FACT CHECK: Is Pace, an "Alcohol Alternative," Legal in Canada?
Updated: Mar 20, 2020
FALSE. In a statement to CBC News, Health Canada confirmed that the active ingredient in Pace is illegal in Canada.
Pace is a psychoactive beverage marketed by the Diet Alcohol Corporation of the Americas (DACOA) as an “alcohol substitute” that provides “a pleasant inebriation and a feeling of satiety and contentedness.” Pace’s website states that the drink’s active ingredient is a 160 milligram dose of 5-methoxy-2-aminoindane or MEAI, an amphetamine analog.
Pace’s website also correctly states that researchers have linked alcohol to seven kinds of cancer and that some consider it to be the most harmful drug consumed today. As reported by the CBC, the DACOA has sold and shipped tens of thousands of bottles of Pace to Canadians.
While the DACOA’s negative claims about alcohol largely check out, its positive claims about Pace are far less factual. The Pace website’s FAQ page claims that the beverage is “absolutely” legal and that “this product is neither regulated nor scheduled in the USA or Canada.” However, in a statement to CBC News, Health Canada said that “Pace is an illegal and unauthorized product in Canada” and that the federal department was “taking the appropriate follow-up steps to prevent the sale of this product in Canada.”
The reason federal regulators seem to be playing catch-up when it comes to Pace has to do with how recently the product’s active ingredient was invented. In December 2015, Vancouver scientist Ezekiel Golan patented a range of alcohol substitutes, including a long list of chemical-compound candidates to replace ethanol, the active ingredient in alcohol. All of these were aminoindanes—a class of serotonin-boosting psychoactive substance first synthesized in the 1970s by medical professionals to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s.
The primary danger of aminoindanes, such as Pace’s MEAI, is how little we know about them. To date, there have been only two scientific studies on the effects of MEAI, the first of which was co-authored by Golan in 2017. As part of that study’s toxicological evaluation, three test groups of mice were given doses of MEAI escalating from 10 to 1,000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Subjects in the 10 milligram group experienced no adverse effects; subjects in the 100 milligram groups experienced severe adverse effects; and all six subjects in the 1,000 milligram group died within two hours. The study concluded that “further studies, especially long term chronic and behavior studies in rodents and non-rodent species, are required in order to assess MEAI safety profile adequately, before a human trial can be commenced.”
The Pace website, by contrast, is far less cautious in how it presents MEAI. In a section titled “Recommended Use,” consumers are advised to “take one entire bottle to start” and “consume more as needed.” The FAQ page goes on to advise consumers to “not exceed the recommended dose” and roughly defines that dose as two servings per hour or six per “night out.” The website fails to clearly list the signs and symptoms of an overdose, only claiming that Pace will not cause blackouts in any quantity and that excess consumption “typically makes people lethargic and want to go to bed, somewhat like certain medical marijuana products.” The website also describes Pace as “self-limiting—the very opposite of addictive,” despite the fact that no publicly documented long-term study of chronic use among humans has ever been conducted. According to Health Canada, the gap in the government’s regulatory framework that allowed the DACOA to introduce Pace into the Canadian market is now being closed.