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Can the wellness industry really eliminate your comedown forever?

Post-rave recovery supplements are the latest trend set to capture health-conscious clubbers – but the science behind them is still limited

It’s the day after the last blissfully warm bank holiday of the summer. If you’re lucky enough to have had the weekend off, you probably spent most of the past three days queuing for portaloos at Notting Hill Carnival, snogging strangers at Manchester Pride, or lounging around on the nearest patch of green stuff. The wealth of nightlife activities that spring up on a bank holiday mean it’s quite possible that you’ve also recently ingested various illicit substances, along with necking more units of alcohol than you really want to think about.

Even with the extra day to recuperate, the chances are you’re still not feeling your best halfway through the following week. You’re sunburnt, tired and dehydrated, the midweek comedown blues have hit you so hard that this morning on the bus you started weeping at a video of an especially cute dog on Twitter, and now you’re hiding in the loos at work, reading this on your phone after telling your boss you were just ‘popping out to stretch your legs’ nearly half an hour ago.

All of which makes you the ideal target for the wellness industry’s latest invention; ‘post-rave wellness’. Contrary to all previous wisdom, this doesn’t just mean having a big sleep, demolishing a takeaway, bringing your duvet into the living room and watching nine hours of Celebs Go Dating. Nowadays, practising safe sesh means taking one of a variety of ‘rave recovery supplements’ that have burst onto the scene in recent years, carving out a new niche in an already saturated supplement market predicted to be worth more than $210 billion by 2026.

Containing a mixture of ingredients invariably including the amino acid 5-HTP, along with various combinations of magnesium, electrolytes, B and C vitamins and botanicals like ginseng, lion’s mane mushroom, green tea, and guarana, brands like Happy Tuesdays, RaveAidRave BoxSorted, Raverall, Harmony, and Raveolution promise to ease the lack of concentration, existential dread, and spontaneous weeping that can follow a particularly heavy weekend, for as little as £20 for a bottle of 60 capsules.

Often proffered by health websites as a natural treatment for depression, 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, which basically means that your brain needs it to produce the ‘happiness chemical’ depleted by the use of drugs like MDMA. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant that is thought to prevent ravers from gurning, while replacing the electrolytes you lose through excessive drinking stops you from getting dehydrated, making your hangover less awful. The other common ingredients in these supplements are intended to increase concentration and alertness, boost the immune system or prevent neurotoxicity.

The idea that taking certain supplements might ease your recovery after a mad one is by no means new, with seasoned ravers having long expounded the benefits of taking 5-HTP and magnesium. But the difference with the new products that have popped up in recent years is the clear influence of wellness culture. Whereas in days gone by, stocking up on rave recovery supplements was the reserve of the hardcore sesh gremlins willing to trek to Holland & Barrett to drop 30 quid on an ugly little plastic bottle filled with mysterious grey capsules, the new rave supplement brands are stylish, Instagramable, and marketed to millennials via targeted social media adverts, influencer #sponcon and, of course, memes.  

“In days gone by, stocking up on rave recovery supplements was the reserve of the hardcore sesh gremlins willing to trek to Holland & Barrett; the new rave supplement brands are stylish, Instagramable, and marketed to millennials via targeted social media adverts and influencer #sponcon”

Take the recently launched Happy Tuesdays, a combination of supplements which come in a sleek silver pouch that looks like it might contain a sheet mask, and which can easily fit into a packed festival rucksack. Containing five different capsules given names like ‘detox’, ‘mind boost’ and ‘positive vibes’, the overall feel of the product is reminiscent of a juice cleanse, and clearly designed to attract a similarly health-conscious audience. Priced at £19 for three packs, with users advised to take one before bed and one in the morning after a particularly big sesh, it’s a lot more expensive per use than a couple of capsules of 5-HTP, but far more convenient, and affordable enough for the cash-strapped millennial consumers that it’s aimed at.

Targeting a young wellness-conscious and social media-literate audience is a strategy that clearly works for these new supplement brands, even when their product isn’t overtly marketed as a comedown cure (several of these products make no reference to drugs on their website, instead opting for euphemistic references to ‘long nights’ and ‘depleted serotonin’.) As Joel Moss, the creator of the soluble, mango-flavoured and elusively-named ‘recovery supplement’ Sorted puts it, “the UK wellness industry has been very late to the mark on a growing group of young consumers. Most young people can't relate to brands like Wellman and Berocca. They are tired of dull and dated formulas which don't appeal to their needs, and they are looking for something more premium.”

As with most wellness trends, the brands behind this new breed of supplements are keen to emphasise the science behind their products, none more so than RaveAid, a US brand launched all the way back in 2011. Full of stock images of brain scans and scientists looking very seriously at clipboards, the brand’s copy is filled with typical wellness buzzwords like ‘detoxify’, ‘hydration’ and ‘neurotoxicity’, with its website linking to various scientific studies which ‘prove’ the efficacy of the ingredients it contains, though most of the studies it references are several years old, and some of them weren’t even done on humans. 

While it has been heavily researched already, Sorted’s head of formulation, Dr Naomi Newman Beinart, admits that “more research is needed into the positive effects of consuming 5-HTP.” This is particularly true when it comes to the supplement’s supposed positive effects on those suffering from the ravages of a weekend spent doing keys in a club toilet, with research tending to focus on the supplement’s impact on those suffering from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, rather than avid drug users.  

Despite this, Joel tells us that his product has gained something of a “cult following” among young party-goers, although he is keen to emphasise that it isn’t marketed as a post-rave cure. “There's a lot of people who use Sorted to recover from raves and festivals. Partying depletes serotonin, so I can see why they would make the connection with 5HTP.”

Even so, he says that he himself “would be wary of purchasing any product that is advertised as a ‘post-rave supplement’ without reading into the research and ensuring it has been formulated by experts.” Meanwhile, when approached for comment, the Happy Tuesdays’ PR team stated that the brand “isn’t doing any media outreach or relations at the moment” but did say that it’s “in the process of publishing research.” 

Even with a lack of conclusive data to support taking supplements as a means of helping yourself recover after a crazy weekend, plenty of people believe that they really do work. Whether it’s a placebo effect or not, you need only look at some of the product reviews for Happy Tuesdays and Raverall, or at the lively discussion of the benefits of 5-HTP on rave forums like Ibiza Spotlight and Party Vibe to see that people really do swear by rave supplements.

With an increasing number of partygoers keen to combine an interest in wellness with their love of clubbing, along with the highest rates of club drug use in the UK for ten years, it seems likely that more and more brands will capitalise on the growing awareness of 5-HTP to carve out a new niche within the wellness supplement industry. As with so many wellness trends before, it doesn’t really seem to matter whether the science is there to back it up or not.