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Posted on Sun, May 22, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Controversy about 'Lazy Cakes' relaxation brownies raises concerns over melatonin-laced food & drinks

By Juliana Keeping

It’s a fast-paced, Red Bull slamming world we live in - and products peppering the store shelves around Ann Arbor have an answer for anyone looking to slow down: Melatonin-laced drinks and brownies with names “Marley’s Mellow Mood,” “Slowtivate,” and “Lazy Cakes.”

“Energy drinks got you all jacked up? Cage the bull!” proclaims an advertisement for Slowtivate,” adding, "Un’ergy has never felt so Bliss.”

The relaxation brownies and similar products have captured the attention of health and public officials in recent weeks, buoyed by a recent New York Times article about the unregulated products.


Clockwise from left: Melatonin containing products Slowtivate, Marley's Mellow Mood, and Lazy Cakes on May 19, 2011.

Angela J. Cesere |

Then on Thursday, Arkansas Health Department banned “Lazy Cakes,” brownies marketed as an herbal supplement that contain 8 milligrams of melatonin.

But so far, drinks like Marley's Mellow Mood, manufactured in Southfield, haven't sparked the same kind of public health outcry - even though cans found on Ann Arbor store shelves list no dosage information for melatonin.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, melatonin is a hormone used for the treatment of sleep-related disorders; it is not approved as an additive in food or beverages. The single-wrapped “relaxation brownies” that cost about $4 each have an answer for that little problem:

“DIETARY SUPPLEMENT (Not for food use),” the Lazy Cakes label reads.

The purple and green packaging that features a smiling, relaxing brownie with sleepy eyes makes an obvious allusion to the illegal version of the brownies. It also carries the message, “For adults only: not suitable for children.”

Each brownie - which isn't really a brownie, according to the label - contains about 8 milligrams of melatonin. Marley’s Mellow Mood, a beverage found in Ann Arbor, also bills itself as a dietary supplement.

According to Susan Smolinske, MD, the director of Children's Hospital of Michigan Poison Control Center, the recommended daily dosage for melatonin ranges from .2 to 24 milligrams a day. Most pills contain 3 milligrams of the hormone.

The jury is out on relaxation products like “Lazy Cakes,” manufactured by Memphis-based Baked World/HBB. So far, the FDA han't taken action.

While the FDA iissued a warning letter to Houston, Texas-based Innovative Beverage Group Holdings Inc. in 2010 for a melatonin-laced drink called Drank, no other such products have been issued warning letters, said FDA spokesperson Stephanie Yao in an e-mail. The Drank case is ongoing, Yao said, declining to provide additional details.

Despite the letter and the apparent lack of energy found in food and the drink cans, they’re picking up speed.

In Ann Arbor, Michael Gilbert, owner of Ethnospot, a slip of a second-story alternative medicine shop near University of Michigan Diag in Ann Arbor, started carrying Slowtivate a few days ago following the suggestion of a vendor he works with, he said. Tiny letters on the can warn “Not recommended for children, pregnant women, or persons on medication.”

Gilbert has offered the Lazy Cakes for sale for about six months, he said. Most who buy them are in their 20s, he said.

“It’s more of an impulse buy for people,” he said, “But some who have bought Lazy Cakes have become repeat customers.”

Jerome Kamano, who owns the Diag Party Shoppe in Ann Arbor, has offered Lazy Cakes for sale for the last month after a distributor he regularly works with suggested the product.

He said the novelty of the item appeals to people, and that they’re selling well - to individuals over 18.

Kamano also sells Marley’s Mellow Mood in citrus or berry flavor. The can of the melatonin-containing beverage prominently features the marijuana subculture icon over Jamaican flag colors. Its “relaxation blend” is a 41 mg mix of Valerian root, Melatonin and other extracts. It isn’t clear how much melatonin is in the can, though a tiny warning label advises against consuming two cans in a day. A Facebook page for the product has about 4,000 “likes.”

Lazy Cakes, Slowtivate and other “un’ergy” products also lists sedatives like Valerian root and other herbs as part of products' calming mix.

Slowtivate’s “proprietary blend” is an 803 mg mix of Valerian root, Melatonin and two other ingredients, according to the label. It’s also not clear how much melatonin is in the Red-Bull-sized can that promises to “Comatize all your ills and afflictions.”

Gilbert sells Valerian root separately at his shop as alternative medicine treatment for insomnia, he said.

Foods and drinks that contain melatonin are subject to regulatory action, Yao said, because melatonin isn’t an approved food additive. Food products alone do not need FDA approval, Yao added.

Agencies besides the FDA can take action on these foods, Yao added, and they're starting to do that.

Politicians and health departments in other states are riled up about “Lazy Cakes.”

Sen. Dick Durbin raised his voice against “Lazy Cakes” as well as a brand called “Lulla Pies” in Washington Thursday, according to the Associated Press. Media reports indicate two Massachusetts mayors are trying to ban the brownies following reports they made a 2-year-old boy who took two bite’s of a relative’s brownie fall into a deep sleep.

The Arkansas Department of Health recalled Lazy Cakes Thursday, according to media reports. ADH advised consumers to throw away the brownies.

There’s less public clamor about melatonin-laced beverages.

The 2010 FDA letter to the manufacturer of the melatonin-spiked beverage Drank raises safety concerns about melatonin, citing studies that say melatonin might drop blood pressure, which is of special concern for individuals already taking blood pressure medication. Low doses of melatonin may also reduce glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in diabetics, according to that letter. Different studies have shown melatonin increased spontaneous malignant tumors in female mice and damaged eye function in rats.

What's your take on food or beverage products marketed as "dietary supplements" that contain melatonin? Take our poll and leave a comment below.

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter


5c0++ H4d13y

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 11:18 p.m.

So lemme get this straight. The utterly unscientific and unregulated "herbal" and "homeopathic" industries are just fine but put some of that stuff into a brownie and OOOFA we gotta problem!

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 11:33 p.m.

the things humans put in to brownies boggles the imagination. ;)

John A2

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 10:29 p.m.

This hormone is a natural substance, and lots of plants produce it. I believe these so called critics of it just want to sell drugs and now people can get it without a prescription, or vitamin store. Just leave us alone. People have the right to buy what ever they want to., and when they want to. Business as usual here thats all.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 8:31 p.m.

I think the fact that Marley's Mellow Mood has more than 4000 "likes" on its Facebook page is not only outstanding journalism but should also lay any "controversy" to rest.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 8:26 p.m.

"the recommended daily dosage for melatonin ranges from .2 to 24 milligrams a day." Is that a misprint or another way of saying we have no recommended dose?

David Franklin

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 7:40 p.m.

I tried the Mellow Mood drink a month or two ago. It tasted great, and did help me relax after a long day. As someone who drinks alcohol on an almost daily basis (alcohol IS a drug just so you know), this Mellow drink can easily be a safer alternative considering the damaging effects that alcohol has on your vital organs, brain, nervous system, etc. The FDA is a paper agency that really has no constitutional authority for it's existence, and does nothing to make anyone safer. (Look at all of the deaths and chronic poisoning from proper medication usage. Leave these companies alone. They have NO incentive to harm or kill their customer base.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 5:58 p.m.

The only legitimate function the government has here is truth in labeling. Other than that, it's time for American to start acting like grown ups, and take responsibility for their lives. Make your own damn decisions and stop leaning on big brother. The more government power grows, the less freedom we have.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

Melatonin in general is NOT a harmful substance. It is natural. You can get it at any pharmacy. You can hardly compare it to Ritalin.....I take 10mg every night to help me fall asleep and yes it wears off relatively fast because although I am pretty much out when I hit the pillow, I am up within 4-5 hours. But everyone is different. I have several medical problems which is the reason I use it to begin with. For me, melatonin has been a Godsend. Without it, it takes me up to 4 hours to fall asleep as I do not want to have to resort to prescription sleep medications that have all kinds of side effects. So I'll take melatonin any day thank you very much. As far as it being in food. Not a damn thing wrong with it in my opinion. If you don't want to eat it, then don't and of course you shouldn't be giving it to your kids. Pretty simply. However, I do think it should be very clearly labeled that Melatonin is in the product and that it CAN make you very sleepy. And really people don't mind POT being in brownies, but they mind this? Of course everyone is different anyway and it will do different things to different people. Kind of like pretty much EVERYTHING. Should we ban everything because it might do something to someone in some part of some country somewhere? I think you get my point.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 5:10 p.m.

In general melatonin is a natural supplement you can buy in a vast range of places such as dollar stores, walgreens, vitamin shops, etc....@nickcarraweigh, I think you are a little extreme in your view of these "spiked" brownies, but you are entitled to your opinion. As the article indicates, the recommended dosage for melatonin is between .2-24mg and these "lazy cakes" have a total of only 8 mg and is a 2 serving brownie. So simple math indicates a 4mg dose per serving. I do not think this is "how it all begins." I agree with @loves_fall, actually I couldn't put it any better. FYI- I'm a psychology student and the affects of melationin (which your body produces naturally, but insomniacs have an issue with their production of it) is not an addiciting substance and does not produce a high.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 8:19 p.m.

As a "psychology student" I'm concerned that you can't see the tongue in cheek humor in nickcarraweigh's opening post.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 3:17 p.m.

This is awsome. We have something for when were down, something for when were up. Medical marijuana for almost anyone in the state of Michigan for just about any ailment they can dream of. I'm looking forward to the day when they put the cocaine back in coca-cola, and we treat ADD by putting drugs in the school lunches. Who thinks of all of this great stuff? We don't manufacture things anymore, we look for ways to make the easy buck at the expense of anyone who will buy it. Our kids are fat because they aren't allowed to go outside to play, they don't have recess, and aren't required to take gym class on a daily basis. But don't worry there will soon be something you can eat that will take care of that too. What's happened to us?

Jon Saalberg

Mon, May 23, 2011 : 12:51 a.m.

THere's that percentage of Americans who aren't afraid to eat it and then look at the nutrition facts and buy that new thing on the shelf with no concern for their own health. It's sad.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 3:52 p.m.

It's a "brave new world"...

Melissa Waldron

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 1:55 p.m.

This is different from caffeine in that melatonin is a hormone which has side effects for some people. We gave our 14 yr old 5 mg melatonin before bedtime on a doctor's advice to help her fall asleep and she ended of having some really weird dreams and tended to be groggy throughout the morning the next day. We stopped it after 3 days. It's supposed to be short-acting; it helps you to fall asleep then gets out of your system pretty quickly. But for some people, it has a longer effect. It works for some people and is a lot cheaper when you buy it for $8 for a bottle of 60. A lot cheaper than those brownies!


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 6:55 p.m.

So? People with caffeine sensitivities get arrhythmias from drinking coffee. If that's the effect it has on you or your child, don't eat it. Melatonin's known for giving people weird dreams the same way caffeine is known for giving people a boost of stimulation.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

I wonder what kind of booze Marley's Mellow Mood mixes well with...

David Franklin

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 6:26 a.m.

Actually, the bottle says specifically not to drink alcohol with this drink. Having tried the mellow drink myself, I can tell you that is sound advice.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 1:09 p.m.

Ultimately I think it's up to consumers to choose what they want. A lot of things on store shelves aren't really healthy (cigarettes, booze, caffeine, Twinkies, etc.). Plus the last time I checked, melatonin is available in the vitamin aisle anyway. How is it different from lacing food with caffeine? Buyers can make their own decisions about the products they want to eat. If they want to self-medicate on Redbull and Lazy Cakes, so be it.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 11:34 a.m.

This is wrong on so many levels I don't know where to begin. I can see some frazzled, hyperactive eight-year old, desperate for more ritalin, dragging a 30-gallon garbage bag filled with deposit bottles into the corner party store looking to score a $4 melatonin-spiked brownie. Or worse, loitering near an ATM aggressively panhandling for money to get the NEXT brownie! This is how it begins, people. Wake up. Next thing you know you will find Junior splay-legged beneath a shade tree, swigging some soporific-loaded mystery beverage and smiling aimlessly.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 8:14 p.m.

well played nick. shame on you folks who didn't get the humor.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 6:50 p.m.

Sarcasm font needed here.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

Yea why don't you try reading up on Melatonin before posting something like this. It's not addictive and is not comparable to Ritalin at all. And really you might want to try some melatonin because you really need to calm down.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 5:35 p.m.

I cant tell whether this is sarcasm or an extreme lack of knowledge of melatonin effects.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 12:57 p.m.

SPJ, actually, ritalin IS prescribed for ADHD. For some reason, a stimulant seems to help kids so diagnosed although it seems counterintuitive. A lot of people question this but that's the current best practices. Also, I think nick's comment is supposed to be sarcasm. We seem to live in a world where people are astounded to learn that there are products sold that are "unregulated". We've come to the point where we are unwilling to take responsibility for what we put into our bodies. We've come to expect that everything sold is either blessed by some bureaucracy or must be ok because it is "natural" and wouldn't be sold if dangerous. There is a need for individual responsibility. Begin with the assumption that the purveyors are not interested in your health or that of your kids but your wallet. If you see something that is unusual, check it out before buying and eating it on 'impulse' ("It's more of an impulse buy for people," he said"). Let alone give it to a child. As for stores that would sell something like that to a kid or companies that use restriction labels and warnings in type that cannot be read by anyone with a magnifying glass, a couple of product liability lawsuits against them and the stores that sell the stuff would do more to bring that under control than all of the actions of the FDA, FTC, CIty of New York, etc, etc combined. The stores insurers alone would charge premiums to these "party stores" that will keep them from stocking this stuff.

dirty irish

Sun, May 22, 2011 : 12:44 p.m.

@spj i think you failed to see the sarcasm in the previous post.


Sun, May 22, 2011 : 12:20 p.m.

Wow. That comment has so many incorrect assumptions I don't know where to begin. First of all, Ritalin is a stimulant, so this is exactly the opposite of what someone with ADD would want. Second, melatonin is a substance your body produces naturally that regulates sleep. It is not an addictive drug. That may not mean it's safe to put in a drink, particularly if you don't know how much is in there, but it's a far cry from that to your description. It's a supplement, like echinacea or st johns wort. It may be effective, maybe not, maybe safe, maybe not. But it's not heroin.