Regulators Begin Actions on Drugs as Foods
Lazy Cakes, a brownie filled with now 7.8 mg of melatonin, unknown amounts of valerian root and other “herbal” drugs, was banned last week by the Arkansas Department of Health. It also facing a ban in Fall River and New Bedford, Massachusetts. When I wrote about Lazy Cakes in early February (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-rest/201102/when-drugs-masquerade-food-people-can-die) I did not expect the public outcry to lead to bans this early; yet what to do with herbal supplements packaged as foods remains a major public problem:
Why are Lazy Cakes Dangerous?
They are a food that contains drugs that are being marketed to children – and high doses of melatonin can harm kids.
Why are Lazy Cakes legal?
Because they’re marketed as a “dietary supplement,” not as a food – even though they look like, are packaged as, and marketed as brownies. They would probably be outlawed if they were treated as foods. In small print Lazy Cakes declare they are for adults only – though it’s doubtful most five year olds will read the disclaimer.
How Can Lazy Cakes harm kids?
Melatonin is the cause of more calls to Poison Control than any other herbal supplement. It can put kids to sleep for a very long time, and cause nausea and diarrhea.
However, the largest public dangers may come with the marketed uses advertised by Lazy Cakes. On the first page of their website the manufacturer displays a can like that of stimulant Red Bull; the inscription states – “How do you stop a raging bull?” The idea is when you are too “up” on stimulant energy drinks, you come “down” on Lazy Cakes.
There are multiple problems with that idea – first, if you come down too fast or too hard you may fall asleep – which can be fatal operating a motor vehicle. Do teenagers do things like this? Yes – and the cause of their deaths and injuries probably won’t show up in the statistics, as there will be no chemical forensic work on melatonin or caffeine levels.
Second, the “up and down trap” common to entertainers, who get “up” with cocaine and “down” with alcohol as ways to control their need for high arousal (see “Celebrity Rehab 101”) now has a legal substitute; energy drinks provide the up part and Lazy Cakes and “relaxation drinks” the way to come down. Physical addiction may not occur with melatonin or valerian, but it certainly occurs with caffeine. The results are decidedly not pretty – and mere frequent caffeine use can interfere with many adolescents’ already poor sleep. When caffeine lightens sleep and prevents it working effectively, you need that many more “downers” to fall asleep. Kids who don’t sleep well don’t learn well – and are cranky and can more readily gain weight.
Where do people get Lazy Cakes?
Pretty much anywhere in what is now reportedly 24 states. They’re at your Stop n Shop and 24 hour convenience stores and many other places. – though the outcry on Lazy Cakes has Seven-Eleven refusing to stock them. On the net you can buy 12 cakes for 24.99, but usually they’re 3-4 bucks each in stores.
Does melatonin have other uses?
Absolutely. It can be used to induce sleep and change body clocks, and many shift workers, among others, use it. They buy melatonin pills of .3 to 3 mg at pharmacies, with prices ranging from about 10-20 cents each.
Are Lazy Cakes the only kind of drugs masquerading as food?
Not even close. There are Lulla Cakes, and now hundreds and hundreds of competing “relaxation drinks.” Many of them put in the same or similar ingredients to Lazy Cakes, generally without stating how much of each one – when they do list all the ingredients. Such “relaxation beverages” are in many ways the flip side of energy drinks – and will often be used to come down from them.
What’s wrong with wanting to relax?
Nothing. People need to have natural ways to modulate consciousness, which fluctuates continuously through the 24 hour day. Rest should be regeneration, one of the most natural things in the world and necessary for life. But there are thousands of ways to actively rest that people can engage quickly and easily under their own control – many of which are a lot of fun and improve attention – rather than turning to pharmaceuticals for most problems. So far, people who used to talk about cigarettes leading to marijuana leading to “harder drugs” don’t seem to have expressed concern about large doses of caffeine followed by large doses of melatonin as a way for young people to get through the day.
How are drugs different from foods?
Food is nourishment – energy and materials.
Drugs treat illness. They treat symptoms.
Foods have a presumption of safety not present in drugs.
We better make that distinction clearer in our regulations. For something will need be done with the hundreds of different relaxation beverages – and many substances like them coming down the pike – so that people are clearly they’re taking a drug – even if it is not regulated as such by the FDA. Such “dietary supplements” really are drugs. People should understand that they’re taking pharmaceuticals – not a “relaxation brownie” or a “relaxation drink.”
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news