Snorting chocolate" has made waves among partygoers in Europe over the past couple of years. Now, it's arrived in the US in the form of Coco Loko, a new product marketed as a stimulant and stress reducer.
What is it?
Coco Loko is a snortable chocolate powder created by an Orlando, Florida-based company called Legal Lean. Nick Anderson, 29, founded the company and came up with the idea for the product.
"You get a nice minor euphoric rush. You feel a calm energy and focus. You feel motivated to want to go out and dance or be social," Anderson said. "You feel yourself; you just feel a nice positive vibe and energy to you."
Anderson says he was inspired after watching YouTube videos about people snorting chocolate in Europe. He sampled another product and felt that he should make his own.
Coco Loko has been available for online retail for a month, and is slowly making its way into smoke and tobacco shops, Anderson said. It has sold about 2,000 units online for $24.99 each over the past couple weeks, he said. Anderson's goal is for it to be distributed across the United States, but available only to those over age 18. There is currently no age restriction on the product. When purchasing it on the website, a warning comes up that says the product is not recommended for children or pregnant women. Within the next month, they plan to put a label saying it's only for people over the age of 18, Anderson said.
The product contains mostly raw cacao powder, along with common energy drink ingredients such as gingko biloba, taurine and guarana, Anderson said. Anderson did not consult with a medical expert when working on it, he said, and after the media stopped talking about the trend in Europe, he figured there weren't any health issues or major concerns.
Are there health risks?
Coco Loko's ingredients don't tend to cause many issues in humans when eaten, said Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency physician in Lexington, Kentucky, and spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians. But the route by which people are supposed to ingest the powder, Stanton says, is a problem.
Although snorting it could be harmful to the nasal passage, Stanton said, there is even greater risk if powder that doesn't get caught in the nose ends up in the lungs.
"There's a reason why our GI tract is completely separate from the breathing tract. The stomach is designed to take in things and deal with them, whereas the lungs were designed for air, and that's it," he said. "They're not designed to deal with being a filter, which is basically what you're asking them to do with these foreign substances."
Foreign substances in the lungs can cause such problems as tissue scarring and chemical pneumonitis, or inflammation of the lung caused by inhaling irritants, he said. He and his colleagues saw such issues in patients during a recent trend of snorting flavored sugar.
People who have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung disorders are particularly susceptible to this type of harm when snorting powdered substances, he said.
"There's no reason to snort chocolate. You can eat chocolate," Stanton said. "We know there's health benefits to dark chocolate, but that's eating it. There's no reason to think you need to snort these different things to make it better."
People inhale a substance with the hope that it will get into their bloodstream quickly and make them feel buzzed faster, said Dr. Richard Lebowitz, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at NYU Langone Medical Center.
The stimulant effect of snorting energy drink ingredients isn't any different from taking them in any other way once it gets into the bloodstream, he said. However, given a lack of research, it is hard to know what a safe dosage is.
Without research, it is difficult to make definitive conclusions about Coco Loko's health impacts, Lebowitz said. But he cautions that inhaling it could cause respiratory problems or inflammation in the nose that leads to sinus issues.
"I wouldn't put it up my nose, I'll tell you that," he said.
Is it legal?
The sale of Coco Loko is legal, but US Sen. Charles Schumer urged the Food and Drug Administration to launch an investigation into the product on Monday.
"I can't think of a single parent who thinks it is a good idea for their children to be snorting over-the-counter stimulants up their noses," Schumer, D-New York, said in a statement. "This product is like cocaine on training wheels."
Schumer said Coco Loko is marketed as a drug in a way that is meant to seem cool to kids and adolescents. It is full of concentrated energy drink ingredients, he said, which are being masked as natural and safe as candy.
The FDA said in a statement to CNN that it "is not prepared to issue a determination regarding whether and how this product is subject to FDA jurisdiction at this time. 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."
Anderson is standing by his product, saying there have been no adverse effects of snortable chocolate reported after two years on the market in Europe. He said he wished Schumer would do more research about Coco Loko and where it is sold before jumping to conclusions.
"We're all adults. It's not for children. It should be 18 and up," he said. "He's just got to look into it more before he really jumps to conclusions and tries to demonize things. Because if we're going to demonize everything, then what kind of country are we?"