UPDATE: Melatonin Brownies: An Alternative to Sleeping Pills?

UPDATE: Melatonin Brownies: An Alternative to Sleeping Pills?
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UPDATE: Apparently the FDA has jumped on the bandwagon to eliminate melatonin brownies from supermarket (and internet) shelves. A warning letter has been sent to the manufacturer of Lazy Cakes (also known as Lazy Larry) with the threat of pulling the product off the market. The FDA is now considering these sleep-inducing melatonin brownies “unsafe” and warning that they could be seized at point-of-purchase.

At the crux of the matter is that the FDA does not list melatonin as a safe food additive, and the brownies are considered “adulterated,” a no-no that the FDA clearly frowns upon. The letter is, in essence, a cease-and-desist order. If manufacturing continues contrary to the letter, the FDA will step in. At this time, the FDA has not issued similar letters to either Kush Cakes or LullaPies, both of which are brownie/cookie treats that also contain melatonin.

Apparently you can have your cake and your sleep too! A new, albeit controversial, alternative to prescription sleep aids is gaining traction, hitting its target on college campuses and available at many mainstream convenience stores.

The National Sleep Foundation claims that 76 percent of Americans have sleep difficulties, with one in five American taking sleep medications or sleeping pills. Prescription sleep aids are big business for pharma with over 42 million prescriptions written annually. Not surprising, since ads for brands like Lunesta, Ambien and Sonata are found in popular mainstream magazines like People and Newsweek.

Not everyone wants or needs a doctor’s prescription to battle insomnia or the occasional sleepless night. That’s where sleep-inducing desserts, containing melatonin, come in. All across the country, cakes and brownies with catchy names like Lazy Cakes, Kush Cakes, and LullaPies, are helping Americans get the rest they need. But are they safe to eat?

The effective ingredient in these sweet treats is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain from the amino acid tryptophan. The synthesis and release of melatonin are stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light, suggesting its role in the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Synthetic melatonin supplements have been used for a variety of medical conditions, most notably in cases where the natural sleep cycle has been disturbed, such as with jet lag, delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), sleep disorders in the blind and sleep disturbances in children with neuro-psychiatric disorders. It is also used for sleep enhancement in healthy people.

Anna Rouse Dulaney of the Carolinas Poison Center told NPR that one Lazy Cakes brownie has twice the recommended dose of melatonin. (NOTE: The brownie is marked on its dietary label as being 2 servings, so eating a whole brownie would have twice the dose.) In 2009, about 5,000 melatonin-related emergency calls came into U.S. poison control centers, most involving small children. However, there is nothing illegal about these treats.

Lazy Cakes, dubbed the world’s first relaxation brownie, contains 8 milligrams of melatonin, as well as valerian root (also a known relaxant) and rose hips. They are advertised as an adult dietary supplement, and not for use by children. Each brownie costs in the neighborhood of $2 and has 165 calories per serving. Lazy Cakes are available at convenience stores around the country and online. These have been a hot seller, hitting the 2 million mark in sales in the first 6 months on the market.

Kush Cakes, a premium relaxation brownie, were developed by a licensed pharmacist. In wild psychedelic packaging, this brownie seems to be marketed to the twenty and thirty-something pot-smoking crowd. Made from 100% natural and healthy ingredients, these contain melatonin, valerian root, chamomile, and rose hips. “This legal and effective blend of calming herbs gives consumers a calming effect that may help to battle a variety of stress-induced symptoms including trouble sleeping, anxiety and nervous tendencies,” according to a press release. Cost is $29.95 for a dozen, and they are only available online.

LullaPies, with its cute and apt name, is referred to as a gourmet relaxation edible. These are cookies, rather than a square chocolate brownie, and is twice as strong as Lazy Cakes, meaning 16mg of melatonin. The cost is $3.99 for one, $21.99 for a dozen, and they are only available online.

While all three products are sold as and meant only for adults, brownies are a tempting treat for kids and are sold along with other sweet treats in some stores. There is no age limit to purchase, which has become a big concern for parents and politicians.

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