Special Healthcast Report: Downer Dangers - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Special Healthcast Report: Downer Dangers

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By Britney Glaser - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Energy drink consumption among teens is huge and this growing market has given way to a new product niche promising the opposite results - that could prove dangerous.  The issue isn't just safety, it's the questionable roots of these downer drinks that some say are linked to illegal street drugs.

Syrup, drank, lean, purple stuff, these are all names of southern street drugs that have made their way into hip-hop songs.  Houston, Texas recording artist Hollywood FLOSS says, "From '92 to at least 2000, this was the king of drugs."

Now, the same slang names of a codeine cough syrup mix are found on relaxation drinks in convenience stores.  "They're trying to appeal to those who can't get the drink illegally," says FLOSS.

These "slow it down" drinks are promising the same effects of the illegal version, according to FLOSS.  "The end result of these drinks is a direct copycat of the illegal version," he says.

CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital Clinical Nutritionist Samantha Rider says the mix of herbal products in these drinks could spell danger.  "I have a lot of concerns because you're actually messing with your body's chemistry and it's not natural to do that," says Rider.

The majority of these purple drinks have three main ingredients touting relaxation benefits: melatonin, rose hip and valerian root. Starting with melatonin, Rider says this hormone you naturally produce that is linked to your sleep cycle does not need to be supplemented.  "Your body naturally has rises and decreases in energy and you want to let your body do that," she says, "because when you start taking stuff from the outside to stimulate that, you're going to have trouble doing that on your own."

Rose hip is known for its antioxidant effects and is also a diuretic, which elevates the rate of urination. Valerian root is used to treat chronic conditions like insomnia, but a mix of this ingredient with other medications could have serious consequences.  Rider says, "Combined with other anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications it can actually intensify the effects of that to the point that it can actually become dangerous for the person consuming it."

Even without FDA approval, these anti-energy drinks can be put on the market and sold on store shelves to anyone looking for a quick fix slowdown. The only consistent warning you will read about is how much to drink.  "Someone underage who doesn't watch over themselves can get this drink or think it is the illegal drink," says FLOSS, "and go after this drink in a regular convenience store and purchase it."

In statements released to 7News, makers of "Drank" and "Purple Stuff" tell us their products are safe and in no way meant to play off the downer drug trend.  Funktional beverages, the maker of Purple Stuff, also stressed that their product contains no melatonin.

If you're wanting to "slow your roll" with one of these drinks, like other unregulated drinks on the market - be aware of the potential risk for your own health.

*There are no age restrictions for drink consumption, but these drinks are not recommended for children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Additional warnings could be found on both "Sippin' Syrup" and "Lean" to not consume if you will be driving.

**Below you can read the full statements given by the companies 7News contacted:

Peter Bianchi, CEO of Innovative Beverage Group and creator of Drank:

"We chose the name "Drank" and our slogan, "Slow your roll" because these popular phrases, heard in songs, on television and in every day speech, are synonymous in modern vernacular for celebration and relaxation, respectively.

In the beverage business, innovation is everything and there is room for numerous quirky drink brands. I conceived the idea for Drank in the recording studio - we wanted something fun and hip that offered an alternative to the use of drugs and alcohol for relaxation.  The name of the product is a play on the common slang, 'I'm going to get my ‘drank' on.'"

While some fans, as well as critics, have compared drank to "purple drank", the product is in no way intended to mimic the illegal substance that some refer to as "purple drank, syrup, sizzurp, or lean" nor is the marketing behind DrankTM geared towards enticing young people with illegal drug references.  Innovative Beverage Group does not condone the illicit combination of cough syrup with codeine and soda, nor do we encourage anyone to try it." 

Tim Lucas, CMO of Funktional Beverages, Inc. with Superliminal Purple Stuff:

Thank you for your interest in our products. Superliminal Purple Stuff is a pro-relaxation beverage that is available across 31 states in the U.S. including Alaska and Hawaii. Our product is also available in both New Zealand and Australia.

Our product tastes great has only 50 calories per serving and is sold throughout independent school districts in both Arizona and Utah. Superliminal Purple Stuff is also sold on several college campuses across the U.S. as well as several health food stores across the U.S. and national grocery store chains.

Our product is safe and all of our products ingredients are on the FDA's GRAS list.

The song snippets 7News used in this piece were:

Lil Wayne: "Me and my drank"

36 Mafia: "Sippin' on some sizzurp"

Big Moe: "Purple Stuff"

*The "screw" music culture that developed out of the Houston area is directly linked to these southern street drugs mentioned in the story.  DJ Screw, Big Moe and Pimp C - all Houston area musicians in this industry - overdosed on "syrup" and died.

(Copyright 2009 KPLC-TV. All rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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