“Alarmingly we have found a drug in a mainstream sports supplement that has never been studied in humans.”
That sentence is an attention grabber if ever one was written. The quote's by Dr. Pieter Cohen (an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School), and the context is N,alpha-diethylphenylethylamine (or N,a-DEPEA), a substance found in two "dietary supplements" called Craze and Detonate. The NSF story adds: "A review of this substance shows that N,a-DEPEA is likely less potent than methamphetamine but greater than ephedrine."
A report published in Drug Testing and Analysis and recapped on the website of NSF International found that the substance closely resembles the chemical structure of methamphetamine.
The report also investigated a marketing claim that suggested N,a-DEPEA is a constituent of dendrobium orchid extract and failed to find any evidence to support the claim. (The implicit suggestion: rather than being an herbally derived supplement, the N,a-DEPEA might be created in a lab. And while that has regulatory implications, even herbally derived supplements can have negative affects on health and wellness.)
What does all of this mean?
I don't have a teenager playing athletics, yet. But as a parent, this report forces me to pause and ponder the implications of the N,a-DEPEA discovery.
Dietary supplements have been promoted as an energy booster (or, frankly, just about anything else) and there appears to be a largely unregulated, Wild West-atmosphere governing this particular corner of commerce.
An NPR report on dietary supplements spelled it out clearly:
A recent published in JAMA Internal Medicine found 273 recalls of dietary supplements between 2004 and 2012 because they contained drugs that could cause "serious adverse health consequences or death."
When it comes to regulation of supplements, the FDA is "more reactive ... than proactive," explains Dr. Ziv Harel, an internist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and lead author of the study [published in JAMA Internal Medicine].
America's pharmaceutical culture is likely partially to blame for the explosion of so-called energy boosting supplements on the market – chronic lack of sleep, pressure to perform on the job, or in sports or athletics, and the ready availability of unregulated miracle cures is a pressure cooker designed to promote the irresponsible use of chancy substances as a solution for being overworked, overbooked, and under-rested.
Between the educational shift toward teaching to the test and highly strung helicopter parents flipping out at youth sports coaches and referees, the pressure's real. But the solution may come in the form of a re-balanced calendar and little perspective, rather than a packet or pill.