MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Take a look at all the energy-boosting products in a convenience store and it seems some companies would be happy if we never slept a wink.
But there's a movement in the opposite direction: products with names like Simmer, Unwind and Lazy Cakes. That last one is a particularly hot seller.
And Julie Rose is going to tell us more about it from member station WSAE in Charlotte.
Unidentified Woman: Have a good day.
Ms. DAVITA GRIFFIN(ph): Yes, they are, very.
(Soundbite of laughter)
JULIE ROSE: Davita Griffin is a little wary of the fudgy brownies with the psychedelic purple package for sale next to the cigarette lighters at this Charlotte gas station.
ROSE: What do you think is in there?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GRIFFIN: Something not legal. I know that..
ROSE: It's a reasonable suspicion. The label says Lazy Cakes are the original relaxation brownie. Even at $4 a piece, the clerk at this gas station says she sells about 36 a week.
Just five months since Lazy Cakes hit the market, co-creator Tim Barham says they're available in two dozen states, and sales are doubling every month. But let's be clear.
Mr. TIM BARHAM (Co-creator, Lazy Cakes): It's definitely not a pot brownie. Things that are in this brownie have been used for years to relax: melatonin, valerian root, rose hips, standard stuff you can pretty much buy at any Walgreens or Walmart or anywhere.
ROSE: True enough, but look up Lazy Cakes online, and the secret to their initial success is pretty obvious. Rumors are rampant they contain the same synthetic marijuana compounds found in herbal incense products like Spice or K2. No surprise Lazy Cakes move well in shops that sell drug paraphernalia. That's where Niki D'Andrea got hers
Ms. NIKI D'ANDREA: There is an effect with Lazy Cakes, but I wouldn't say it's comparable to marijuana at all.
ROSE: D'Andrea is not shy about having tried both: It's part of her job writing about subculture for the Phoenix New Times. She didn't get high from the Lazy Cake, but she was shocked at how sleepy it made her.
Ms. D'ANDREA: I really did go to bed for about, I think, 10 to 12 hours after I ate that first Lazy Cake. So maybe I should have started with half.
ROSE: As if anyone ever just eats half a brownie. But that actually is the recommended serving size. Read the fine print, and you'll also see Lazy Cakes are for adults only and should not be mixed with alcohol or eaten before driving. It's the usual FDA-required label you find on dietary supplements, and that makes them legal.
But Lazy Cakes are sold in gas stations by clerks who often have no idea these aren't normal brownies. They're packed with melatonin, which occurs naturally in the body and is a common sleep aid.
Ms. ANNA ROUSE DULANEY (Toxicologist, Carolinas Poison Center): Eating the whole brownie would be about twice the recommended dose.
ROSE: Anna Rouse Dulaney is a toxicologist with the Carolinas Poison Center, where she says it's only a matter of time before calls start coming in about Lazy Cakes.
Unidentified Woman: Carolinas Poison Center, can I help you?
ROSE: In large quantities, Dulaney says melatonin can lead the central nervous system to slow down and cause trouble breathing. More commonly, people just get really sleepy and maybe nauseated. Children are at greater risk. There's been at least one report of a toddler in Tennessee eating a Lazy Cake and ending up in the hospital.
National poison center data show melatonin prompts more calls than any other herb or supplement. In 2009, about 5,000 melatonin-related calls came in to poison control centers, most involving small children. None died, but the makers of Lazy Cakes have decided to put a not-for-children warning on the front label of their brownies. Dulaney says that might not be enough.
Ms. DULANEY: A child who can't read who just finds this in the house is at great risk because it looks just like any other brownie.
ROSE: Still, she says it's not the most dangerous thing she's seen. Twenty-eight-year old Phillip Hunt discovered Lazy Cakes at a shop in North Carolina last month and now eats about six a week. He says lazy is the perfect name for them.
Mr. PHILLIP HUNT: If I eat a Lazy Cake, and the remote's on the other side of the room, I actually watch a channel for an hour or two.
ROSE: Relaxing folks is going so well for the makers of Lazy Cakes, they'll soon launch a product with the opposite effect: caffeinated brownies called Up Cakes.
For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose in Charlotte.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.