An independent botanical research lab has found that the mysterious liquid distributed at a Los Angeles concert to New Year's Eve revelers who later fell sick contains a toxic chemical that can cause respiratory problems and massive amounts of caffeine.
After seizing more than 9,000 small vials of fX, the federal Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of the liquid because it presents "an unreasonable risk" to consumers even when taken according to the directions on the label. The agency declined to release the results of its own tests of the product and said it is still investigating the case.
But lab tests on vials obtained by the Austin, Texas-based American Botanical Council show that fX contains a chemical compound called 1,4 Butanediol--an industrial chemical that bears similarities to the popular rave party drug gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB). It also contains caffeine. The makers of fX did not list either substance on the label.
"It certainly would warrant careful scrutiny by the FDA," said Mark Blumenthal, the council's executive director. "We do have a smoking gun here."
Blumenthal said the analysis of three vials purchased from a Los Angeles store, not from the batch confiscated by police, is at least 98% accurate. But he said he plans to run an additional test on fX to verify the presence of Butanediol. He said investigators told him the FDA tests had spotted the same chemical compound.
The organization's analysis also concluded that the fX vials did not contain even trace amounts of kava, an exotic herb from the South Pacific that was initially blamed as an ingredient that led to the New Year's revelers' symptoms.
"Since herbs were implicated, we felt we had to inquire into the matter," Blumenthal said.
At least 31 people who are believed to have ingested the liquid were taken to hospitals after suffering nausea and respiratory trouble at the "In Seventh Heaven" rave concert at the Grand Olympic Auditorium. All have been released.
Hundreds of vials of fX were handed out free to concert goers by a company called Biolife Bioproducts Ltd. of Escondido. The head of the company initially identified himself to the media as Dan Xavieris, or "Dr. X," and said the product was safe if users followed the instructions. Investigators said the only maker of the product they know is Dan Bricker, of Bricker Labs in San Diego. Bricker did not return phone calls Thursday.
It is unclear what action if any the FDA will take. Mislabeling a dietary supplement or similar product, with intent to defraud consumers, can carry criminal charges or other penalties.
"It's too soon to tell where it's going," said FDA spokesman Arthur Whitmore. "We looked at the labeling, medical records and interviews and made a determination . . . it should not be sold."
But LAPD investigators said there are unknown numbers of vials still on the streets. Biolife manufactured at least one test batch of fX and appears to have given some of the vials to record stores and other retailers around Los Angeles, said Det. Trinka Porrata.
"There's still some dummies that might take it," Porrata said. "Big mistake."
The FDA had initially warned consumers not to ingest the vials, which may be labeled "Orange fX Rush," "Cherry fX Bomb," or "Lemon fX Drop," the day after the party--which ended in a melee in which police fired rubber bullets to break up the crowd of some 10,000 revelers. Many complained that the police response was too harsh, but LAPD officials have insisted it was appropriate given the size of the crowd.