North Van 'bio hacker' fined for unlicensed supplements

A North Vancouver man who was making dietary supplements in a grime-covered basement suite, and including a prescription drug in his formulas, has been fined $10,000 after pleading guilty to two charges under the Food and Drug Act.

Robert Lamberton, 65, who describes himself on his website as a “bio hacker” and formulator of nutritional supplements, was handed the fine in North Vancouver provincial court Oct. 28. Lamberton was fined after pleading guilty to two charges under food and drug regulations of manufacturing supplements without a licence and selling them online without receiving government approvals.

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The charges relate to products sold under the names SmartBrain Formulations Serotonin Support and Cutting Edge Naturals MellowMax between September and November 2017.

Crown prosecutor Michelle Ball said Health Canada began investigating Lamberton after getting a complaint.

One of the products Lamberton sold online – Serotonin Support – contained lithium, said Ball – a prescription drug used for the treatment of manic-depressive illness. After investigators contacted Lamberton and told him to stop selling it, Lamberton promised he would, said Ball. But he didn’t.

When investigators found out, they conducted a search warrant on his North Vancouver home, where they found Lamberton was making the supplements in a grime-covered basement area.

There was no temperature control and bulk products were stored on shelves in a dirty area near a cat’s litter box, said Ball.

Testing revealed some products had lower amounts of ingredients than listed on the label, some had higher amounts and some contained ingredients that weren’t listed, she said.

Serotonin Support had twice the amount of lithium listed on the label, she added.

Testing also showed supplements contained moulds and up to 12 types of bacteria, including E coli in the case of Serotonin Support, she said.

serotonin support
Serotonin Support was one of the supplements being made and sold without a federal licence. Health Canada tests revealed it contained a type of lithium, a prescription drug,as well as contamination with Ecoli bacteria. photo supplied Health Canada

Another product, MellowMax, also contained picamilon, a substance developed and used as a prescription drug for neurological conditions in Russia, and currently banned in Canada and the U.S. as an ingredient in dietary supplements, said Ball.

Food and drug regulations are in place “to ensure all products are safe and the ingredients are disclosed,” said Ball.

They are meant to ensure people who take the products are consuming what they expect to be, she added.

“This is a case where that had gone wrong and badly wrong for a period of time.”

Shawn Buckley, Lamberton’s defence lawyer, said his client agrees that at the time of the raid “the way he was manufacturing was way out of line ... he didn’t have the quality control.”

At the time, in the fall of 2017, Lamberton was suffering post traumatic stress disorder, the result of numerous car accidents, said Buckley.

Since then, however, Lamberton has taken steps to address his health problems, said the lawyer, and has made deals with third-party manufacturers to produce his licenced products in approved facilities.

Buckley added while the form of lithium contained in Lamberton’s Serotonin Support – lithium orotate – can’t be sold in Canada without a prescription, it can be bought legally over the counter in the U.S. “You’re going to find it beside vitamin C,” in most U.S. drugstores, he said.

“Risk is always relative,” he said, adding any supplement with over 1000 iU of vitamin D also can’t be sold over the counter in Canada although “you go outside on a sunny day and you get that in under two minutes.”

In handing down the sentence, Judge Joanne Challenger noted  Lamberton’s actions were potentially dangerous.

But she said she accepted that was the temporary result of medical problems that led to poor judgment.

“He’s not a quack as some might see the case.”

Lamberton was placed on probation for one year and given three years to pay the fine.

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