When Drugs Masquerade as Food, People Can Die
Think that's a chocolate brownie? Surprise - it's a sleeping pill.
Posted Feb 03, 2011
Want to bite into a savory chocolate cake laced with hormones? “Grab a box today and let your problems melt away,” promises “Lazy Cakes,” a new “relaxation brownie” now containing 4mg of melatonin plus valerian root. One writer for Phoenix News ate the chewy cake and fell asleep for twelve hours – extolling the next best thing to a pot brownie. Later, as reported by Fox News, a 15 year old in Memphis gave it to his nephew, who went to sleep and didn’t wake up. The clinicians in the Emergency Room told him the kid might have died – though eventually he did arise.
Yet kids picking up a brownie in the refrigerator probably won’t read the health warnings – especially when they’re five years old.
The FDA defines a drug as a substance mitigating, treating or preventing disease. Insomnia is a disease to lots of people. That includes the people who sell Lazy Cakes, whose promotional literature includes a sleepy looking gumby like figure direct from children’s advertising (he also sometimes sports a Peace sign.) The implication is that Lazy Cakes is a “legal” way back to hippy days, when you can have your pot brownies and stick up at least one of your fingers at the authorities (the stimulant properties of chocolate are not considered.) Beyond health warnings, the Lazy Cakes website has links “demonstrating” the healthy effects of melatonin for children – even the claim that they may increase their longevity. Reports are they're being sold in the candy section of stores.
Let’s be clear – melatonin is a drug. About a third to forty percent of people who take it get sleepy. It’s banned in many countries or only available with prescription.
Melatonin is also a hormone. It controls reproductive cycles for much of the mammalian world, and was studied as a contraceptive in humans. It resets biological clocks, and tells the body that it’s night-time – giving it the moniker “hormone or darkness.” It has been implicated, in higher or lower levels, in different mechanisms of cancer formation.
What is it doing in brownies?
Food and Drugs
It’s true that many foods have drug like properties – caffeine and alcohol being salient examples. Similarly drugs affect food intake, a property so valuable that powerful anti-seizure drugs like topiramate are now commonly used as weight loss aids throughout America.
Yet people inherently know there are differences between food and drugs. Foods are supposed to be fuel and materials that most of the time tastes good. If foods have medicinal properties, like coffee and alcohol, people have known about them for centuries.
That caffeine is a drug with both wonderful and sometimes dreadful properties is already a public health problem. The biggest issue now are highly sugared “high energy” beverages used by the young (and old) to keep themselves awake despite what caffeine does to their sleep, weight, mood, irritability, and ability to function. Many kids add high energy beverages to alcohol to mask alcohol’s depressant effects, drinking more and more – until the alcohol hits them like a wall of bricks. The makers of Lazy Cakes are aiming directly at this market, asking in their advertising “How do you stop a charging bull?” with the inscription next to what looks like a can of Red Bull. The message – get your kid down from his energy drink high with “relaxation brownies.”
And what happens when she drives home?
When Foods are Drugs
After the FDA was taken off regulating supplements a giant industry was born. Tens of billions dollars worth of supplements are sold every year by an endless group of manufacturers, often including ingredients that are blatantly illegal.
But who’s watching? Can you test every new product that comes out when you’re not regulating them? When greed is often regarded as good, what will stop supplement makers from including steroids, stimulants, and a variety of illegal toxins that increase sales, as so many have? They've plenty of time to go to the bank before they're caught.
And Lazy Cakes is not illegal. Instead it’s the usual industrial chocolate product, combined with drugs and then sold and regulated as a food. In a country enamored of sloganeering about health care we have forgotten about health. We have forgotten that the survival of our population is at stake whenever we consider the foods and water we ingest. Food policy is health policy.
A food policy that treats drugs as food is truly nuts. How many little kids will pick up Lazy Cakes and chow down on the sweet “relaxation brownies” before arriving in the ER? How many young people who enjoy letting their “problems melt away” will end up falling asleep at the wheel and smashing into a concrete culvert?
We don’t know. In November, the FDA banned “Four Loko,” a combination of caffeine, alcohol and amino acids.
Drugs should not masquerade as food. It’s time for the FDA to look at Lazy Cakes.