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KI]IG I|FIHETHRITI. PIU. CU]T At twenty-0nâ‚Ź,:Sean Shayan has built a $100 million ompire selling Heftal

Estary to the Uouth ol Amefira. But now that he har the woild at his feet, the FllA is fast 0n his heels. l'lafi folly

inuestigates the euasion, the hype, and the hystefia in the battle for the tight to paily in the USA. ehind the wheel of his pint-size Batmobile-an Acura NSX, to be accurate-Sean Shayan speed-weaves though the Hollywood evening traffic, assuring me that he,is personally immune to car accidents. "I don't aftract that kind of stufi,' he says. "It's not within my realm of possibilities."

That's because most people, he explains, live in "ticktock realiry" which operares ar around 10,000 cycles per second. Shayan, ..the on the other hand, the fwenty-one-year-old inventor

of

world's first organic designer experience," functions ar 40,000 cycles per second. "'When that drunk driver comes along, I'm going to be at the restaurant having someveganhtte. Because at 40,000 cycles per second, my energy level is vibrating too fast.,' Shayan has aiso been moving too fast for the Food and Drug Administration. Since he started peddiing Herbal Ecstacy-which promises a safe, natural, and legal alternative to the reial thingShayan claims he has managed to shift almost 250 million pills and grab the lion's share of the market in ..legal hig[s,', in the process pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of his company, Global lforld Media. But the parry began to frzzlelastMarch, when a frilenry-yearold college student from Long Island named peter Schlendorf

170

l

December 1996 Detoils

hopped down to Panama Ciry Florida, for spring break. There, Ultimate Xphoria, another company's product which, like Herbal Ecstacy, was marketed as a healthy substirute to street drugs. Six hours later, he was dead. The medical examiner attributed the death to cardiac arrhl'thmia linked ro ingestion of the tablets. The Feds had a field day, claiming such producrs violated the law, and the headlines began to fly. Herbal Ecstacy and its kin contain ephedrine, an amphetamine-like stimulant also used in common cold remedies, as well as in hundreds of weightJoss aids, muscle builders, and energy boosters. According to the FDA, ephedrine has been linked to seventeen deaths and six hundred health complaints. The agency has not, however, banned any of the products. Yet. That's because-in addition to limits on its power to ban them-the FDA, Iike many in the nutrition industry, seems troubled less by the substance than by the image of rhe so-called herbal highs: !7hat's at stake is whether Americans should be allowed to indulge in substances whose sole benefit is, simply, pleasure. The FDA's delay, however, has nor stopped state health dehe downed some

partments in Florida and New York from banning Herbal Ecstacy and rival brands such as X and Cloud 9. Nor did it *

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By high school, he was buying old bicycies and cars, fixing them up, then reselling them. "He was

always trying to make money on everything and anything," says his father, Shy. On one occasion, boasts Shayan, he brokered a deal on two Mer-

Gullwings, earning a $15,000 commission. Meanwhile, he was growing increasingly alienated from the classroom. "I didn't want to go to school for eight years and then make myself miserable and work my fingers to the bone and be in a job that I hate for the rest of my life. I thought: \fhy the hell do I need to know algebra? You don't need to know any ofthar to make money. I want to go out there and make millions and I want to do it the American way." Soon Shayan discovered the burgeoning West Coast rave scene. He lived for each weekend, when he would attend illega1, after-hours warehouse parcedes

ties in Los Angeles. \flithin months, he put his business sense to work and made the transition from

stop Shayan, who in April gleefully announced a 25 percenr sales increase in the rest of the country due to the controversy. ,.If the FDA ever goes out of business," he says, "we'd like to hire them for P.R., because that's probably the only thing they,re good ar." Shayan isn't half bad at it himself. As soon as we ieach the restaurant (in one piece), he turns on a tape recorder to make sure he's not misquoted. (His wariness stems from his encouhter with The New YorkTimes, which, he says, purposely chose a picture of him in which he looked stoned.) ImmediatelS he belins cataloguing his clean-living credentials: He's never done a drug in his life; he doesn't drink; he's allergic to cigarette smoke . . . "I'm a strict vegetarian, I lead a very disciplined lifestyle, and they try to make me look like a drug addict," he steami, his big

ttlaking

Hgfbal

THE SON OF JEWISH IRANIAN PARENTS WHO FLED THE ISLAMIC

revolution, Shayan arrived in Pacific Palisades, California, when he was four. An outsider who didn't mix well with the other kids, he was often beaten up at school. By junior high, held taken up martial arrs to ward off the bullies. That led to an inreresr in meditation, rvhich in turn opened him up to vegetarianism. Mark Jolly profiledTrainspottrng autbor Iruine-V/elsh in tbe

172

December 1995 Detoils

he thought, he could capitalize on the thirst for the Ecstasy buzz by

developing

a

natural substitute for the synthetically produced drug.

From the outset, Shayan's selling point with Herbal Ecstacy was the invitation-wrapped nicely in New Age sioganeenng and psychedelic iconography-to fly ro the stars on the finesr fruits of Mother Earth. "Before we came out," he says, "people were doing VCR head cleaner and all sorts of crazy stuff trying 'When to get high. we came along, it was like, 'Hey, here's an alternative. And it's better than getting some crap off the streer.' " Better for Shayan, certainly. Within thirty days of launching Herbal Ecstacn he says he grossed $1.5 million. Naturally, I inquire about the stafi-up costs. "I don't know, man, I'm not a numbers guy."

ECStaC$

brown eyes widening in indignation. "They've gor nothing on me. Our company is run immaculately, we're all aboVe water. Nobody wants to hear the real story. "

August issue of Detalls.

partygoer to promoter, his clandestine activities invariably engaging the LAPD in a game of cat and mouse. "Sfe weren't doing anything illegal," he says. "Well. we kind of were, bur nor really." Around the end ol L993, he jumped on anorher maverick moneymaking scheme. \fith his own booth set up at a weekly rave called Insomniac, he would unload vials of a ginseng mixture from San Francisco with the name ELIXIR stamped across them, selling them for rwice the price. It didn't take long for Shayan to notice thar while the demand for the drug Ecsfasy (or MDMA) was growing rapidly, its supply in the United Stares was not. Maybe,

is rlr{e drinking se$en â&#x201A;Ź$ps0r

Haveatry, Isuggest. There's an uncomfortable pause. "A couple of million. " I ask him when this was exactly. Again, he's hazy. But surely he knows when he registered his own company . . . "I'm sorry I'm not too good with dates." \fhen pressed, he opts for 1991, which rvould make him about sixreen at the time. Shayan's reluctance to provide answers to questions suggests that his interest in "the real srory" is limited ar best. But if the word of his distributors, friends, and father is anything to go by, Shayan started up in 1994-nvo years after the introduction of Cloud 9, which is widely considered the first of the herbal stimulants to have courted the Ecstasy crowd. He olavs dumb when

o o u = =


l

I ask about selling ginseng at raves until I confront]him with testimony from other promoters; he claims he namefl his product Herbal Ecstacy (purposely misspelled) so people r,Jrouldn't con-

re-

fuseitwiththerealthing,yettothisdaytheword]"Herbal" mains notably absent from the name on the

packa[e.

Fnrocttino "'"1 '1sggs121ing whole portions o{ your past is small potatoes. But much more serious charges hpve been leveled at Shayan. His company has been accused by {istributors of breaking licensing agreements (a multimillion-doll[r breach-ofcontract lawsuit was recently settled for an undisclofed sum). One herbalist questions whether Shayan may be using ef,hedrine with synthetic ephedrine added to it, a practice which is i{egal without a license and which Shayan denies. And though he s{ys he has not received a single health complaint about Herbal Ecsiacy, the FDA says it has received thirteen. Ironically, it is exactly fhis abilirycreative marketing or misrepresentation, depending your point 9n of view-that is at the very root of Shayan's .rcc.l..

rHE

rHE coMpANy rHAr sHAyAN cALLS rHE"cocn.for-n oF year 2000" is run out of a dark, cramped office neirr the Venice Beach boardwalk- He designed the place himself, lie says, modeled on a dream he had, "a kind of Alice in Wonflerhnd-type deal." The walls are green and purple, the windo!'s triangular. Slanted doorways lead to cavelike workstations,j where each

desk. air-coirditioning. Global 'i7orld Media began with Shayan packing [ilh by hand in his parents' garage, according to his first hire Rfb Kessler, a thirty-five-year-old former actor who met him thrQugh the rave scene. "'When he and I hooked up, he had a handful of brown pills in his pocket' and he didn't know what to call]them," says Kessler, who was brought on board to set up distriburion. Shayan hired only one other person at the time, $my Yavno, who handled marketing, as well as the n,rmerors tel]ephone calls from people complaining of nausea. Yavno, who n{ow runs her own herbal company, was no less dumbfounded th{n Kessler by Shayant business practices. I "I felt like I was in high school again," she says. "ixreird games all the time' There were never any answers to any {uestions, no rea.l records for anything. He had this sort of indestlructible attitude about himself and his products: 'I won't get inltrouble and I can do what I want.'l7henever I told him about f.realrh complaints he just acted like it didn't mafter. It was funlpy ro him. " One example of Shayan's looseness with the truth ]is an Herbal Ecstacy promotional leaflet littered with endorsemen{s. It includes a "stamp of approval" from the National Association [f Advanced employee sits in a lotus wicker chair at a knee-high drescent Evidently, Sean Shayan doesn't dream about

corree," one do(ror says,,,ol

{rins

Food Supplements (NAAFS). Neither the Ameri[an Health

f

chology Magazine concerning "euphoric stimulltion" and "increased sexual sensations." The American pslichological

Association says there is no such publication. The best testimonial, though, is offered by Obleo Carson from I

out a placebo test on one hundred unsuspecting British ravers by giving them either one Herbal Ecstacy t;bler oi one vitamin pili. The results, taken from his book, E for Ecstasy (U.K. edition), are quoted by Global: "People reported all kinds of effects. Some even saying that it was the best Ecstasy experience they had ever had." !7hat the leaflet does not add is the rest of the senrence: ". . .whether they had taken the Herbal Ecstacy or the vitamin pill. " Saunders's point is that people's emotional response to drugs depends on what they .*p.ct. "!7hat people IikL in ephedra is the slightly sweary, tingly feeling in the skin and a higher heartbeat-things people associate with Ecstasy," he saysl..But then

o'itt'"t::t'fftiJ#.1t1::L'lti:t,ifi::3.1i,'IJ,"lJ;,-.,

psychiatry at the Harbor-UCLA School of Medicine who is conducting the first government-approved study on MDMA, Herbal Ecstacy has absolutely nothtg ir..o--on with the real thing: ,.Taking Herbal Ecstacy is like drinking seven or eight cups of strong coffee. People could just as easilf go to the drigstore and take a lot of Sudafed.', Just about all Shayan will say regarding the effects ofhis pill is

that they're "preny pronounced. " He doei tell me about Global's own placebo test-at least that there was one and that the results are confidential. Company literature also makes reference to a team of "master hertafists from around the wor1d," whom Shayan says he commissioned to develop the formula for Herbal Ecstacy-though he refuses to divulge their identities. From its pyramid-shaped packet, I read that Herbal Ecstacy uses "Tibetian [sic] ephedra sinica," a species of ephedra that experts say is not typically grown in thai region. Iiyou were a botanical whiz kid, y"" -ight be able ro .pJ, the high-caffeine rources: "Brazilian paulina ls ic] cupana" (guarana ,".d;, "Af.icana cola acuminata" (kola nut, ulro ,r.J i., Coca-Cola), and "camellia sinensis" (green tea). Other listed ingredients include " black panax ginseng" (none of the experts I taited to had heard of "blaik" ginsengl, which helps the body to resist stress; ..ginko

biloba 1," .tto.t that increases circulation in the brain and "tr extremiries; and "Indonesian centella asiatica,,, an herbaceous vine munched by elephants. Then there,s ,.myristica fragrans,,, otherwise known as nutmeg, the only hallucinogen in the lot, and active only in extremely large quantities.

a lOt 0I SUdafgd.tt

Products Association, nor the National Nutritional iroods Association, nor the FDA has ever heard of NAAFS. "The N-A-A-F-S?" says Shayan, sounding out]the letrers. "That's, ah, my company we set up to measure q"{Lty control in the industry." So you gave yourself your own stamp of approvaf? "It just never realiy took off, that's all.,' There is also a word or two from Dr. Janis Burton of New psy]

the Mind Research Institute, who praises the "floaty, mindexpanding" effects of Herbal Ecstacy. Obleo Carson, I iater learn, is the name of Rob Kessler,s dog. ,.Sean would make all these things up," says Kessleq "and he would think ir was a tremendous joke.,' One source that does exist is Nicholas Saunders, who carried

"You're mixing pharmacologically active herbs together," says one FDA chemist, who spoke only on the condition ol anonymiry. "Individually they're vague, but when you srarr mixing them, the effects are totally unknown." According to Aler Conn, an experr in Chinese herbs who says he met Shayan at a trade show two years ago, there may be yet another ingredient in Herbal Ecstacy. Conn says that when Sean told him what he was paying for his ephedra, the price was so low that Conn immediately suspected that Shayan,s product contained natural ephedra with an additive of synthetic ephedrine, a much cheaper derivative often used by manufacturers ro cur cosrs. (Sean denies this, claiming he uses a "very costly" variety and doesn't know who Alex Conn is.) Ephedrine hydrochloride $ December 1996

Deroils

173


for anyone but licensed companies to buy There is no definitive method to detect wheth

is illegal

sell.

synthetic ephedrine has been added, but according to Industrl I Laboratories ofDenver, Colorado, an independent testing se ice which Details contracted to analyze samples of Herbal Shayan's product contained almost five times more pseud phedrine ( I.71 percent) than ephedrine (0.36 percentl. "The ts would suggest that it's not a total ex'tract from a natural pr cludes the lab's chief science officer and vice preside Dr. Jim Kinsinger. Other experts, however, would draw di rent conclusions, finding nothing unusual in these results. IronicallS it was Congress who opened up the door Shayan in 1994. Pressured bv the vitamin and nutritional-s pplement industry, it passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which made the FDA responsible provlng

explicit label warnings and maximum doses for products containing ephedra, a practice already endorsed by the five thousand manufacturers and retailers belonging to the National Nutritional Foods Association (of which Global World Media is not a member). The FDA has yet to act on this recommendation. SO WHY DID THE FDA SUDDENLY DECIDE TO CRACK DOWN ON Sean Shayan last spring?

The agency had remained conspicuously silent on the subject

until one night last March, when its commissioner, David Kessler, attended a dinner parry. It was there that Kessler first learned about the death of Peter Schlendorf and took an immediate personal interest in the case. What he and his colleagues failed to mention in alerting the media of ephedra's potential health risks was that Schlendorf's death was the first case in which an actual med-

"lf Heftal Ets acy is unsafe," says Shayan, "then whether an herbal product is unsafe-rather rhan manufacturer having to provethey are safe. But DSHElt's a to clarify the situation created more questions than answers. Before the

new classification, the FDA had the authority to tarn any herbal stimulant at a momentt notice. But now that rbs, along with vitamins and minerals. are considered nutriti 1 supplements, the FDA cannot enforce the same controls apply to, say, over-the-counter drugs for colds and allergies. "If you go to a drugstore and buy Tylenol, you're red by the manufacturer that it meets cerTain standards," sa Dr. Donald Jasinski, who was appointed to the FDlfs advisory committee, "but these herbs are not regulated. They growlng someplace in Asia, it's not clear where, and they're the U.S. People have no idea what's in them. They' lyzed, so you're trusting the manufacturers, but because they say it's natural and it's befter." Ephedra, or mahuang, has been cultivated in tradi nese medicine for five thousand years as a remedy for gies, and asthma. Since the 1930s, ephedrine and othe from the plant have been sold in antihistamine and tablets. Today, with the exception of garlic and gi most widely used herb in the country, a billion-do industry fueled by up to five million users-the same people who regularly take Prozac. And ephedra is no less controversial. At present, i to restrictions in nineteen states. Often mixed with ca a regular staple of dietary supplements that encour go the extra mile in reducing fat, increasing athletic driving long distances, or dancing all night. In large cause increased

blood pressure, nervousness, head

nia, dizziness, vomiting, palpitations, seizures, and By the summer of 1994, ephedra had already page hotcake when a woman in her midforties died ing tennis in Austin, Texas. She had reportedly tak

not anau buy it

flus, alleralkaloids nt it is the a{-a-year ber

of

is subject ine, it is people to mance, It can

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Nature's

Nutrition Formula One, the country's largest-selli g performance-based ephedrine product at the time. Its I bel then invoked consumers to "look better, feel better, and ve more energy." Soon afterward, state health officials bega receiving hundreds of complaints from people claiming reactlons to Formula One and similar stimulants. (The com has since reformulated the product without caffeine.) In October 1.995, an FDA expert advisory panel

171

December 1996 Deroils

ical examiner-as opposed to, say, an outraged next of kin-had attributed the cause of death to the product under suspicion. Neither did the FDA point out that Schlendorf had taken considerably fewer tablets than several of his friends (albeit more than the recommended dosage) who were with him at the time and experienced no negative effects. In addition, some experts have questioned the autopsy's methodology and, conclusions, including a respected herbal-industry publication that suggested Schlendorf may have had an enlarged heart that contributed to his premature death. "The one thing they don't have at the FDA is a smoking gun," says Jasinski, referring to the underwhelrning body of evidence presented by the govemment, which among its 603 reported side effects caused by ephedrine (only thirteen relating to Herbal Ecstacy) includes "loss of mental control," "scared," and "felt weird." In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which surveys hospitals nationalln ephedrineJinked emergency-room episodes come in much lower on the list (2,500 in '1995) compared to say aspirin (20,000), or acetaminophen, the main chemical in Tylenol (30,000). In addition, a random sampling of hospitals in forry-ffio metropolitan areas reported thirry deaths to which ephedrine was linked-lower than aspirin (eighry) and acetaminophen (three hundred). And even the FDA admitted, at its most recent meeting with its advisory committee in August, that the overwhelming majority of its reported adverse reactions concern performance and weightJoss pills-not herbal-high stimulants. Nevertheless, the agency has isolated only the Ecstasy lookalike products as posing "significant health risks to consumers" and has sent letters to Global World Media and five of its rivals asking them to shape up, or else. "\7e consider the marketing of these products irresponsible," the lefter warns. It does not threaten to enforce a ban, says FDA spokesman Arthur l7hitmore, simply because they don't have the power to preemptively make a substance illegal. On paper, however, the FDA r sanctioned to remove any product it deems "an imminent hazard to public health or safety." The only difference is that it must now carry the burden of proof. To hear Shayan tell it, the FDA has launched a sophisticated smear campaign, prompted by the pharmaceutical industry who are conspiring with insurance companies to put peopie like him out of business: "They're trying to crucify us in the press because


they can't do it in court. They're claiming the You're the FDA, for Christ's sake-why don't market? Because they have nothing on us. People they know the FDA are full of shit." SHAYAN AND I HAVE WOUND UP AT THE BAR OF A

Hills hotel. Chris, our distractingly beautiful

Eu bartender, is holding out a selection of Twinings

Darjeeling, English Breakfast. She asks which Sha Shayan would like to know her favorite. Chris I "I want this one," Shayan says, smiling and only big green sachet, wedged in the center of "That's just because it's got a groovy package ters. Shayan doesn't say a word, but the fact thirry-two sunflowers the next day ("Everybody tells me she may have found a way to his heart.

why doesn't rhe FDA

uct's unsafe.

take it off the

laughing-

boy running around." It's an image Shayan is more than happy to cultivate. BEVERLY

sianJooking rl Grey, would like. all of them.

inting to the box. Chris counhe sends her sends roses")

believe in? place to be is com

whatsoever-be it anything like that. But the truth of the mamer is that people will do drugs. It's like with vegetarianismif somebody tells me, 'Hey I've cut out red meat and I'm just eating chicken,' I'm like, 'Yeah, it's an alternative, sure. The best option would be to do nothsays, "meaning no substances

ing, but if you can't, itt better to just eat chicken.' " If nothing else, Shayan has an unassailable

capacity for doing things the Shayan way-for stepping outside of ticktock. Settled into a red leather armchair, cross-legged and barefoot, he unties his long, wiry hair, r,vhich, coupled with his standard combo of Tevas, plain shorts, and a T:shirt, is unlikely to win any corporate-look-ofthe-year contests. !7hen he was eighteen, he says, he promised himself that once he had broken past a certain dollar figure-he won't say what-he would never wear a suit again. I ask how much he's worth. "Infinite amounts," he cracks. "I'm quite priceless. 'S7hen

I press for something more concrete, he he'll only tell me if I tell him what I earn. It's a fair trade-off, so I agree. But he changes his mind. "You meet some people," he says, "and you know everything about them in five minutes. It's very empowering to deal with people on a needto-know basis. It leaves a little to be wondered, an air of mystery. Plus, it's kinda cool, you know?" o It's an intriguing mix, Sean Shayan's continuous IU need to cloak himself with intrigue and specula= E tion, his sharp business sense and his adolescent imprudence. It's also strangely charming. "He's says

"I still

I'm just a kid," he says. "I don't know shit about busiI just go in there and intuit it. This whole thing is a game to

feel like ness,

me; business is a game. I've gotten so many people offended, all these high-powered executive types who say, 'You're just playing, man.' And I say, 'Of course I'm playing. I'm here just for fun and games, and if you'd like to play as well, you're welcome.' " THE RECURRING ACCUSATION LEVELED AGAINST GLOBAL AND ITS

rivals-and what may ultimately bring them down-is that they have turned herbal medicine into a conduit lor getting high, not for improving health. It's an accusation that is clearly directed

talt it off the market!"

Shayan claims to eschew caffeine and, amazi says he has never even tried Herbal Ecstacy. "There are convenient ways to get high," he reasons, citing his daily sc ule ofgetting up at four each morning, meditating for an hour, a then going kayaking for three hours. "I can get myself to t same state whenever I want and then snao out of it." So then why is he so intent on pushing somethi he doesn't

"My belief is that the best

very seductive," says Amy Kaps, a customer sales rep. "He Iooks at you, it's just something about his smile. He knows how to use all his tools with people, but at the same time he's just this young

ly sober," he or herbs or

more againstthe message than the substance. "lfyou look at the true history of ephedra," says the FDAs \Thitmore, "people didnt go out and grab this stuff in China and chow it down and have sex. They used it specifically for bronchial conditions by going to their health professionals. " The colliding visions of Sean Shayan and the FDA is really about the hysteria surrounding the war on drugs, which reached a new pitch last August when the government reported that adolescent drug use had doubled berween1992 and 1995. It is the same battle that has been waged over the use of cannabis, tobacco,

$


and alcohol throughout this century: the question of should have the freedom to decide what we do ro our and bodies or whether the government should make t "It's all about the abiliry to make a choice," Shayan Itt also about our preset notions of why we use parti stances in the first place-to relieve pain or to increase Prozac, the legally prescribed antidepressant, first ca market in 198 7 and was hailed as a "wonder drus.,' other hand, is an outlawed empathogen that for many izes today's moral degeneration. The one makes you when you're feeiing down, the other makes you feel ha you want to have fun. One is called therapeutic. the called recreational. "You're not really allowed to feel good this side of says Ann Shulgin, who coauthoredPIHKAL I Haue Known and Loued): A Chemical Loue Story husband, Ecstasy guru Dr. Alexander Shulein. "God vou if you go around feeling too happy. It's this Calvr cion that if everybody took something thar made euphoric, the entire country would come to pieces." Shayan has pushed this debate even further. What ri of Herbal Ecstacy more than anything is the way he has ed to reset the moral compass. Not only does he old pleasure principle in a new pill, he trumpets it as that, in his own words, is going to "expand people's ness by giving them access to another dimension" ational substance that is good for you and your soul. Since the FDA has a slim chance of overrurnins

Shayan claims Herbal Etstaty: "lhe banning ephedra outright, the battle to decide the fate o will more likely be fought out over the legalit marketing. And the FDA, which says it will announce of the year whether to pursue legal action, sounds abeady counting the days. "'We're prepared to go ro this one," says Vhitmore. Although Shayan's attor warned him to be a little more circumsoect when journalists these days, he seems to have lost none of mark insouciance when discussins the FDA. "Their le just silly," he says. "\We called them up and they said, don't worry about it, we just sent that to cover our In what seems iike an ellort to cover his own one step ahead of his critics-shayan has introduced a sion of Herbal Ecstacy which substitutes ephedrine kava, a sedative herb grown in the Pacific Islands that much pharmacological resemblance to mahuang as Ted does to Jim Carrey. While Shayan still sells his origi products, he describes the new formulation as a move to peace. Either way, he has no intention of quitring the Ecstacy

we

minds t call. ys.

r subsure.

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EA or

December 1996 Deroils

a

(1) Euerybody is expected to wear tbeir Herbal Ecstacy T-shirts to work. (Ben, who is not wearing his, is mildly reprimanded.) (2) Starting next Monday, euerybody is expected to enter tbe office in silence. (3) The workday now begins at I A.M., not 9. Anyone late, euen by thirty seconds, is expected to work an extra hou7 until 5. Sean, ofcourse, has a slightiy different arrangement. Since the spring, he has stopped coming into the office on a regular basis. FIe now entrusts Global's day-to-day operarion to his dozens of workers, all of whom are older than he is. To motivate his employees, he says he has given every one of them-right down to the receptionist-a piece of Global Vorid Media. "It's like a little familS " he says. "People work harder if they have an rnterest in the company. If it means they have to work till rwo in the morning, there isn't even a quesrion-they'll do it." 'When I attempt to confirm this magnanimous incentive with several of his staff, I am greeted with everything from incredulous amusement to weary disdain. But as Shayan explains, "It's a big, complicated thing. \W/hen the company does well, everyone gets a bonus. Itt iike they have stock, but more complicated. I doubt a standard employee could explain it to you." Not long after the death of Peter Schlendorf, FDA agents began snooping around Global's headquarters asking questions. Shayan passes it off as a "routine inspection" and adds, derisively, "They checked underneath our asses, they walked around

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IHIS MORNING, SHAYAN HAS INVITED ME TO THE GLOBAL for the mandatory 8 A.M. meditation session, which he introduced to start each working day. In the upstairs ference room, he puts on a metronome tape, takes off his Tevas, slts cross-legged in a circle among his mini<jns for twentymlnutes (one minute represents each hour of the day). "It's of like a doorway to all these inner worlds," Shayan sa Apart from his kayaking buddS Ben, almost everybody seems have taken the opportunity to catch up on the weekend's lost leep.

176

After the meditation, Shayan calls the meeting to order with few corporate reminders:

the offices and looked to see if there was a manufacturing faciliry in the closet, and they left." One place they didn't see was an upstairs office in a nearby building. "No one knows about this place," says one employee as I enter, "not even the FDA." She doesn't say why. Shayan's answer is equally mysterious. "It's just for the safety of the employees and whatnot." Except for several paper shredders, the office is a plain-looking affair, where customer-service and telesales staff field calls around the clock on Global's 800 number. Perhaps the secrecy has something to do with the calls that come in from dissatisfied customers demanding their money back, z a policy Global does not offer (though they do offer a produc ex- E E change). The "serving suggestion" for Herbal Ecstacv-shayan H squirms at the word "dosage"-is one tablet every seventy-two f l

hours, which according to the company contains 12.5 milli- o grams of ephedrine alkaloids (Shayan says the figure came from * an FDA analysis), but which is nearer to 20 milligrams in the si sample analyzed by Industrial Laboratories (Shayan claims ephedra cannot be tested reliably by anyone). Two employees Jf, =2 TE I spoke to, however, said that they habitually advise customers zY who feel less than euphoric to ignore the labei advice and take much more (one cali put in anonymously to Global's help line sfr za JF resulted in the advice to take "up to seven or eight"-which far l@ exceeds what the FDA advisory panel considers an acceptable UJ dose). And then, of course, there are the many uncounted customers who, in search of the promised Ecstasy high, decide to <t o: pump up the dosage on their own. A more recent Global product is Magic Mushrooms-not the oi

;t

;=

(Continued onpage 208)

4

?< d>


The {ing of the Thrill Pill Cult i

(Contifued trom page 177)

I8

Ea/ITIIIE TA

A E/,MP//E MAN Ygu

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psilocybin variery of course, bur a "magical mystical journey in a pill," as its label says, made fiom a blend of "sacred botanicals"which Shayan predicts will outsell even HerbaliEcstacy. Shayan plans to direct the

commeicial for it himself, "because I rhink I can do iir better than anyone else. " He got the

story idea from a recent Carlos Castaneda confererhce, which he says was held at a secret

locatiori for $2,000 per head. 'What excited Shayan rwasn't whar rhe esoteric writer actually had to say about Mexrcan sorcery as much aS it was his vibe, his aura, his marketing-hi$ "shamanistic, tribal-type deal." Shayan's also planning to come out with a four-CQ meditation set, which will incorporate a r,hetronome beep with music, some "dreanj-drop" pills (don't ask), and some words Qf wisdom from Stuart'Wilde, author of such deff-help books as The Trick to Money Is Hauiijg Some. "'We're gorng to empower an entirg generation to control their dreams, " Shayan isays. "You'll be able to turn yourself into a dragon, have sex with a movie star, whatevdr. It's ciinically proven, you know" -^-..t^ For $ | l0 a package. he'll even rhrow in a posler. a book. and maybe some rncense. Whadever else might be said about Shayan sleazy, he's flaky, his distributors find -he's him difficult-the truth is that all he has done is gottefr rich quick in the easiest way he could. F|e might not do it in the cleanest way, but it hJrdly needs to be said that there is no law in Atmerica against selling an unnecessary product with overhyped adverrising. WHEN I PULL UP ALONGSIDE A HUGE HOT TUB in the f{ont drive of Shayan's house, atop a

lllake sure you stop by and eheek out what Airwaik, Club Sportswear, Gurve, Hugo, Hush Puppies, leep, l$ilk, Plymouih, Quiksilver, Sony and tYool havr to shox you.

f,rs$ar ffere. 208

December 1996 Detoits

windinq road nestled high in the Malibu mountains, the sun rs already beginning to fade an$ the crickets are in splendid song. I am greefed by Merlin, a white pit bull terrier sportin$ an herbal flea collar. She doesn't bark onde. The front door is wide open. Insid(, he goes barefoot, and requests I do the samd. The spacious living room hasn't a stick of furniture, not even a television; just a big drop screen rhat hangs over rhe gralbrick firBplace on which he projects videos. On the bther side of a round window-port bookcase is his office, not unlike Global's headqudrters: crescent desk, PowerBook, shreddei; though no chair. A sample, courtesy of Alberi Einstein, from the sprawling menu of aphorisms posted about the walls: "Great spirits have always encountered violent oppo, sition from mediocre minds."

'We're

sitting on the carpet eating frozen

bananas when

Merlin appears with a bone

shet just found, much to the consternation of her owner, who refuses to feed her any animal products. As if on cue) a furry black caterpillar falls from one of the beams. "\7e don't kill anything in the house," he says, smiling, "not even mosquitoes. rffe take a very Buddhist approach ro everything. " Out front, he shows me the enormous boulder on which he says he meditates each morning before kayaking. "I'm a single guy," he says pensively. "I lead a simple life. I don't need a lot of things to make me happy." There's something oddly touching abour seeing Shayan in his home, espousing his credo of the quiet life; to see him, if only briefly, stripped of the disingenuous facade of public relations that comes to him so naturally. Yet imagine, for another moment, if Henry David Thoreau and P.T. Barnum were the

same person. That's how simple Sean Shayan's life is: A bewildering jumble of I'dlike-to-teach-the-world-to-sing spirituality and cutthroat capitalism. He's a loner, he admits, but he prefers to safeguard his privacy, almost to the point where it becomes a running gag: the secret office, the mysterious team

of master herbalists, the time he returns a postinterview telephone call at four in the morning saying that he's out of the country but can't divulge his whereabouts ("I can't give you that information, dude").

Sometimes, when he brings a date home, he tells her how he can're to all this wealth;

sometimes he doesn't. "Depends on what mood I'm in and what games I want to play." Right now, he's happy to kick back and chat, so I have one more go at asking how much he's worth. This time, he's prepared to tell me if I give him fifty dollars. No deal, I reply. "How about a dollar?" he says with a grin.

No deal. He seems genuinely dismayed that I don't want to participate in this particular game, otherwise known as checkbook journalism. Recalling his Castaneda, Shayan informs me that there are, in Mexican sorcery, three types of people: the dreamer. the rracker, and the stalker. He has no idea what a tracker is, but he is sure of two things: that I am a stalker and that Sean Shayan is a dreamer. He then declares that he's made over $t00 million. By this point, though, it hardly seems to matter whether he's telling the truth, or whether he might be

a game pla1'eq a dreamer,

or a scam aftlst. Yet as I turn to go, he intimates an answer, with a question of his own: "Can I still have that dollar anl.way?" o


Details Magazine 1996 Shaahin Herbal Ecstacy  

The $300 million dollar scam is the title of this one but nowhere in the article is any "scam" discussed.

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