- Sentia is a no-alcohol drink that claims to makes you relaxed and sociable, without the hangover.
- It was developed by a psychopharmacology professor, and targets the same brain receptors that booze does.
- I enjoyed my Sentia shots – and think there’s a time and place for it.
- More information is needed for those who are underage, have medical conditions, previous addictions or are pregnant.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
What if a drink made you as relaxed as a glass of wine, but without the headache the next morning?
The Social Drinks claims to have made just that: Sentia, a botanical drink made entirely from plants.
All its ingredients were picked either for their flavor, or to target the brain’s GABA-A receptors – the same ones alcohol latches on to. When activated, these receptors make us feel relaxed and sociable.
The company claims it’s a first of its kind: some CBD drinks will promise similar effects, but target a different receptor in the brain.
I poured myself a shot and tried it over ice. Floral, fruity aromas exploded from the glass. It tasted just like it smelt: fresh, full of spice – a bit like a mulled wine but cold and berry-like – with a sweet, creamy aftertaste.
I sat back, and waited for the “feeling of release” touted on Sentia’s website to kick in.
Top secret ingredients
The Social Drinks company are in the process of patenting the ingredient combinations that are active on the brain, and they remain top-secret. But the flavour comes from cardamom, blackberries, and hibiscus. I spoke to Professor David Nutt, director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit at Imperial College London, before I tried it. Other ingredients, such as pepper and liquor ice, are meant to promote the uptake of the active ingredients into the brain so the effects of the drink are felt faster, Nutt had said.
Nutt, who is the UK government’s former drugs czar, co-created the drink with Vanessa Jacoby, a botanical alchemist. He is best known for advocating in 2009 that ecstasy and LSD were safer than drinking alcohol – he was sacked by the UK government afterwards. His life ambition, he says, is to tackle the impact of alcohol addiction. Sentia is part of Nutt’s plan to raise money to develop similar products that target the brain’s GABA receptor, and eventually, he hopes to sell to a mainstream multinational drinks producer.
Nutt told me you can drink Sentia neat, with a mixer like tonic water or Coca-Cola, or with alcohol in a cocktail.
If you drink it with alcohol, you just get drunk as normal, he said.
I sunk into the sofa, sipping away, studying Sentia’s label. I noticed that there was no “percentage” strength measure, as you would expect to see on an alcohol bottle. This was coming in future, Nutt had told me earlier.
The effects of my Sentia shot kicked in after about 20 minutes and lasted for around half an hour. I didn’t feel more chatty at first, just relaxed. I floated off the sofa and cooked my lockdown dinner with ease.
‘The effects of a double shot of Sentia lasts for about an hour,”Nutt had said. “You can have up to three shots, but the relaxing effect plateaus after that.” Nutt recommended having no more than 200 ml of Sentia in one day – there haven’t been any studies looking at what would happen if you drink more than this.
I poured another glass – my second 25 ml shot, about 20 calories a go – and the purple liquid swirled around the ice. I had asked Nutt whether it would be risky if people binged on Sentia, as they do with booze.
“We can’t guard against it. If it is drunk in the way we recommend, people shouldn’t come to harm,” Nutt said. “If you want to get wasted, it’s not for that. And it doesn’t make you hallucinate.”
Sentia continued to work its magic on my GABA receptors after shot number two. My brain went to the clouds: I felt light, floozy, like after a yoga class. I was utterly relaxed.
I wondered whether people would use this before high-pressure situations, instead of coffee or a cigarette. And if so, could you drive on it?
Nutt had said that Sentia could be drunk at any time of day, but was designed for “civilized, convivial, social evening situations.” He said that it was unlikely to cause physical dependence – like alcohol can – but “people could really like what it does,” like coffee. As for driving, Nutt said that people should be “conscious of any effects that they’re experiencing and act responsibly as a result.”
After 45 minutes I was feeling a bit more energized by the berry-like icy drink, in the mood for a low-key chat. Luckily, my brother was just back from work.
It’s not tested like a drug because it’s food
The hangover after drinking often booze puts me off drinking. Other times, I put up with it because alcohol’s social effects or sense of escape are worth the headache.
Nutt said some people can feel flushed in the face after drinking Sentia, but there was nothing to predict that it would cause a hangover, if drunk in moderation.
I slept well after my two shots, and the next day I didn’t feel slow at work, as I might have done with two glasses of wine.
I can see it working on those nights when you just want to switch off, but alcohol won’t do it because you have something important to do the following day. One glass is probably enough for this.
I would, however, be wary about drinking it regularly, because it hasn’t really been tested for any harmful side effects. Instead, each individual ingredient has met food safety standards, and the company has studied whether people ‘like’ it. Which, Nutt said, they do.
The science of Sentia’s components meant that they were probably safe, Nutt said. “They have met the food standards, it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.
It played on my mind, though, as I sipped away at the fruity drink, that children might enjoy the taste. Sentia, classed as a “food” because of its ingredients, has no formal age restrictions, unlike alcohol.
Nutt said that Sentia was not recommended for kids, “but if they do they’ll come to less harm than if they drink alcohol”.” There haven’t been any studies comparing the two.
It also occurred to me that we know little about its effects for people who might seek no-alcohol alternatives. For example, people who were previously addicted to alcohol or other drugs, pregnant people, or anyone taking medications.
Nutt said that Sentia was not directed at “the drinking population”, but people who don’t want to drink alcohol i.e. 25-40-year-old “health-conscious” people. He said he didn’t know whether it would provoke a desire to relapse for those with previous alcohol addictions.
Nutt couldn’t recommend it for pregnant people because it hadn’t been tested. As for people on medication, part of the reason that the ingredients had been chosen was because they had a low propensity to interact with other things. He said that antidepressants were “fine”. But he wouldn’t recommend Sentia to people who take medications – or said that they should chat with a doctor before doing so. He told me that because this was a new product, doctors could email the company to ask any specific questions.
The bottom line: Sentia has not been tested in the same rigorous way as a new drug, even though it can change behaviour and acts on the brain.
At $20 (£15) for a 200ml bottle – more than the average bottle of wine – its price-point could put some off. I hope that those that drink it will read the label, comply with its recommendations and seek further information if not sure. As a health-conscious 29-year-old, young professional, I can honestly say I enjoyed my shots of Sentia. There may well be a time and place for a glass of Sentia after a long day.