A widely available workout supplement contains a compound that is chemically similar to the drug methamphetamine, according to a new study.
The supplement, called Craze, made by Driven Sports Inc., is marketed as a way to improve workout performance and "enhance muscle gains." The product's label says it contains extract from dendrobium orchids. Several athletes who reported taking Craze failed urine drug tests.
The new study, prompted by those failed tests, found Craze contains a methamphetamine-like compound that is not listed on the product's label, and has not been studied in people. [6 Strange Meth Facts]
Marc Ullman, a lawyer for Driven Sports, said that the company disputes the paper's conclusion. Ullman said the new study is published in a shortened form, rather than as a full journal paper, and so his client is missing details that would allow it to properly respond to the accusation.
"We found that, instead of anything from an orchid, it had an unlisted, practically unknown, cousin of methamphetamine," said study researcher said Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance in Boston.
Because the compound, called N,α- DEPEA, has not been tested in people, the effects of the drug are not known. However, researchers say the new findings are concerning, because the active part of N,α- DEPEA (the part of the molecule that affects the body) appears structurally similar to the active part of methamphetamine.
In addition, researchers found large doses of the compound in Craze, between 20 and 30 milligrams, suggesting that the supplement was not accidentally contaminated, Cohen said.
The study is published Monday (Oct. 14) in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis.
In the study, an international team of researchers analyzed three samples of Craze: one purchased from GNC, and two from online stores based in the U.S. and Holland. Two samples were analyzed by NSF International — a company that certifies supplements — and one sample was tested at the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health. The findings were confirmed by Korean Forensic Service, which was also investigating Craze.
In a separate analysis (not published in the current study), NSF International found that N,α- DEPEA was present in another dietary supplement, called Detonate made by Gaspari Nutrition, which is marketed as a fat burner and also lists dendrobium as an ingredient.
Wal-Mart pulled Craze from its online stores this summer after a USA Today investigation reported that amphetamine-like compounds were found in the product. But Craze continues to be sold at other stores, online and in retail outlets.
No FDA action yet
It's not clear how Craze and other dietary supplements came to contain N,α-DEPEA. But Cohen said he suspects that dietary supplement manufacturers are purchasing N,α-DEPEA that's labeled as dendrobium as a "cover."
"The recklessness of placing something that’s never been tested in a single human…into a mass-produced and mass-distributed supplement is really mind boggling," Cohen said.
Ullman said Driven Sports is developing tests to distinguish between N,α-DEPEA and other closely related chemicals.
In addition, Ullman said the new study did not separately test dendrobium, to rule out the possibility that the extract naturally contains N,α-DEPEA.
However, the study researchers did an extensive search of previous published literature, and found no evidence that dendrobium extract contains N,α-DEPEA. "There's not a shred of data anywhere that this is found in dendrobium," Cohen said.
Cohen and colleagues informed the Food and Drug Administration of their findings in May, but the agency has yet to alert the public or send a warning letter to the company.
"If these findings are confirmed by regulatory authorities, the FDA must take action to warn consumers, and to remove supplements containing N,α-DEPEA from sale," Cohen said. "Our fear is that the federal shutdown may delay this, resulting in potentially dangerous supplements remaining widely available."
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.