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'fx': Chemically Adulterated Product Does Not Contain Kava.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recently seized samples of a liquid being marketed in Los Angeles under the trade name "fX." The vials were seized at a concert after Biolife Bioproducts of San Diego, a company in business for about six months, gave fX to attendees of a Los Angeles New Year's Eve concert as a promotion. More than 50 people reported symptoms of dizziness, nausea, severe shortness of breath, and respiratory arrest and most required hospitalization. Los Angeles police closed the concert, violence ensued, four people were arrested, and six others were detained on suspicion of distributing the liquid concoction.

Upon hearing that the product listed the herb kava on the label, the American Botanical Council (ABC) obtained samples of fX from a Los Angeles store and sent them to a laboratory for analysis. The laboratory has determined that the vials of liquid being marketed did not contain the herb kava, as was reported by the LAPD. Industrial Laboratories is an FDA-inspected laboratory in Denver, Colorado, specializing in state-of-the-art techniques for analysis of botanical materials.

Subsequent to vigorous testing, two chemicals were found in the samples. "fX" was found to contain both a potentially toxic chemical (1,4 butanediol) and caffeine, although neither substance is listed on the product's label. The human body converts 1,4 butanediol into gammahydroxybutyrate (GBH), a strong central nervous system depressant. ABC immediately made the test results known to LAPD and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigators.

The media coverage of this incident began January 1st, the FDA issued a public warning about fX. The following day, a press release from the LAPD speculated that the "problem" ingredient in fX was the herb kava -- which was listed on the label as the primary ingredient. The LAPD did not have the capability of testing for kava and was unaware that kava was not actually present in the substance. This flawed information was picked up by print and electronic media and disseminated globally.

On Friday, January 3, Mary Hardy, M.D., a Los Angeles-based physician acting as primary investigator for ABC, appeared on CNN Headline News. Dr. Hardy said that the symptoms shown by the hospitalized people were not typical of the known effects of kava.

Contrary to the assertion of the LAPD, the tests conducted by Industrial Labs for ABC did not find even trace amounts of kava. ABC has further learned that results of tests performed by the FDA on fX seized at the concert are fully consistent with the results of ABC's tests. Despite the recent testing, the LAPD has not reversed its erroneous press release, claiming that they cannot release the FDA's test results which are being withheld by the FDA pending criminal investigations.

"As soon as herbs became implicated, we became involved," said Mark Blumenthal, Executive Director of ABC. "The symptoms reported in the press were not consistent with the mildly relaxing effects of kava. We suspected that some unknown ingredient was probably responsible. Our test results confirmed that the product is adulterated and does not contain kava."

ABC distributed a press release giving this information to 2,200 print and electronic media and 450 hard copies to industry and media contacts in hopes of setting the record straight.

Kava (Piper methysticum Forst.) -- also known as "kava kava" in the U.S. -- is a member of the black pepper family (Piperaceae) which grows in the islands of the South Pacific. The herb has been used safely by Polynesian peoples for thousands of years and is finding increased popularity in the U.S. as a dietary supplement. Kava is approved by the Commission E of the German government, the German equivalent of the U.S. FDA, as a safe nonprescription medication for anxiety.

[Press release from ABC (Jan. 17, 1997) and additional information from HerbalGram staff.]

Article copyright American Botanical Council.