Snorting Chocolate

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You probably won’t see any of this product in your kids Trick or Treat stash, but keep a lookout for a tin of Coco Loko in their rooms just in case. Yes, you read that correctly. Coco Loko is snortable chocolate powder. Marketed by Legal Lean, the Florida-based company founded by Nick Anderson, Coco Loko is the first product of its kind in the US. Similar products have been available in Europe for several years. After ordering and trying one, Anderson decided to create his own “raw cacao snuff.” So he invested $10,000 with an Orlando-based supplement company and created Coco Loko.

The Washington Post quoted Anderson as saying the effect is “almost like an energy-drink feeling, like you’re euphoric but also motivated to get things done.” He said he uses his product as an alternative to drinking and at music festivals and in “those types of social situations when you feel anxious.” Rolling Stone reported that Coco Loko promised a “30-minute buzz,” that would lift moods, reduce anxiety and give you a surge of energy. “Legal Lean claims Coco Loko will cause a rush of endorphins and serotonin, boost energy, and bring about a sense of calm. But the company hasn’t provided concrete research to back up those claims.”

However, the company website now refers to its product as “Coco Snuff” and the overt claims noted in Rolling Stone and other media write ups just after its release and attributed to Legal Lean are now not directly attributed to Coco Loko/Coco Snuff. Legal Lean makes no such claims anymore about Coco Snuff. You learn about endorphins, that a serotonin rush produces “an elevated mood and a state similar to the feeling of ecstasy [not the drug ecstasy]. This is the feeling that will make the music sound better and overall happiness.” Gee, isn’t that why the drug ecstasy was used at raves?

Raw cacao is said to give you a steady rush of euphoric energy that helps party goers “Dance the nigh away without a crash.” Then it claims raw cacao can give you a “calm focus,” reducing the chatter in your brain. “It is also known to help with anxiety and to reduce stress.”

The revisions to product description are likely the result of action taken by Senator Chuck Schumer where he called on the FDA to formally launch an investigation into “Coco Loko.” He said the product was a “brazen example of ‘narcotic marketing.’” He said it was like cocaine on training wheels. Schumer, The Washington Post and others (like The Fix) have reported it contains caffeine, guarana and taurine, which are ingredients commonly found in energy drinks. You won’t find that information on their website.

This suspect product has no clear health value. It is falsely held up to be chocolate, when it is a powerful stimulant. And they market it like a drug – and they tell users to take it like a drug, by snorting it. It is crystal clear that the FDA needs to wake up and launch a formal investigation into so-called Coco Loko before too many of our young people are damaged by it. ‘Coco Loko’ isn’t even pure chocolate at all. Instead, it is chock full of concentrated energy drink ingredients masked and marketed under the innocence of natural and safe chocolate candy. Parents and doctors don’t want kids snorting anything at all, especially not dangerous stimulants proven to wreak havoc on the bodies and brains of young kids and teens. That’s why the FDA must formally investigate this dangerous ‘party goer’ fad before it hurts our kids, not after.

The Washington Post reported in July of 2017 the FDA had not decided on how or whether to regulate the product. An FDA spokesperson said: “In reaching that decision, FDA will need to evaluate the product labeling, marketing information, and/or any other information pertaining to the product’s intended use.” Thus the changes in product effects on the website. The company is trying to keep under the FDA’s radar A representative for the DEA said he was not aware of any agency concerns with chocolate inhalants. According to reports mentioned by Schumer, the Legal Lean said the effects were “equal to about two energy drinks.”

Anderson said he didn’t consult any medical professionals when he created Coco Loko, “nor have scientists tested the snortable snuff before it was released to the public,” according to Rolling Stone. A company spokesperson said they used research data on the market in Europe. “There are no health issues … everyone seems fine. . . . It says not to do more than half the container, I think everything is self-explanatory, there are warning labels on it and I don’t think I would be responsible.”

There have been previous concerns raised about the health effects of energy drinks containing the ingredients reported to be in Coco Loko— caffeine, taurine and guarana. There can be increased blood pressure or heart palpitations. Those effects could be magnified when someone inhales these stimulants. The director for the John Hopkins Sinus Center said as yet, there is no data reported on health consequences, but he did have a few concerns.

First, it’s not clear how much of each ingredient would be absorbed into the nasal mucus membranes. And, well, putting solid material into your nose — you could imagine it getting stuck in there, or the chocolate mixing with your mucus to create a paste that could block your sinuses.

Another sinus specialist, Dr. Jordan Josephson, said you could expect more pulmonary problems like asthma or bronchitis. Blocked sinuses could lead to snoring and even sleep apnea, which in some cases could be fatal. There are multiple social media and online reports of trying snortable chocolate products like Coco Loko.

Hopefully, this product will go the way of Palcohol, a powered alcohol product that Senator Schumer took on in 2015. As with Coco Loko, his concern was it would be marketed to teens. One of the voiced concerns then was that powered alcohol could be snorted. According to The Hill, the manufacturer of Palcohol fought back by saying: “Listen, people can snort black pepper … so do we ban it? No, just because a few goofballs use a product irresponsibly doesn’t mean you ban it.” The company reported that although its product was approved on March 10, 2015 for legal sale in the US, it would not be manufacturing Palcohol. Rather, it would be “auctioning off the secret formula and manufacturing process.” Let’s hope Coco Loko ends up with a similar fate. For more on Palcohol, see: “Hype Over Powered Alcohol” or “Down For The Count?”

P.S. On December 11, 2017 the FDA took action against Legal Lean for its marketing and distribution of two of its products, Coco Loco and Legal Lean Syrup. “The warning letter explains how the claims made in the promotional materials for Legal Lean Syrup and Coco Loko demonstrate that the products are intended to be used as alternatives to illicit street drugs and that the products, as labeled and marketed, may pose safety concerns.” The FDA warning letter stated that Coco Loko was labeled as a food and marketed as a dietary supplement on the company website. However, since it is intended for intranasal administration, it is not a food or dietary supplement. “Failure to correct violations may result in FDA enforcement action, including seizure or injunction, without further notice.”



Down for the Count?

© Lesik Aleksandr | 123rf.com

© Lesik Aleksandr | 123rf.com

Approved for sale over one year ago, Palcohol may never make it to the shelves of retail stores for sale. Palcohol is a powdered alcohol product that puts the equivalent of one ounce of alcohol in a vacuum-sealed packet. Mix it with about five ounces of water, and voila! Instant cocktail! Mark Phillips, the creator of Palcohol, calls it “a revolutionary product.” He envisions it not only as a recreational beverage, but as also having industrial applications in products like windshield wiper fluid. And it could have military and medical applications. Unfortunately, it seems that unintentionally the makers of Palcohol may have been their own worst enemy.

The company’s website originally described Palcohol as a solution for problems like the overpriced drinks at stadium events. Supposedly, the site’s content was not meant for public viewing; the website was still in process. Then in April of 2014, U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced the approval of Palcohol. The result was a firestorm with a literal political backlash when people discovered the not-quite-ready website. The initial talking points were acknowledged by Phillips to have been “edgy” and “questionable.” Gawker quoted several of these now removed talking points:

What’s worse than going to a concert, sporting event, etc. and having to pay $10, $15, $20 for a mixed drink with tax and tip. Are you kidding me?! Take Palcohol into the venue and enjoy a mixed drink for a fraction of the cost.

We’ve been talking about drinks so far. But we have found adding Palcohol to food is so much fun. Sprinkle Palcohol on almost any dish and give it an extra kick.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room … snorting Palcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you’ll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.

Almost immediately, Phillips and his company, Lipsmark LLC, began backpedaling. Eater quoted Phillips as saying the company added “volume to the powder so that it would take more than a half of a cup of powder to get the equivalent of one drink up your nose.” The approval was quickly pulled for packaging discrepancies. In March of 2015 the TTB again approved Palcohol, but Senator Charles Schumer introduced legislation to make the production, sale and possession of powdered alcohol illegal. He also called on the FDA to immediately step in and halt the sale of Palcohol. Schumer said:

Underage alcohol abuse is already an epidemic with tragic consequences. A product like Palcohol would just exacerbate that scourge, which is why we must stop it. Support for this new amendment is the only way to make it illegal to produce or sell this Kool-Aid for underage binge drinking.

The Palcohol website touts its product as “safer than liquid alcohol.” Embedded there is a 16-minute YouTube video of Mark Phillips on “The Truth About Palcohol.” Among the potential benefits of Palcohol he described was how it could be used as an emergency fuel source—in other words, it’s flammable. Hotels in Hawaii and airlines were reportedly interested as it could save shipping and fuel costs, as Palcohol was only 1/3 the weight of regular alcohol. I could see the benefit in shipping alcohol to Hawaii, but won’t airlines have to carry water to hydrate the Palcohol on flights? Doesn’t that negate the weight savings? Claiming that Palcohol could help reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions—by saving fuel costs over shipping liquid alcohol—seemed a bit of a stretch. The website also says:

A proposed ban of powdered alcohol … is denying millions of responsible adults and hundreds of businesses a chance to use this legal, safe and revolutionary new product that has applications in medicine, energy, hospitality, the military, manufacturing, etc. as well as reducing the carbon footprint by being so much lighter to ship than liquid alcohol.

Legislators who are working to make Palcohol illegal are made out to be the villains. “The legislature is there to protect the citizen’s right to choose and support innovative business ideas, not to impose [their] values on them.” Weren’t the initial concerns for Palcohol generated from their own “edgy” copy on a not-ready-for-prime-time website? And don’t individual states have the right to ban products they don’t want to be sold in their states? In the video, Phillips said: “We need to act now before ignorance determines our future.”

However, it doesn’t seem that state legislators around the country are as ignorant of Palcohol as Phillips would like. Alcohol Justice reported on PR Newswire that 31 states have complete bans on powered alcohol, with the California Assembly unanimously passing a bill (AB 1554) to do the same. A companion bill unanimously passed the state Senate in March of 2016. Assembly member Jacqui Irwin, author of AB 1554, noted the overwhelming bi-partisan support behind the ban. She said:

Powdered alcohol is a dangerous product that has been designed and marketed as a way to make super-charged cocktails on the go. Binge drinking and alcohol related deaths are already a huge problem in California and adding powdered alcohol to the mix is a recipe for disaster.

Bruce Livingston, the CEO of Alcohol Justice, said they were grateful to the states that placed public health and safety above commerce. He encouraged elected leaders in states that have not yet taken action to do so. “We continue to agree with New York Senator Chuck Schumer who said Palcohol will become the ‘Kool-Aid’ of teenage binge drinking and will lead to acute alcohol poisoning and death.” A graphic on the Alcohol Justice website indicated that as of june 7, 2016, 32 states had banned powered alcohol. Ten states, including California, Pennsylvania and New York, have pending legislation to ban powered alcohol. Only three states allow powered alcohol: Colorado, Arizona and Texas.

Then on June 14, 2016, the American Medical Association (AMA) announced they were adopting a policy supporting the federal and state laws banning powered alcohol in the U.S. Jesse Ehrenfield, MD, an AMA board member said:

Given the variety of flavors that could be enticing to youth and concerns that the final alcohol concentration could be much greater than intended by the manufacturer, we believe that powdered alcohol has the potential to cause serious harm to minors and should be banned. . . . We urge states and the federal government to prevent powdered alcohol from being manufactured, distributed, imported and sold in the U.S.

Mark Phillips told Medscape Medical News that he thought the AMA’s decision was irresponsible. He said: “If the AMA would have taken the time to learn about the product, they would have realized that Palcohol is safer than liquid alcohol.” Reporting for Medscape, Robert Lowes said the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health weighed Phillips’ arguments for Palcohol and still decided to support the ban: “”The harms that could arise from mixing powdered alcohol with liquid alcohol or even with energy drinks raises the potential for dangerous patterns of use.”

Palcohol is not down for the count just yet. Phillips and Lipsmark LLC are working hard to reverse the legislative bans and present Palcohol as an eco-friendly, potentially life-saving product that happens to be flammable and could be used by the military for “applications from transport fuel to fuel in a soldier’s backpack.” Is that military product going to be powered ethyl alcohol like recreational Palcohol? If it is, I wonder what the alcohol content will be? Do we want to send troops into combat situations with something they could potentially get drunk on? For more on powered alcohol see, “Hype over Powered Alcohol.”


Hype Over Powdered Alcohol

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© damedeeso | 123RF.com

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approved the sale of a brand of powdered alcohol named “Palcohol” on April 8, 2014 and then rescinded permission on April 21st. An article in Time said the approval for Palcohol was halted because of an error in its labels. The parent company for Palcohol, Lipsmark, said: “there seemed to be a discrepancy on our fill level, how much powder is in the bag.” So when Senator Chuck Schumer called upon the FDA to ban Palcohol, this kid named River Donaghey got the idea to try and make his own powdered alcohol and then document the aftermath for Vice in “Powdered Alcohol Got Me Drunk in the Worst Way.”

Donaghey took a recipe for powdered alcohol off the internet to mix his own, because “I didn’t want to make wimpy powdered booze like Palcohol, which you need half a pouch of to make a single drink. I wanted something strong.” Instead of mixing in 30 grams of alcohol, “which is hardly anything,” he poured in an entire fifth of 192-proof grain alcohol. He knew it was the right mixture when his eyes started to water from the fumes.

He began by ingesting “handfuls of the stuff,” then he got the idea to sprinkle it on pizza. After running into his roommate, Charlie, he gave him a pinch of the powder and they both set off for pizza. Donaghey said the powder drunk crept up on him and he went from mostly sober to buzzed to beyond. He said he thought the powdered booze blended well on pizza. He also kept getting weird looks from people with his Tupperware bowl full of powdered alcohol. They thought he was acting out a scene from the movie Scarface with a bowl full of cocaine.

After leaving the pizza shop, River and Charlie went down to the East River where they decided to set some on fire. “It turns out my homemade powdered alcohol burns like napalm.” When he tried to stamp out the fire he ended up spreading it all along the rocky bank of the river. Charlie’s shoe cut on fire. He offered some to a group of high school students, who wisely refused. But there was one more thing he had to try: snorting it. So he went back to the VICE office and “started racking lines.”

The powder turned to glue in his nose and he was immediately plugged up. The fumes burned for a few minutes and then his sinuses became numb. Charlie and he staggered home and went to their respective rooms, hoping that unconsciousness would dull the throbbing inside their heads. Charlie didn’t snort any.

I woke up at 4 AM, with my face caked with blood from my nose. At least I could breathe again. The headache had dulled to a manageable form. I went out into the living room and found Charlie sitting on the couch, sucking on a beer. He handed me one. I slumped down next to him and took a drink.

Given the above, it’s not surprising that as soon as the TBB finally approved the sale of Palcohol on March 10th, 2015, Senator Charles Schumer introduced legislation to ban the sale and distribution of Palcohol and other powdered alcohol products.

We simply can’t sit back and wait for powdered alcohol to hit store shelves across the country, potentially causing more alcohol-related hospitalizations and God forbid, deaths. This legislation will make illegal the production and sale of this Kool-Aid for underage drinking.

Reported in the Time article and on the blog, SB Nation, the original Palcohol website suggested football fans could “Bring Palcohol in and enjoy the game.” And, yes, like River Donaghey tried, they said you could snort Palcohol. “You’ll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.” The current Palcohol website has removed such remarks and hopes to be able to get their production facility up and running to make their product available this summer.

They argued that banning their product would only make people want it more. The ban will create a black market and lose significant tax revenue. They also said it was irresponsible to ban Palcohol, because it probably won’t work. “No one wants the government telling us what we can drink and not drink. We don’t need a nanny. The legislature exists to protect our rights to live how we choose, not to use coercive power to force their values on us.”

Lipsmark sees Palcohol as “a revolutionary new product that can help so many industries.” Airlines can reduce weight and save on fuel costs. Medical personnel want to use it as an antiseptic, especially in remote locations. It would be a “boon to outdoor enthusiasts” wanting to enjoy an adult beverage without having to carry heavy bottles of liquid. They said there has even been interest in using powdered alcohol as a fuel source. “There is talk of multiple military applications from transport fuel to fuel in a soldier’s backpack.”

McCarton Ackerman on The Fix said that the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that 47 bills in 28 states have been introduced to address powdered alcohol. Virginia, Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Massachusetts and Vermont have already banned the distribution of Palcohol, “while others are also considering similar measures.”  Reported by MyFOXdc.com, Maryland announced a ban on the distribution and sale of powdered alcohol on March 25th, 2015. “The likelihood of widespread Palcohol abuse – particularly among underage consumers – carries a real possibility of tragic consequences.”

Of course, Colorado has reversed its initial move to ban it and could be the first to approve its use. It is up to the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division to write the rules for powdered alcohol sales and distribution. It could be on store shelves in a few months. The video embedded in thedenverchannel.com article illustrates the small size and ease with which the packets could be hidden. “The biggest benefit of powdered alcohol, or Palcohol, is also its biggest danger. It’s convenient, it’s easy and it can be sneaky.”

There have been some limited reports of powdered alcohol being a fake or a hoax. However, it does seem to be a real product. The question seems to be whether or not it is being hyped into becoming a fad. For example, hoaxes.org posted in 2005 that it was possible in theory to create powdered alcohol. However, it also noted that the end product from a formula used would only be 4.8% ethanol by volume, and concluded by saying: “But even if this stuff is real, I can’t imagine powdered rum tastes anything like the real thing.”

In his blog, Tim Vandergrift reported that alcohol (ethanol) is a volatile liquid, meaning that it evaporates very quickly, far faster than water. At room temperature, pure alcohol will evaporate away. It can’t be directly turned into powder, so that is why you have to mix and stabilize it with another substance (like sugar or maltodextrin, as Rive Donaghey did), and then seal it in a vapor-proof package. He then calculated the reported bulk of maltodextrin-alcohol mixture and estimated that you would need 26 packets to make an entire vodka bottle’s worth of cocktails.

Assuming you do make this damp maltodextrin substrate-with-alcohol mix, where does that leave you? With a product that’s only 12% ABV, probably costs more, and bulks much larger than simple beverage alcohol, is tough to dissolve in cold liquid and doesn’t taste like anything without the addition of lots of extra additives. Additionally you’d be consuming some form of unidentified powder in vastly higher quantities than the alcohol you’re seeking. Peachy (Italics).

It’s hard to not see this as a product that is aimed directly at under aged drinkers. Dr. Scott Krakower said the flavored powders would appeal to young people. “Youths are going to be very vulnerable to this.” And even though the company advised against it, “people will snort it”—as we saw with River Donaghey, just to see what it’s like.