It seems that you can snort just about anything these days. That has Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerD-N.Y., worried.

In 2015, he introduced a bill to prevent sales of powdered alcohol for fear that the product “Palcohol” would attract underage drinkers who would snort it. It might be worth noting that, while extremely dangerous experimentation (such as alcohol delivery through the rectum) is nothing new for teenagers, snorting powdered alcohol is noted to be very uncomfortable and not an effective way to experience the effects of alcohol, making it fairly innocuous.

And now, Schumer is on to chocolate.

Coco Loko, marketed by Legal Lean, is a snortable chocolate powder claiming to give users an energy boost that lasts 30-60 minutes. Mixed with taurine, guarara and ginseng, the question is not what snorting chocolate will do to you, but whether we should regulate snorting what is basically an energy drink.

Schumer’s Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Reauthorization (STOP) Act, put forward in March 2015, was not a particularly effective way to address the problem of underage drinking, but at least it was relatively simple, as alcohol is already highly regulated. When it comes to the contents of an energy powder, as Coco Loko can best be described, regulatory bills may have far-reaching consequences.

The problem and solution seem simple. This is a relatively new product that, at the very least, is going raise curiosity among a broad audience and that has unknown consequences. While we certainly do not want another problem on our hands like the so-called “bath salts” that have been alleged to turn people into “zombie-like” killers, regulating new ways to get an energy boost is different and much more complicated.

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs are subject to a high degree of scrutiny before they can be put on the market. For Aleve to follow Advil, it had to go through the Food and Drug Administration chain of approval, including preclinical testing, toxicity testing, proven efficacy and ongoing post-market surveillance. For OxyContin to follow Vicodin, the same standards applied.

The same is not true of ingredients that are considered “dietary supplements.” Supplements that were in existence before 1994 “are not required to be reviewed by FDA for their safety before they are marketed because they are presumed to be safe based on their history of use by humans.” Instead, the FDA requires that these products not be misbranded or adulterated. They also are limited to only one claim of health, nutrient content or function. The system places the burden on the FDA to prove a supplement is not safe in order to restrict its use.

To be clear, dietary supplements that include vitamins, minerals, herbs and amino acids are not necessarily safe and can have adverse reactions when taken in conjunction with certain prescription medications. It’s always advisable to include these products in the list of drugs you are taking when you visit your doctor. Ginseng, a popular energy-boosting supplement that is also an ingredient in Coco Loko, can interfere with blood thinners; Saint John’s Wort, often used for depression, can decrease bioavailability of irinotecan that treats colon and small-cell lung cancer, making the drug less effective. While these consequences are not necessarily rare, to regulate supplements because of them, we might also have to consider regulating grapefruit because of similar interactions. It is doubtful that anyone wants to go down this road.

It’s accepted that people have the right to use supplements even if they aren’t the cure-alls they may claim to be. Perhaps Legal Lean is misguided in marketing their product as “snortable chocolate.” But given that the price recently dropped from $25 to $20 per container, the market for such a product might not be quite what CEO Nick Anderson thought it would be. Inhaled energy drinks just might be a passing fad.

What isn’t passing is the effect that a prohibition of one product made from ingredients already vetted and accepted could have on an entire industry. We must remember the slippery slope of regulations. Regulating Coco Loko could be the first step to rules that extend to the entire industry of dietary supplements.

Image by Bartosz Luka


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