Health officials and policy makers express concerns over Coco Loko, a substance its producers say can give you a ‘legal high.’
Chocolate for dessert is one thing, but you definitely shouldn’t be putting it up your nose.
Coco Loko is a new “legal high” made from “infused raw cacao with a special energy blend,” including caffeine.
It has some policy makers up in arms over a substance they feel promotes illicit drug usage.
In addition, many others have expressed concerns about its potential health hazards.
In its marketing pictures, Coco Loko is cut into “lines” with a rolled up dollar bill nearby — drawing similarities to how cocaine is commonly consumed.
The product makers say the substance has four primary effects: an “endorphin rush,” which the company likens to morphine; a “serotonin rush,” which they compare to the illegal drug ecstasy; “euphoric energy;” and “calm focus.”
Because Coco Loko is sold as a dietary supplement, none of the product claims have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“First and foremost, snorting anything is really not a good idea,” Dr. Arthur Wu, an otolaryngologist and sinus specialist at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, told Healthline. “Any foreign substance that you inhale or snort into your nose and sinuses can do immediate and long-term damage.”
Snorting this product (or other foreign substances) can lead to obstruction of the nasal and sinus passages, which can cause infection.
If the powder makes it farther down into the throat and lungs, this can lead to other complications, including pneumonia, granulomas, and bronchitis.
Put simply, the nose is not designed to snort foreign substances.
Particulate matter can have an eroding effect on the septum, the soft piece of cartilage that separates the two nostrils. This can result in a deviated septum or even a collapsed nasal passage in some users.
“The things that you inhale into your lungs aren’t expelled like when you eat something, they are actually filtered out … they never really leave the body, so to speak,” Wu said.
For people with asthma, it may exacerbate symptoms or bring on an attack.
It is also worth noting that sharing bills, straws, or other accessories to snort drugs puts users at risk of certain blood-borne illnesses, including hepatitis C and HIV.
Wu also cautioned that, as with any dietary supplement, Coco Loko may have unforeseen interactions in those who are taking medication or have preexisting medical conditions.
Both prescription drugs, most commonly steroid allergy sprays, and illicit drugs can be consumed through snorting because the mucous membranes will absorb them into the bloodstream.
However, with an unregulated substance, there is significantly more risk involved.
New York Congressman Chuck Schumer voiced concern this week, asking the FDA to launch an investigation into the product.
“The math for the FDA is clear: This suspect product has no clear health value,” Schumer said. “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.”
A spokesperson from the FDA informed Healthline that they were “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 any other information pertaining to the product’s intended use.”
The product’s website states Coco Loko is for adults, and advises that it is not recommended for children or pregnant women. However, some critics, like Schumer, believe customers under the age of 18 are the real consumers.
Coco Loko was created by Legal Lean, a Florida-based company that sells other legal highs, including its flagship product and namesake.
For a simple buzz, it just doesn’t make sense to health experts.
“One of the things that baffles me is that the reason why people are doing this is to get a buzz or a caffeine high. Why would you deprive yourself of eating a chocolate or having a cup of coffee? It seems strange to me,” said Wu.