He used it to get pumped and it worked brilliantly. But it wasn't long before Ryan Young realised something was up with the powder he had been mixing with water and knocking back before his workouts. As weeks turned into months, he began to feel tired and lethargic - apart from when he'd taken his dose of Craze. The penny dropped when he saw a TV documentary revealing what was really in his "performance fuel" - an amphetamine analogue that was the chemical cousin of methamphetamine, or P.
"It was like a drug," says Young, a personal trainer and real estate agent who runs fitness camps for kids as a fundraiser for the Starship Foundation. "It was addictive. You had to wean off it."
Craze was well named. It quickly became a market leader in a global fitness supplement industry worth an estimated US$30 billion. "Everyone was taking it," says Young.
An investigation by USA Today found that the vice president of Driven Sports, the company that manufactured Craze, had a long history of making and selling dangerous "health" products.
Matt Cahill's resume includes mixing a highly toxic pesticide with baking powder and selling it over the internet for weight loss, and selling a steroid that had never been tested on humans. Some customers who ingested the steroid suffered liver damage, while those who took the weight-loss pills were exposed to a chemical that was banned for human use in the 1930s after users went blind. One user, a 17-year-old girl who took 12 capsules at once, died when the compound in the pills could not be identified by doctors. Cahill was sentenced to two years' jail for mail fraud.
Matt Cahill has faced multiple charges for spiking health products. Photo / USA Today / Supplied
Cahill, USA Today revealed, is far from the only questionable operator out there. In its series The Supplement Shell Game, the newspaper revealed that, of 100 companies suspected caught selling supplements spiked with drugs or dangerous chemicals, at least 14 were run by people with serious criminal convictions. Their offences included theft, fraud, assault, weapons offences and money laundering.
Many of their products have made it into New Zealand. Documents received under the Official Information Act show two New Zealanders likely contracted acute non-viral hepatitis after taking a supplement called Oxy Elite Pro. The main hepatitis outbreak occurred in Hawaii, where 24 cases were linked to the supplement, resulting in one death and two people requiring liver transplants.
Another popular supplement, Ripped Freak, was linked to the death of a Kiwi airman during a PT workout in 2009. A coroner noted that, while the airman (who cannot be named) had been using anabolic steroids, he had also been taking Ripped Freak, which at the time contained DMAA - an ingredient included in some party pills linked to the death of London marathon runner and three deaths in the US military.
Ryan Young started to feel tired and lethargic - apart from when he'd taken his dose of Craze. Photo / Jason Oxenham
DMAA is now banned by many countries including New Zealand however a chemical cousin, DMBA, has just surfaced here as an ingredient in an exercise supplement, a Herald investigation has found.
Testing performed by ESR on the supplement Frenzy - which is manufactured by Driven Sports and was described as the "new Craze" when purchased by the Herald at an Auckland supplement store - indicated the presence of DMBA.
Like DMAA, DMBA is banned in New Zealand under the Psychoactive Substances Act. Following the Herald's investigation the Ministry of Health confirmed that it would contact retailers advising the sale and supply of Frenzy was prohibited.
"The Psychoactive Regulatory Authority is in the process of contacting retailers of Frenzy to advise that DMBA is a psychoactive substance and its sale and supply is prohibited under the Psychoactive Substances Act," Medsafe Manager Compliance Management Derek Fitzgerald said.
Frenzy contains a subtance that's chemically related to an ingredient of party pills. Photo / Supplied
An international research paper co-authored by Harvard Medical School assistant professor Dr. Pieter Cohen in September warned the safety and efficacy of DMBA was "entirely unknown" as the only clinical testing of the drug had been performed on cats and dogs in the 1940s.
The paper's authors advised regulatory bodies to "act expeditiously to warn consumers and remove DMBA from all dietary products". However the report also noted that moves to ban DMBA would be ineffective as other similar analogues would be immediately introduced to replace it.
Supplement manufacturers such as Cahill rely on weak laws and non-existent regulation and enforcement to peddle their wares, reformulating, re-branding and re-entering the market as often as required.
In New Zealand, and many similar countries, there is nothing really stopping them. Under current laws products such as Craze and Ripped Freak are classified as dietary supplements, which don't need to be tested or proved safe before being sold. Once they are shown to be dangerous or illegal they can be removed, however by then the jacked-up horse has well and truly bolted.
The problem, says Medsafe boss Stewart Jessamine, is that the current law was drawn up in the 1970s and enacted in the 1980s when the world was a very different place. Dietary supplements were mainly wholesome and could be found in normal foods. Our law is simply not built to cope with someone slipping methamphetamine into a drink powder people are going to imbibe in an effort to make themselves more healthy.
Craze was withdrawn from the market in 2013 after it was found to contain analogues of P. Photo / Supplied
An attempt to update the legislation has been before parliament in various guises since 2006. The latest version, the Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill, which would set up a regulatory body to oversee the industry and introduce tougher rules and penalties around ingredients and marketing claims, was supposed to come into effect in January last year. It passed two readings in the House and attracted near unanimous support, but was never enacted. A spokesperson for the politician responsible for the Bill, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, said it now needed to be slotted back in to the legislative agenda following the election. She was unable to say when that might be.
"The whole idea of what is in these products when there is no real regulatory regime around them is without doubt open to abuse," admits Dr Jessamine. "Current legislation allows you to take unsafe product off the market only after you have found it. It doesn't require you to make sure that it is what is says it is on the label when it enters the market."
Even under current law the marketing of most workout supplements is probably illegal.
"You don't have to go through any approval system to get them on the market but you are not allowed to make any claims for them," says Dr Jessamine. Common claims such as "supports healthy fat loss" are probably prohibited. The problem is that there is no regulatory body directly tasked with policing the area. Medsafe's primary job is to ensure the nation's medicines are safe, not chase rogue supplement merchants making questionable claims over their products' efficacy.
"There are thousands of products out there making low level similar claims," says Dr Jessamine. "We tend to concentrate our regulatory efforts on substances that contain medicines or controlled drugs or dangerous ingredients or make very, very high level health claims."
Some products, however, do catch Medsafe's attention. Cricketer Jesse Ryder found out the hard way about Gaspari Detonate, a fat burner that turned out to contain two separate amphetamine analogues. Ryder sought advice from a trainer and was told that, while nothing on the label indicated banned substances, he should seek further advice. He didn't, and paid for his gullibility with a six-month ban. "If you fail a test you can get two years...I feel fortunate," he said.
Gaspari withdrew Detonate but it wasn't long until a newly reformulated product, Detonate XT was on sale. The new product isn't much better than the first. One of its active ingredients, Oxedrine has been the subject of a warning by Australia's department of health over the dangers of mixing it with alcohol - a popular practice with teens.
Doing so has caused heart attacks, strokes and fainting. Detonate XT also contains Yohimbine, which like oxedrine is a controlled medicine and that can only be obtained with a doctor's prescription, high nicotine levels and possibly N,N DMT - a class-A psychedelic compound.
"Detonate XT is definitely not able to be legally sold in New Zealand," says Dr Jessamine.
Another exercise supplement, Dorian Yates GH Blast, was pulled from New Zealand shelves in November due to suspicions it contained the date rape drug GHB.
With the Herald's discovery of Frenzy and its subsequent banning, the list of outlawed exercise supplements continues to grow at an alarming rate. Most exercise supplements, says the head of Drug Free Sport NZ Graeme Steel, are simply a con. They either don't work or, if they do, it is highly likely they contain a dodgy ingredient.
Dr Jessamine agrees. "The old saying about dietary supplements, and it would probably apply to sports supplements as well, is that the thing they do is give you the most expensive urine in the world. That is the most they do. Everything else is about perception and how you feel about it rather than any physical effect. That's a very cynical view but it is one we tend to agree with."
Exercise supplements are a lot like herbal remedies for medical conditions such as asthma or eczema, he said. "Someone will come across one that really, really works and when you look at it it has got steroids in it. This has been the case since the year dot."
Once he was part of the Craze, but Ryan Young's days of looking for a fitness edge from a pre-workout supplement are over. "I don't take anything now," he says. "If you really want to get the most out of your workout then eat well, drink well and sleep well. That's the best way to get an edge."
Sold in pill or powder form that dissolves into a drink, pre-workouts are marketed as products that boost energy and focus during exercise, helping the user to lose weight and make greater gains from gym sessions.
They work by raising the heart rate. The main active ingredient is usually caffeine, although some have been found to contain banned stimulants such as methamphetamine analogues, psychoactive agents, date-rape drugs and controlled medicines.
In New Zealand, pre-workouts can be sold without any proof that they are safe or contain the ingredients or produce the effects that their manufacturers claim.