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New evidence that sports supplement “Craze” contains a meth-like synthetic drug that’s never been tested on humans

If you’re in the mood to experiment with a powerful synthetic drug, pick yourself up a tub of Craze, bodybuilding.com’s 2012 pick for pre-workout supplement of the year. You “have NOT Experienced Workout Energy Like This,” promises the supplement’s maker.

There’s a very good reason for that: There is a methamphetamine-like stimulant in Craze, a synthetic drug called N,alpha diethylphenylethylamine, that has never been tested on humans, alleges a paper published by researchers from NSF International, Harvard Medical School and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands. The synthetic drug is not listed in the product’s ingredients, the researchers note.

“Alarmingly we have found a drug in a mainstream sports supplement that has never been studied in humans,” Dr. Pieter Cohen, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a prepared statement. “The health risk of using supplements adulterated with a drug should not be underestimated.”

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N,alpha-diethylphenylethylamine (N,a-DEPEA) looks like meth, but isn’t as powerful, say researchers.NSF international

Though the makers of CRAZE, Driven Sports, claim that the active ingredient in their supplement comes from “dendrobium orchid extract,” said the statement, researchers could find no evidence that the substance they found in CRAZE comes from orchids or even that it exists anywhere in nature, leading them to conclude that it’s a synthetic drug.

Driven Sports has faced such allegations before. In June and July it published a series of analyses by Avomeen Analytical Services, a lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that tested several varieties of Craze and reported finding no N,alpha diethylphenylethylamine in any of them. The company said in July that “Craze conforms to all US federal regulatory requirements and is proven safe when used as directed.”

Avomeen told Quartz that it cannot discuss work undertaken for a client.

Craze was invented by Matt Cahill, who faces federal charges for other questionable weight loss and fitness products. In the wake of an investigation of his company by USA Today, several retailers have withdrawn the supplements from sale.

Update: After publication we reached Marc Ullman, of law firm Ullman, Shapiro and Ullman LLP, which represents Driven Sports. Ullman said the NSF International study presented too little data to allow others to check the methodology and lacked a “reference standard,” a substance used as a comparison in evaluating new substances. The researchers, he says, also didn’t clarify whether they tested for another form of diethylphenylethylamine (N,beta-DEPEA), which he said would show up as the alpha form (N,alpha-DEPEA) in tests that don’t try to distinguish the two. Unlike the alpha form, the beta form “doesn’t have methamphetamine-like activity,” Ullman told Quartz. “It’s just grossly irresponsible for these authors to make the claim that CRAZE contains a designer drug.” We have also contacted NSF International for comment. 

Note: This article was updated from an earlier version to include references to the previous tests performed on behalf of Driven Sports and the USA Today investigation, and the comment from Avomeen.

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