Over the weekend, Charles Schumer, the minority leader of the US Senate, called on the Food and Drug Administration to investigate the new “sniffable” chocolate powder product, Coco Loko, made by Orlando-based company Legal Lean.
The powder, which hit the market last month, contains cocoa powder as well as ingredients commonly found in energy drinks, including taurine, guarana and ginkgo biloba. Legal Lean says Coco Loko provides “euphoric energy and motivation” and safely generates a state “similar to the feeling of ecstasy”. However, doctors are unsure of the health effects, including possible damage to the nasal cavity. And Schumer, who is no stranger to criticizing caffeine-based stimulants, called the powder “cocaine on training wheels” that is dangerous for children and should be dumped.
In a Sunday press conference, Schumer said: “This suspect product has no apparent health value. I can’t think of a single parent who thinks it’s a good idea for their kids to sniff over-the-counter stimulants up their noses.” In a letter sent Saturday, he urged the FDA to intervene.
Because Legal Lean markets Coco Loko as a dietary supplement — a category that has not been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness prior to marketing — the powder has not been approved or evaluated by the FDA. In an email to The Washington Post last week, FDA spokesman Peter Cassell said the agency had not made a decision on whether or not to investigate Coco Loko. “In making that decision, the FDA will need to evaluate product labeling, marketing information, and/or any other information pertaining to the product’s intended use,” Cassell wrote.
While Legal Lean has a disclaimer on its website stating that Coco Loko “is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease,” the company does suggest that it could help with anxiety.
The Associated Press reports that Legal Lean founder Nick Anderson believes the product is safe and effective. Anderson told the After that the powder – inspired by similar products in Europe – gives users a kick for about 30 minutes. In a Thursday interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Anderson said, “There’s really no negative publicity, so I felt we were good to go.”
In an emailed statement to Ars, an unnamed spokesperson for Legal Lean wrote:
Please note that there are no adverse effects and these products have been on the market in Europe for over two years. Just because something is a new, perhaps controversial product for adults aged 18+ doesn’t mean we should immediately regulate it. We are supposed to be a free country and the land of opportunity.
I suggest legislators and regulators look at case studies and research data from Europe before deciding to demonize and regulate a brand new product on the market.
Andrew Lane, director of the Johns Hopkins Sinus Center, told the After that researchers have not conducted studies on the safety, nasal absorption and health effects of chocolate powder mixtures intended for sniffing. While Lane noted that sniffing chocolate is probably better than sniffing illegal drugs, the powder can block the sinuses, act as a gateway for other drugs and, as is the case with any energy product, can cause palpitations and raise blood pressure.
Coco Loko can be purchased from Legal Lean’s website for $19.99 (discounted from $24.99). Legal Lean’s other products include a grape-flavored herbal extract-based syrup that bears the same name as the company. The syrup is supposed to mimic a recreationally aspirated concoction developed in Houston, Texas called Lean, originally formulated to contain cough syrup (with promethazine and codeine), Sprite soda, and Jolly Rancher candy.