The latest in alternatives to illegal substances has arrived in the form of a tasty treat.
Lazy Cakes Relaxation Brownies, launched in Tennessee in August 2010, made their arrival in Florida in October and now are gracing the shelves of various convenient stores and head shops, even in Clearwater.
The Breaktime convenience store at the corner of Highland Avenue and Lakeview Road sells them for $3.99 each.
The treat is shelved in a cleverly presented cardboard pop up box festooned in bright purple and greens. Lazy Larry, a mellow and content cartoon brownie, graces the wrapper.
It’s hard not to want a nibble. So what is so controversial with eating this version of one of the most coveted of all chocolaty comfort foods? This brownie contains a questionable level of melatonin, a substance created in the body to help with the natural sleep cycle.
Terry Harris, the CEO of the company that makes Lazy Cakes, said in an email the brownie offers users,"a great-tasting way to combat the stress associated with our fast-paced lives."
Critics are concerned that the 8 mg of melatonin in each Lazy Cake is enough to disrupt the body’s natural sleep cycle, but fear there is little that can be done to regulate the product’s sales.
The Food and Drug Administration is not required to monitor the production or sales of products containing such supplements. This lack of regulation has led to several states seeking bans on the products, citing examples of children being hospitalized after ingesting even small amounts of the product.
“Our product is all-natural,"said Anthony Martin, a sales manager for Lazy Cakes. "It is made with all-natural ingredients and supplements that can be found in any store that sells vitamins."
The brownie also contains valerian root extract, rose hips extract and passion flower.
Though there are no regulations barring retailers from selling Lazy Cakes or other similar products to minors, owners at the Breaktime convenient store still make sure the product does not fall into young hands.
“It says right on the package that it is for adults only, so we card anyone who looks like they might be under 18 before selling to them and we keep them by the register where they can’t be reached without help,” said Breaktime employee Rishiraj Rele.
That statement falls on par with an email statement by Harris.
"Each brownie is clearly labeled to indicate that we recommend that Lazy Cakes be enjoyed by adults only," Harris said. "We always encourage parents to check the label before providing this or any product to their children."
But while the packaging says one thing it suggests another. Lazy Larry is a cartoon character with a likeness of a brown SpongeBob Square Pants.
There also is another version of Lazy Cakes called Mary J’s Relaxation Brownies.
Martin confirmed that both Lazy Cakes and Mary J’s are the same product, they just have different packaging for different retailers.
He said Lazy Cakes are distributed to convenience stores and gas stations, and some drug stores in Wisconsin. Mary J’s, a package far more adult looking and with a play on words that probably isn’t missed on many grown-ups, is distributed to tobacco and liquor stores where sales are already limited to consumers over the age of 18.
This sales tactic worries Dr. Neil Feldman, a sleep disorder specialist at the St. Petersburg Sleep Disorder Center.
“Lazy Cakes and products like it are basically a marketing strategy to sell a product," Feldman said. "It has nothing to do with health. They’re not a sincere attempt to benefit human beings."
Another concern Feldman has is with the accuracy of printed nutritional information. Since the FDA does not regulate products with supplements in them, Feldman said that products containing melatonin can carry varying amounts of the substance.
“You might eat one of these things that has 10mg of melatonin in it and then, next time, eat one that has nothing,” Feldman said about different products that use the supplement, “It’s also being sold as an all natural product, but all of the melatonin that is sold these days is synthetic. None of it is natural.”
Right now, Florida is not among states taking steps to ban products like Lazy Cakes. Feldman hopes this is just a fad food that will go away as quickly as it came.
Feldman offers this stress relief advice:
“Keep up with sleep hygiene. Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m., avoid alcohol, have a regular wake up time each morning and exercise in the morning rather than the evening.”
**In a follow up email Anthony Martin said the item is not organic but uses natural ingredients.