Aside from being a potential dietary supplement adulterant, MHA is also fueling worry because of its powerful stimulating effects. In a 2006 Washington Post article on the synthetic ingredient, Don Catlin, MD, CEO of the Anti-Doping Research Group, said the chemical structure of MHA is akin to amphetamines and ephedrine. “In this class of drugs, everything depends on the dose,” Catlin said. “Take enough of it and your heart rate and blood pressure will go up and you can die.”

And herein lies a serious problem, Wyszumiala said. MHA is a key ingredient in one of the most popular pre-workout sports supplements: USP Labs’ Jack3d—a product that can be found in high school locker rooms and weight rooms throughout the country. “Jack3d is very popular with high school students,” Wyszumiala said. “I worry about those young athletes who decide to take more than the recommended dose. It could be very dangerous for them.”

In its marketing for Jack3d, USP Labs touts the product’s ability to “give you the mad aggressive desire and ability to lift more weight.” In online testimonials for the product—of which there are many—many users echo this sentiment (“I had the best workout I’ve had in months,” wrote one), while also noting Jack3d’s stimulating effects. “I took it the other day and had to make a stop at a business on the way to the gym. I felt like a crackhead talking to this lady who worked there … I was tingling all over and trying not to giggle or twitch like a tweaker.”

MHA was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2010. Jack3d is on the list of products banned by the NCAA. MHA and geranium oil extract can be found in numerous other products including E-Pharm’s ClearShot, an energy drink concocted by Patrick Arnold, the steroid designer behind the BALCO scandal. “We see it appearing more and more frequently, especially in the energy beverage category,” Jaksch told NBJ.