Joe Rogan-backed pharma company sued for peddling health supplements with ‘false’ advertising

A lawsuit has been filed against a health supplement company co-founded by controversial podcast host Joe Rogan over “misleading” advertising that one of its products actually works to improve brain function.

A complaint filed on 23 April alleges that Onnit Labs Inc. claims that its supplement ‘Alpha BRAIN’ supports memory, focus and processing speed even though a clinical trial funded by the company says otherwise, creating “false, misleading and deceptive advertising” surrounding the product.

The suit claims that the supplement performed no better than a placebo in most of the tests in a clinical study, and in many cases, the placebo worked better than the actual product.

Onnit, which the lawsuit notes was co-founded by Rogan, who promotes the products on his controversial podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, was sold to Unilever in 2021, so neither Rogan nor his podcast are named as defendants in the complaint obtained by The Independent.

Aubrey Marcus, another podcaster and YouTuber is also credited with founding Onnit, as written on his website, but is not mentioned in the lawsuit.

Rogan has been advertising and promoting the ‘Alpha BRAIN’ supplement line created by Onnit on his podcast for many years.

In a clip posted to YouTube by Onnit in 2022, Rogan, speaking on his podcast while promoting ‘Alpha BRAIN Black Label,’ said that “Aubrey and I started Onnit” because Rogan had a fascination with nootropics, and when they created the product together they funded two double-blind placebo-controlled studies “that showed an increase in verbal memory” and “increase in reaction times.”

“It’s not horse s*** or snake oil or placebos, it’s real,” Rogan said.

Onnit often cites a 2016 self-funded clinical study to back up the brain function claims, according to the complaint, such as that the study showed those who used ‘Alpha BRAIN’ had “significantly improved” in tasks such as delayed verbal recall and executive functioning.

However, the lawsuit claims that the full text from the study showed a very slight improvement in only one aspect of memory and “no improvement for other cognitive domains.”

While a group who took ‘Alpha BRAIN’ outperformed a group on a placebo supplement in a verbal learning long delay test, the placebo group also outperformed those who took the actual product on a short delay test, the complaint writes.

Joe Rogan and Aubrey Marcus speak about their new product ‘Alpha BRAIN’ in 2014 (Onnit/YouTube)
Joe Rogan and Aubrey Marcus speak about their new product ‘Alpha BRAIN’ in 2014 (Onnit/YouTube)

Throughout the other 25 of 26 tests performed in the study, the lawsuit claims there was not a “statistically significant difference” between the ‘Alpha BRAIN’ group and the placebo group, with the placebo group allegedly performing better in many areas.

Therefore, the lawsuit states that the supplement cannot be claimed to “improve memory generally when its own study did not find that Alpha BRAIN improved memory generally without qualification.”

The complaint also states that the product’s claim that it improves focus, mental speed and memory generally is false “as demonstrated by its own Onnit Funded Study.”

While Onnit sells a multitude of products, including protein, oil, workout programs and equipment, apparel and a wider range of supplements, the lawsuit focuses on ‘Alpha BRAIN.’

A product description on the company’s website claims the dietary supplement “helps support cognitive functions, including memory, mental speed, and focus.”

It also said it helps with “flow state,” which they describe as “the feeling of being in the zone.”

Claiming that more than three million bottles of this particular supplement have been sold, Onnit also lists its target audience: students studying, professionals at work, gamers, artists and entrepreneurs.

The ingredients listed on the website include supplements such as Vitamin B6 and L-Theanine, which is an amino acid they describe as supporting the release of dopamine and serotonin.

In a section below the product, however, Onnit does disclose that various statements made in product descriptions have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

The plaintiff, identified as Jean Paul Lotz, said he bought the Alpha BRAIN product five times between February 2020 and August 2021, and purported that he did not see any improvement in his memory, focus or mental processing speed.

Mr Lotz, who claims he was “deceived” by the marketing around the supplement, said he aims to represent a class of all New Yorkers who purchased this product.

The lawsuit is suing Onnit for violation of New York General Business Law for false advertising, and the plaintiff is also seeking monetary damages and statutory damages on behalf of the Class, but it is unclear how much he is after.

The Independent has contacted Onnit and Denlea & Carton LLP, who are representing Mr Lotz for comment.