What to Know About Coco Loko

Facts About Ingredients and Safety

Pile of cocoa powder isolated on white background. Top view
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Coco Loko is a cocoa snuff powder that was sold by an Orlando-based supplement company called Legal Lean. The supplement also contained other ingredients including ginkgo biloba, taurine, and guarana. Meant to be inhaled through the nose, the product was removed from the market in 2017 after the FDA made a decision that the product was sold as a drug alternative and safety could not be established.

Background

While Coco Loko may be the most well-known cocoa snuff powder of its kind in the U.S., the cocoa-sniffing trend actually began in Europe in 2007 when Belgian chocolatier Dominique Persoone created a device to snort cocoa powder. The powder was usually mixed with ginger or mint. He reportedly debuted the concoction at a party thrown by the Rolling Stones.

By mid-2016, cocoa sniffing was an established trend throughout Europe. There were even media reports about club-goers who were ditching illicit drugs such a cocaine and instead inhaling raw chocolate or taking it in beverage or pill form. Partiers in Berlin, for example, were reportedly using the “healthier” powder to stay energized for long-nights of clubbing.

Around 2016, Nick Anderson, the founder of Legal Lean supplement company, tried the powder in Europe and decided to develop a product to sell in the United States. The product he developed was called Coco Loko, an infused raw cacao snuff. It included not only cacao powder but also ginkgo biloba, taurine, and guarana—ingredients often found in energy drinks.

According to marketing materials, Coco Loko was designed to give you an endorphin rush, "similar to morphine," a serotonin rush "similar to ecstasy," calm focus, and euphoric energy that "is great for partygoers to dance the night away without a crash." 

Ingredients

The four ingredients in Coco Loko have each been studied by researchers for their effects on the body and the brain. While some ingredients may provide certain benefits, several studies suggest that there are safety concerns especially when ingredients are combined.

Cacao Powder

Cacao (Theobroma Cacao) powder is very similar to cocoa powder, but it is less processed. In fact, in most countries, there is just one word to refer to both products. There have been studies that have shown a benefit from the consumption of cacao- or cocoa-containing products.

For example, one study published in 2011 compared cocoa beans to other fruits and found the beans to have a greater antioxidant capacity and flavanol content. Antioxidants and flavanols are compounds that are associated with a wide range of health benefits including a decreased risk for heart disease and cancer.

There have also been studies linking cocoa and cocoa products to improved exercise performance, suggesting that it has anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory benefits. However, not all researchers agree that these benefits are legitimate and suggest that more research is needed before supplementing with cocoa products is recommended.

While there have been studies suggesting that cocoa may provide certain health benefits, none of these studies investigated snorting the substance. These studies have also not investigated the effects of cocoa (which contains caffeine) when combined with other stimulants.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. In fact, the Ginkgo tree is one of the oldest living tree species in the world. People use supplements made from the leaves to treat conditions including dementia. Some believe that it is a cognitive enhancer that can improve your focus and concentration.

But according to the National Institutes of Health, there is no evidence to support the use of ginkgo for any medical condition. There is also a lack of information supporting its use to enhance memory or concentration. And while it may be safe when consumed by mouth in moderate amounts, it can also cause side effects including headaches, stomach upset, and allergic skin reactions. The risks of snorting ginkgo are not known.

Taurine

Taurine is an amino acid that has demonstrated some therapeutic benefits. It has been approved for the treatment of congestive heart failure in Japan and shows promise in the treatment of several other diseases. There is also some evidence that taurine supplements may improve athletic performance.

Taurine is a common ingredient in energy drinks and is often combined with caffeine. Researchers have raised concerns about this combination noting that there is a gap of knowledge about the potential side effects (especially in adolescents). They also note that these taurine/caffeine energy drinks are sometimes combined with alcohol which may be dangerous.  Rodent studies have shown that the taurine/caffeine combination may enhance the stimulatory properties of alcohol.

Again, studies have not investigated the effects or risks of snorting taurine.

Guarana

Sometimes called Brazilian cocoa, guarana is another source of caffeine. Guarana-containing products are often sold as dietary supplements for improved fitness, increased energy, and improved mood. But studies have shown that there is not enough evidence to support its use for any of these benefits. In addition, side effects have been reported including irritability, heart palpitations, anxiety, and other central nervous system events. 

Safety

Since Coco Loko was sold as a supplement, studies demonstrating its safety or effectiveness were not required. However, in 2017 the FDA determined that the product was being marketed as an alternative to illicit street drugs. The organization declared that the company was selling an "unapproved new drug" which violated federal law.

In addition, the FDA noted that because the product was intended to enter the body through the mucosal tissues, it did not qualify as a conventional food or dietary supplement. The company was ordered to immediately cease marketing Coco Loko and another product called Legal Lean Syrup.

In a statement released by the FDA, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. explained the dangers of the product.

Scott Gottlieb, MD

Encouraging the use of snortable chocolate as an alternative to illegal street drugs is not acceptable – there are very real consequences to snorting any powder, not to mention the societal dangers of promoting drug abuse.

— Scott Gottlieb, MD

Most studies on snuff and its potentially damaging effects have investigated tobacco snuff. Studies have shown that it can injure nasal mucosa and cause long-term damage. It is not known if snorting chocolate and other ingredients can cause the same problems.

The Legal Lean company continues to sell a version of Legal Lean Syrup but has removed all mention of Coco Loko products. However, some vendors still sell the product online.

A Word From Verywell

While snorting chocolate may seem less dangerous than taking illicit drugs, there is no way to know if it is safe. And there is enough evidence to suggest that it may cause harm. There is also no evidence that it provides any benefit. And since products like these are largely unregulated (unless they violate the law), there is no way to know exactly what is in them and in what amounts.

If you enjoy chocolate and want to gain the potential health benefits that it may offer, consume it in a more traditional format. Have a small piece of dark chocolate or a cup of cocoa. You're likely to enjoy it more when you can savor the taste.

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