The Cahill Craze Scandal: How to Stop One Man’s Destruction of an Industry

This morning, the USA Today published a story on an ongoing industry situation:

Sports supplement designer has history of risky products[1]

That sports supplement designer would be Matt Cahill, CEO of Driven Sports.  The product sparking this controversy is their acclaimed pre-workout supplement, Craze.

My team and I have been following this story very closely, and I was personally interviewed by its reporter, Alison Young, for nearly an hour.  It was an extreme pleasure speaking to Alison – she was very knowledgeable, and proved to be quite thorough.  She discovered information that nobody right here in the business had caught, which speaks to her abilities.

Matt Cahill Featured in USA Today

What does the massive destruction of Matt Cahill’s credibility mean for the rest of the industry, and what’s REALLY going on with Craze?

However, it is my personal opinion that this story was rushed to the press, and misses some bigger details that will soon be unfolded.  It paints a picture, but does not offer any solutions to the problems (which isn’t necessarily a reporter’s job).

In this post, I’m going to offer deeper explanations, propose some industry fixes, and suggest what readers’ next actions should be.

Criminals Running Businesses

The story spends a massive amount of time painting a picture of Cahill as a criminal.  It is completely legal for a criminal to own and operate a business.  The issue here, however, is that the person running the company has numerous criminal charges within the industry his current business operates.

While someone’s past criminal actions are not always indicative of the legality of their future endeavours, this is somewhat akin to a repeat convicted drug dealer opening a candy store next to an elementary school.  There’s nothing actually illegal about doing so, there’s just something about it that seems very wrong.

…this is somewhat akin to a repeat convicted drug dealer opening a candy store next to an elementary school

So, why does all of that matter? In the context of the Craze controversy, it demonstrates that Cahill has done some unscrupulous things in his past that make it hard to trust him.

One major thing the article doesn’t mention is that FDA regulations allow for injunctions against people operating in the business.[2]  Several companies and individuals have been legally barred from operating within the industry in the past, and it could be argued that such action would be appropriate here.  But the article never gets that far, we’re just left with a picture of a shady company owner.

Something else the article fails to mention is that there are many convicted felons running supplement companies.  A frequent entry to the industry is for former steroid dealers to turn towards running legitimate supplement companies.  Some of these companies are highly reputable, others… not so much.

It really comes down to a judgement call for consumers, which is unfortunately a call most consumers do not have the information necessary to make.

The story is bigger than Cahill’s past

Driven Sports Craze - The Center of the Story

Allegations behind the DS Craze pre workout supplement are what spurred this story

So, what sparked this article?  Over the past year, a progressively stronger series of accusations have been levied against Cahill’s current company Driven Sports and their hit product, Craze.  Competitors are accusing the company of spiking the product with illegal stimulants.  Meanwhile, athletes are blaming the supplement for failing drug tests.

To be fair, there is no conclusive proof (yet) that Craze is spiked.  There is a significant ongoing debate among those involved over testing procedures.  Driven Sports has published around 30 lab tests showing no illegal stimulant content.[3,4,5]  Competitors have posted a dozen or so showing there is.[6]

Additionally, a number of athletes have failed drug tests after consuming Craze in Australia [7], Sweden [8],  and England [9].  Furthermore, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) tested Craze and detected several illegal stimulants, adding it to their ‘High Risk List’ of dietary supplements for containing numerous stimulants banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, commonly known as WADA. [10]

“Eth” – The amphetamine hiding in the bushes?

So how can these differing results co-exist?  Because there is no established standard process for testing the alleged compounds involved.

The Driven Sports CRAZE Eth Amphetamine Test from Ron Kramer

After this test was disclosed, things started to get really wild

Driven Sports has purportedly stated that it is a matter of misidentification, and that a PEA analogue contained within Dendrobex is being confused for ethylamphetamine (the illegal stimulant in question — known to insiders as “ETH”).[11]  The product’s detractors are saying that this confusion was introduced on purpose and is evidence of an in depth conspiracy to hide the illegal stimulant content.[12]

Currently, notorious industry chemist Patrick Arnold and a laboratory owner named Mahmoud A. ElSohly, Ph.D are working on establishing and documenting a testing standard for the compound.  This should provide a conclusive picture of whether or not the product is spiked.  But that process could take months to finalize and publish.

Ultimately, one of two things is going on, and the article doesn’t prove either one conclusively:

  1. Craze does not contain this stimulant, and this has been a massive smear campaign on DS by their competitors.

    -or-

  2. Craze does contain the compound, and this was potentially an extremely well-executed, methodically planned cover-up of a massive illegal drug distribution on an international scale

This could be the spark needed for the FDA to involve themselves in the process, as opposed to it competing companies arguing it out with a bunch of “he said she said” on internet discussion forums.

…the evidence against Cahill certainly doesn’t look good, and this is probably just the first of many articles…

That all said…the evidence against Cahill certainly doesn’t look good, and this is probably just the first of many articles that will be published on the subject.  Let’s just say that Driven Sports is not the only company related to this mess, and they are actually a small fry compared to others who are.

Unfortunately for supplement fans, issues like this will have the potential to trigger an anti-supplement cascade in the media, followed by action from the FDA.  We dig into this situation below.

Breaking the Rebound XT story

Credit to Alison of USA Today for this one:  very few people close to the business knew this:

Cahill is currently facing a federal criminal charge for introducing another supposedly all-natural bodybuilding supplement in 2008, Rebound XT, that prosecutors say contained an unapproved new drug. A federal grand jury in California also has been hearing testimony recently about that product, according to a subpoena issued in the case.

Rebound XT apparently contained the unapproved drug ATD (androsta-1,4,6,triene-3,17-dione).[13]  I merely mention this because you can expect to see read more about this one as well, since Cahill was probably not the exclusive seller of this compound.

More enforcement — not more laws

The typical knee-jerk reaction to an article like USA Today’s is that “This industry needs more regulation!”

The real solution is that we need more enforcement (both within the industry and outside of it), not more laws to further muddy the processes.

Had the government enforced the laws they currently have, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in today. So here’s what should be happening:

  1. Ban known criminal offenders

    After pleading guilty, Cahill should not have been allowed to operate a health-related business.  As stated above, the FDA has the ability to make that happen[2] – but they didn’t follow through.

  2. Enforce cGMP better

    The platform to stop this was in place – it was just not utilized.

    Had cGMP (common Good Manufacturing Practices[14]) regulations been followed and enforced, then proper batch testing would have taken place, then there would have been several stopping points for this product:

    • they would not have attempted to produce the product (at least not in a GMP facility),

    • the product wouldn’t have made it to market due to failing tests/inspections, or

    • this would have been exposed far sooner that it was.

Note that this would have the beneficial side effect of allowing us to trust cGMP certification, making it easier for us to buy ethically manufactured supplements.

More laws will simply create more loopholes, more waste, and more things being ignored.  The platform to stop this was in place – it was just not utilized.

This is also discussed by Steve Mister, President of the Council for Responsible Nutrition[15] at the 7:50 mark in USA Today’s online video segment.[1]

Who can you trust?

So, what if someone wants to have a better workout, and they want to take a stimulant-based product.  What can they do and who can they trust?

First, it’s best to know that nothing is (nor has it ever been) absolutely 100% bulletproof.  If you’re very cautious, then brew a fresh cup of coffee and stay away from nutritional supplements.

At this point, it should be a well-known fact that dietary supplements are not FDA approved.  In order for a supplement to be banned, the burden of proof is typically on the FDA to prove it unsafe.  You should use all supplements with this information in mind.

Consider NSF-Certified Products

A solution for drug-tested athletes is to look for NSF Certification on the products that they are purchasing.[16]  In their words,

NSF is the only third-party testing organization to undertake a complete evaluation of every aspect of a product’s development before it can earn our certification.

Although there are far fewer of these products, and they are oftentimes more expensive, they are far less likely to be adulterated.  It’s not impossible, but far more difficult.  The problem is, if you take a look at the Craze label, you’ll see this on the bottom right half[19]:

Manufactured in the USA from domestic and imported ingredients in a NSF GMP for Sport Certified Facility

NSF has not yet commented on this issue.

My opinion is that Driven Sports used some questionable tactics in abusing NSF’s name.  They didn’t include their mark, but they did include the name.  So if you’re looking for NSF certification on a product, look for their big blue square logo.

But once again, nothing is bulletproof.

Note: we are not legally permitted to show the NSF logo on this page, as it would show brand confusion from associating it with Craze – obviously not our intended goal.  You can find the logo using Google Image Search.

Distinguishing the good guys from the bad

Perhaps it’s time we started checking backgrounds on the people who are making these products.  Even though Cahill is a known criminal, researching the founders and key employees of thousands of supplement companies would be next to impossible.

Perhaps it’s time to come up with some kind of web database – our own “IMDB” that connects companies to their founders and employees

It’s really a watch-and-learn kind of scenario, but others outside of the industry can’t do that.  I’m personally getting to the point where a single willingly deceptive action is cause for concern regarding an entire brand’s product lines.  Contradictory to what’s written earlier in this post… people hardly ever really change.  Why should we expect the brands that they run to be any different?

Yet, a regular user’s ability to keep track of this is a major problem that is yet to be solved, perhaps until now.

A great solution is in the works: After the Dymatize European counterfeit protein scandal, Marc Lobliner (one of the true stand-up guys in the industry) at TigerFitness[17] declared that he would begin testing protein products, and would only release results of successfully tested protein powders.  They are calling these products “Tiger Tested.”[18]

Marc’s general idea goes like this: A company requests that Marc test their products. If the product doesn’t pass, he wouldn’t say anything (as he owns a competing company/product, MTS Nutrition Machine Whey and doesn’t feel like getting sued).  But if it does pass, he’d gladly post the results, and mark it as Approved.

But therein lies the rub: even if you tested Craze for the typical amphetamine profile, you wouldn’t have found anything… unless you knew exactly what to look for.

Beware Counterfeiting

Craze was hit with a counterfeit scandal of its own... further muddying the issues debated above

Craze was hit with a counterfeit scandal of its own… further muddying the issues debated above

The section above bring us to another issue – the possibility of counterfeiting – has even affected Craze, adding yet another level of uncertainty to the tests discussed above.[20] This is why it’s important that you buy from a reputable store that goes through the proper distribution channels.

Sadly, two of the biggest culprits in counterfeit supplement distribution are Amazon and eBay.  While they are never directly responsible for any counterfeit products, their core business models allow other individuals to sell products using their online platforms, as well as Amazon’s warehouses – without extensive background checks.

To their credit, Amazon and eBay are extremely militant in removing the offenders from their sites after complaints have been received. But there still is risk no matter which way you slice it.

On this site, we admittedly list Amazon’s products, so be warned.  There is a potential that you are buying from some faceless third-party seller with whom you’d never consider doing face-to-face business with.  That goes for nearly any type of product on Amazon or eBay.

Stick with the featured stores

Our upcoming, updated price listings will feature Amazon as little as possible for several reasons, including this one.  But the fact is, I will likely never be able to say that you can 100% trust this website’s listings – even after our major revamp. We simply can’t know the chain of custody of every product that reaches every store we deal with – it’s impossible for us to determine.

The PricePlow system will also list potentially dangerous products.  We’ll do our best to manually remove known problematic supplements — or move them to the bottom of the list in order to display more suitable alternatives — but with tens of thousands of listings, it is simply too massive of a challenge for me to make any promises.

Bodybuilding.com Responds

Update: This section was added a few hours after initially posting the article Update 2: BB.com revised their quote – we now display the new one as well

Besides Driven Sports and Matt Cahill, Bodybuilding.com was the other major business to get thrown under the bus on this article. The video section of USA Today purposefully points out how Craze was the winner of their 2012 New Supplement of the Year award.[21]

After BB.com’s discussion forum moderators had removed several threads about the USA Today article, their ForumAdmin finally stepped in. He allowed a thread to remain up, and wrote the company’s official response:

Hey all,

I wanted to post a response to remove any confusion about Craze being sold on Bodybuilding.com and help alleviate any concerns users might have about the product.

Because of the USATODAY article on Matt Cahill of Driven Sports and Craze, you will probably see an influx of posts about this article. We were advised by Legal to leave the threads up and only remove posts that violate normal forum rules. Bodybuilding.com has conducted product, blood and urine tests on Craze numerous times and all tested negative for amphetamines. You are free to share the fact that we’ve tested and all results have been negative.

We remain committed to providing products that are legal and safe and have no evidence that Craze is any different.

Quote taken from ForumAdmin[22].

Update 3: Ryan Deluca, CEO of Bodybuilding.com, messaged me stating that they are willing to share their Adverse Event Report (AER) rate on their Craze sales: 0.04%, mainly due to customers feeling jittery – with no injuries.

Call-out to the industry Good Guys and Gals

Ladies and gentlemen, the writing is on the wall. This is just the beginning – not the end. Unless we find a way to shape up media’s perception of this industry, the FDA hammer is going to drop, and it will drop hard.

Call-out to ethical industry veterans - is it time for a better system?

Call-out to ethical industry veterans – is it time for a better system?

The current solutions given above are obviously not working well enough, and the industry has grown to the point where supplements have garnered mass media attention – for both good and bad.

We know the benefits from taking a well-placed supplement, and the public has been doing a decent job of keeping pace as well. But with that good has come a hell of a lot of unnecessary bad.

We need to start dialogue and quickly implement better solutions in shutting rogue operations down — before the FDA does it for us (and they will do it with no impunity for anyone). Drop comments or contact us if you’d like to brainstorm on some ideas together.

Perhaps it’s time to come up with some kind of web database – our own “IMDB” that connects companies to their founders and employees — both past and present — listing publicly available lawsuits and approved supplement drug tests. All based purely on fact.

There’s no reason why things need to be so disorganized.

Supplements: Use at your own risk

Once again readers, it’s an unregulated industry, but laws are in place to prevent what was covered by USA Today.

All users have varying risk thresholds when using supplements.  The most important thing we can do is to offer as much education as possible, and let you make the decision.  When there is no conclusive research available, such as with a new ingredient like dendrobium extract, it is going to be purely use-at-your-own-risk situation.

While that has been an acceptable solution, and the industry has typically self-regulated itself over time, it may be time we good guys in the business banded together and came up with more solutions – before people like Cahill ruin us all.

Like this Post? We have more on the way…

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References

  1. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/25/bodybuilding-supplement-designer-matt-cahill-usa-today-investigation/2568815/
  2. http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/RegulatoryProceduresManual/ucm176734.htm
  3. http://getds.com/20130614381/Blog/further-proof-that-crazer-does-not-contain-amphetamines
  4. http://www.getds.com/20130701382/Blog/further-proof-that-craze-does-not-contain-amphetamines-part-
  5. http://www.getds.com/20130710383/Blog/further-proof-that-craze-does-not-contain-amphetamines-part-three
  6. http://www.thermolife.com/forum/t3877/
  7. http://www.asada.gov.au/publications/media/media_releases/asada_release_121214_Troy%20Errington_Sydney_Shield.pdf
  8. http://www.wfad.se/latest-news/1-articles/2790-craze-supplement-investigated-in-sweden
  9. http://www.robrichesfitness.com/did-rob-riches-fail-a-drug-test/
  10. http://www.usada.org/forms.asp?uid=3588
  11. http://www.thermolife.com/forum/post42103-1362/ Note: this is a secondary source.  We could not find the original quotation by Cahill or DS, but if anyone can find it, we will gladly update this.
  12. http://www.thermolife.com/forum/post40956-365/
  13. http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/724903-usa-v-cahill-2012-criminal-information.html
  14. http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/Manufacturing/ucm169105.htm
  15. http://www.crnusa.org/
  16. http://www.nsf.org/consumer/about_NSF/cert_benefits.asp
  17. http://www.tigerfitness.com/?Click=4583
  18. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqgIDLX_bUU
  19. http://gnc.imageg.net/graphics/product_images/pGNC1-13935236_gnclabel_pdf.pdf
  20. http://www.drivensports.com/20121221376/Blog/how-to-spot-fake-crazer
  21. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/2012-supplement-awards-winners.html
  22. http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=155735343&p=1108322243&viewfull=1#post1108322243
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