But he does see the marketing as effective. The drinks do come with warnings—suggestions that children under 12 not drink one, those under 18 not have more than one; or that servings per day be limited. "I think that the warnings are going to actually give ideas to kids to try and drink more to see how it will affect them, almost like a legal marijuana, as it is being nick-named."
Manufacturers maintain that the quantities of the ingredients in these drinks are not harmful. But Ayoob is skeptical: "If there isn't much of either ingredient, then it is just another sugary drink with a gimmick. If there's a significant amount of either ingredient, and there might be because of the claims they're making and the warnings, then I'd advise people to avoid this drink."
Matt Moody, the CEO and founder of Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda, said his friends asked him about the sensation his product creates for some consumers and marijuana (which goes by the nickname "Mary Jane") came to mind. "I imagine it probably does help, but it's not something we're going for," he said. "I would never compare it and say it's the same thing. It's just the closest comparison." In terms of sales, he admitted, the drug reference has had an impact.
Peter Bianchi, the CEO of Innovative Beverage Group, the company that created Drank, acknowledges the comparison with "Purple Drank" or "Sizzurp," an often-potent mixture of cough syrup and grape-flavored soda, which became popular in Southern hip-hop circles.
"Our fans, as well as critics, have given Drank this moniker, and while we can't deny that it seems to be moving cans, the product's success ultimately comes from its ability to provide relaxation," he said.
John Sicher, publisher for Beverage Digest, said it's too early to tell if sales of relaxation drinks will live up to the expectations of their promoters. "The products are very small. And it's probably two or three years too early to know if it's going to be any kind of trend."
Some reports are in: Vacation in a Bottle, for instance, reports an increase in sales of 252 percent this year over last year, and is expected to reach sales of $6 million by May 2010. Innovative Beverage Group, which produces Drank, announced revenues of more than $1.6 million for the second quarter in 2009, a 228 percent increase over last year's second quarter.
Companies are banking on the fact that people may be looking for ways to relax.
"Energy is overdone and stores and companies are looking for new market trends that are untapped," Greg Figueroa, the CEO of iChill, said.
"Our world is becoming increasingly targeted towards pharmaceuticals: If you're depressed take this, if you're feeling sick take this, if you're in a bad mood take this, etc.," William Sullivan, a 25-year-old Phoenix resident and graduate of Arizona State University who's searching for work in his field, geology. "I believe we send the wrong message to ourselves, trying to find quick fixes for everything, instead of doing what is right, and trying to find a long-term cure."