despite the name, Psychedelic Water doesn't include LSD or psilocybin and definitely won't make you hallucinate.

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Its main ingredient is kava, a root that's been used by Pacific Islanders for thousands of years for its relaxing effects. With damiana leaves and green-tea extract, the drink is formulated to relieve anxiety, while providing a boost of energy.

Kava supplements have been shown to "have a small effect on reducing anxiety" and have been linked to a risk of severe liver injury, according to the National Institutes of Health. The main side effect I experienced while drinking Psychedelic Water was an occasional tingling sensation on my tongue and minor stomach pains.

On social media, users have touted the viral product as an alcohol substitute perfect for the "sober-curious" — a growing movement of people who selectively abstain from alcohol for lifestyle reasons other than a history of addiction.

After drinking Psychedelic Water as an alcohol substitute throughout the past month, I found it was a great way to decompress from stress or relieve social anxiety, with the added benefit of avoiding a hangover. Plus, they just taste really good (my favorite flavor was prickly pear).

Nonalcoholic-beverage sales surge as consumers reassess their relationship with booze

The shop has a fridge stocked with alcohol-free drinks.
A fridge stocked with alcohol-free drinks.Abby Wallace/Insider.

Nonalcoholic-beverage sales increased 33% to $331 million last year, according to Nielsen. Psychedelic Water was one of the previously unheard-of brands that took off on social media during this time.

"I think the overall trend is everybody wants to be healthier," Psychedelic Water CEO Pankaj Gogia said in an interview with Insider, "but at the same time, wants things that de-stresses them, relaxes them, and allows them to be social."

The brand's head of marketing, Ben Rogul, added that while many could think the sober-curious movement was most heavily linked to health or wellness concerns, another major factor was the desire to be productive the next day. As someone who experiences worse hangovers than the average person, this was my primary incentive to experiment with going alcohol-free.

Instead of questioning why I wasn't drinking alcohol, I found most people were thoughtfully curious about the can's contents and supposed benefits. But the drink's branding as a "psychedelic" does have its pros and cons, Gogia told Insider.

"Some people won't touch the stuff because of its name," he said. "There was still a lot of stigma associated with the psychedelics in the general public's mind."

As alcohol's reputation takes a beating, Gogia wants to use the product as a path toward destigmatizing psychedelics, he said. While saying no to drinking but yes to drugs may seem counterintuitive, the CEO said psychedelics' effects on the brain were different from those of alcohol, even though most people bucket all illegal drugs into the same harmfulness category.

He told Insider he hoped Psychedelic Water's partnership with Urban Outfitters would help jump-start that mindset shift among younger consumers.

"We want people to start understanding what psychedelics are and what the benefits are," Gogia said, adding that seeing Psychedelic Water "available in a supermarket or in a national store, I think over a period of time — subconsciously and consciously — will hopefully change people's attitudes."

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