The new cure-all for vacation excess: the IV drip

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On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Noreen Tofel sat cross-legged on her couch in Alexandria, Va., with her left arm stretched out on a pillow. A vein rose like a riverlet on a relief map. As nutrients trickled into her bloodstream, she talked about how IV drips fit into her travel regimen.

Before a work trip, Tofel, who works in human resources risk management, will schedule a drip to boost her energy and immunity levels. If she is planning an indulgent vacation, she will reverse the order. The healthy intravenous cocktail, she said, will make amends for the boozy imbibed ones.

I want to drink my margaritas and have my piña coladas and kind of take my body for granted,” said Tofel, 39. “If I did the IV drip before, then I would feel bad drinking over it.”

Once just in hospitals, IV drips have become a crossover sensation in the health, wellness and travel sphere. Travelers previously had to rely on pain killers and sunglasses (hangover), melatonin (jet lag) or copious amounts of caffeine or sleep (exhaustion) to recover from travel-related afflictions. Now, they are hooking up to IVs to erase the excesses that could derail their vacation. And you don’t have to venture far to find them. IV drips are popping up in hotel spas, resorts, casinos and shopping districts. You can even order one from the cushiness of your rental property or hotel room.

“People get really dehydrated when they travel. They get hangovers and sun exposure. They’re at high altitudes when they’re flying,” said Sarah Muniz, director of clinical operations at PureDropIV, which serves the Washington, D.C., area and counts Tofel as a client. Having the ability to get the hydration and B-12 vitamins and vitamin C really helps people bounce back.”

Ron Kapp, a Santa Barbara-based physician and anti-aging research clinician, said the therapy’s evolution from medical procedure to self-care treatment started in the 1960ѕ, when Jоhn Myers, аn іntеrnіѕt at Jоhnѕ Hорkіnѕ Hospital in Baltimore, discovered that injecting nutrients is more efficient than ingesting them. He created a rejuvenating concoction called the Myers’ cocktail. It’s now a staple on IV drip menus today.

In 2010, Jason Burke, a board-certified anesthesiologist and pioneer in the field, created an IV hydration remedy for folks who partied a little too hard. He cruised the Las Vegas Strip in a 45-foot-long Hangover Heaven bus, administering IV drips. The clinic-on-wheels is undergoing repairs and a refurbishment, but visitors can book an office appointment or schedule a rental house — or hotel — call.

“Taking it out of the hospital environment was his brilliant move,” said Kapp. “Everyone jumped on the bandwagon.”

According to the Global Wellness Institute, there were 7,000 medical-spas worldwide and thousands of IV drip centers and facilities last year, including hotel spas, wellness retreats and mobile clinics. Restore Hyper Wellness, for instance, has more than 225 locations. Reviv boasts clinics in nearly 50 countries.

Adam Nadelson founded the I.V. Doc in New York City in 2013 after he suffered a bout of food poisoning during his medical residency and rebounded with the help of an IV drip. His company has expanded to 33 U.S. cities, plus London and Ibiza, Spain. He said his team serves guests at many luxury hotel brands, such as the Ritz, Aman and Four Seasons.

“You name the hotel,” he said, “we’ve certainly been there.”

Shortly after Nadelson spoke those words, the I.V. Doc received a text from the Plaza New York. The concierge requested an appointment for a guest that day — emphasis on “soon.”

From hangover treatment to hotel amenity

Recreational IV drips may be most famously associated with hangovers, but they can purportedly alleviate a wide range of symptoms, such as dehydration, brain fog, nausea and lethargy. Prices vary by city and type of IV cocktail, but basic drips start at about $150 and can rise fivefold or more.

IV drip clinics have been proliferating around the world. A number of Four Seasons spas — Orlando, Washington D.C., Maui, New York City — offer the amenity. At the Ranch, a wellness retreat in Malibu and New York’s Hudson Valley, guests can receive a drip poolside or in the privacy of their room. Shoppers can indulge in a different kind of retail therapy at Harrod’s in London and the Dubai Mall. Even cruise ships are getting in on the trend.

“This is global,” Kapp said. “I was in Honduras for a convention and they were doing IVs.”

But like pizza and barbecue, there are regional IV preferences.

In Type-A cities like Washington and New York City, travelers often book drips with the hopes of building their immunity and energy reserves. In avant-garde wellness destinations such as Los Angeles and Miami, the treatment is part of the broader longevity movement. In party towns with gaggles of bachelor and bachelorette parties, IV drips are fire hoses pumping out hangover cures.

Rose Salo, founder of San Diego IV, said she became of aware of IV drips as a wedding activity through actress Sofia Vergara, who provided the amenity at her 2015 nuptials. Since then, Salo said the “bougie luxury service” has gone mainstream. She said some groups book the treatment in advance, as part of their travel itinerary. Others call her in desperation, as if she were running an urgent care clinic.

“A lot of times we get bookings on the day-of,” she said. “They’ll wake up feeling like complete garbage and they have another day of shenanigans ahead of them. They’ll call us and say, “Can you have someone here ASAP?’”

At Reviv in the Cosmopolitan resort in Las Vegas, Jesse Schwartz, a registered nurse, recommends a reactive strategy: Do the damage first, then come in for a reboot. The IV bag will have the greatest effect when you are at your lowest point — dehydrated, exhausted, nauseous. After the IV flushes out the toxins, you can jump right back into the Vegas game.

“Once you get the hangover bag or the vitamin boost bag, you can go out and do what you want,” he said.

Los Angeles resident Chris Harmon first tried an IV treatment not to tackle a hangover but to battle a virus. His doctor, who works at Cure Medical in the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, prescribed a Myers cocktail. The drip did the trick, and he now averages 20 to 30 IVs a year.

The chief operating officer of a drug and alcohol treatment program in Malibu incorporates them into his travels. On a trip to the Sacramento area, he booked an appointment with a well-reviewed physician he found online. During the 45-minute session, he read his Kindle and relaxed while the IV worked its magic. He has also juiced up in his Austin hotel room during a visit with friends.

“It gave me more energy,” Harmon said. “I remember feeling the benefit immediately.”

The mechanics of the drip

Depending on state requirements, you might have to meet with a licensed medical practitioner for a consultation and vitals check before a drip. The treatment is usually administered by a registered nurse or a professional with comparable training. Some conditions could preclude you from treatment, such as pregnancy or certain heart, liver or kidney diseases.

“The reason that we rely very heavily on our medical team is that we sometimes have to turn people away who aren’t great candidates,” said Derek Hofmann, senior spa director at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando. “We err on the side of caution.”

People suffering from trypanophobia will be relieved to know that the nurse uses a needle only briefly, to insert the catheter. The treatment can last from 30 minutes to several hours.

Despite their popularity outside of hospitals, many experts in the medical and wellness fields are wary of IV drips. Beth McGroarty, vice president of research at the Global Wellness Institute, said the injection can lead to serious infections caused by improperly sterilized equipment or unclean skin. A reaction might occur during the treatment or hours to a day later.

In addition, flooding your body with unnecessary vitamins, minerals and other substances can cause toxicity and overwhelm your kidneys. To underscore her point, she cited a Texas woman who died of cardiac arrest last year after an electrolyte injection.

McGroarty also takes issue with the lack of federal oversight. The states regulate the practitioners, though governmental agencies occasionally step in with warnings.

In 2021, the Food and Drug Administration alerted consumers about unsanitary conditions at medical offices and clinics that administer treatments involving compounded drug products such as IV drips. “Contaminated, or otherwise poor quality, compounded drug products can lead to serious patient illnesses, including death,” the agency stated.

For Tofel’s drip, Madison Gnan, a registered nurse, removed the sterile items from their packaging, pulled nine vials of her travel case and made the cocktail to order.

I would not go to a place that doesn’t open it in front of you,” Tofel said.

Las Vegas, ground zero for luxury IVs

Though the treatment is commonplace, Las Vegas still feels like the epicenter of IV drips. Like Elvis impersonators, they are inescapable. During a recent stay on the Strip, I would pass clinics on my morning coffee run and during my aimless wanderings in the black hole of casinos. On a search for my hotel’s fitness center, I ended up inside an IV drip lounge.

I get a little wigged out by foreign objects embedded in my skin, but I mustered up the courage to stop by several places and ask my inner elbow: Do we dare?

I started at Ageless Las Vegas in Caesars Palace, which evoked the mysterious and moody atmosphere of a speakeasy. Co-founder Rio Alabastro showed me a red pinprick in her inner elbow. She said she had felt a little sluggish that morning and gave herself a little Get-Up-and-Go, one of the options she recommended to a virgin dripper. On my way out, she handed me a QR code with a discount.

Regenerate Me has three locations on the Strip. The outpost in the Linq Hotel sits across from a Dunkin’, so you can put your drip to work with a doughnut and chemically flavored coffee. The attendant told me most people order a hangover cure. I showed up at lunchtime, so I was either too late or too early for the rush.

The company’s clinic in Planet Hollywood was also empty. I peered through a gap in the treatment room and saw a row of reclining massage chairs arranged around a TV set. It felt like a den in Middle America.

Reviv has more than 80 locations, including the United Kingdom, Dubai and the Cosmopolitan in Vegas. The facility was predominantly furnished in white and emitted a vibe that was more Scandinavian lounge than sanitized hospital. Schwartz, whose arm displayed the mark of an IV, said about two dozen people had dropped in for IV treatments that day. Unless I drank more, I wouldn’t be the next.

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