The duty identified at least 17 establishments in the greater Montreal area offering intravenous vitamin therapy. According to Health Canada, the products used in these establishments are not approved, so their sale is illegal.
“Libido stimulator”, “Athletic performance”, “Diet and detox”, “Hangover” or even “Brain health”. Formulas with dreamy names are offered on the websites of these 17 clinics.
In each bag of saline solution, there is a mixture of vitamins, minerals and amino acids whose exact formula remains unknown not only to the general public, but also to Health Canada, which indicated to the Duty that these preparations were not registered. Their sale is therefore illegal, even if it is doctors who prescribe prescriptions for the products that compose them and nurses who inject them intravenously in these clinics, some of which even offer a home service.
Banned in France, but more popular than ever in the United States – where it is also not authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – intravenous vitamin therapy is increasingly present in reality TV and on social networks, promoted by well-being influencers, but also by stars like Rihanna, Justin Bieber or Kendall Jenner.
However, it was images of vitamin solutions in fluorescent colors published by local influencers that drew our attention to the phenomenon, as well as advertisements on the sidelines of the Montreal Grand Prix on Instagram. What could contain these pockets of solute that we usually see only in the corridors of hospitals?
The duty made an appointment at the IV Clinic, located in downtown Montreal, on Stanley Street.
We first consulted a nurse from the establishment by telephone in order to answer a medical questionnaire. We are asked general questions about the presence of liver and kidney problems to check if we are eligible for intravenous vitamin therapy. No blood test or urine test is required beforehand.
The nurse introduces us to the “Diet and Detox” infusion, described on the clinic’s website as “a functional IV injection providing replenishing fluid, vitamins, minerals and amino acids to burn stubborn body fat, detoxify your body to rid it of unhealthy toxins and boost energy”. It is one of many products from the brand VitaminDrip (which presents itself as “a pharmaceutical company”) available on the clinic’s website, along with “Hydration”, “Mood support” or again “Energy” and “Aches and pains”.
The nurse explains that this treatment “helps the body to really commit to weight loss and detoxification in the liver”. “The most recommended is to do a course of four to six infusions, once a week for the first four, and after that — I would even say six if you want to lose weight quickly — after that, once a month and once a season, if you feel the need,” she recommends.
She also tells us that there are usually no side effects other than a “little redness” where the IV cannula was inserted.
We ask him if the VitaminDrip products used are approved by Health Canada. At first, she replied yes, but when asked about the presence of a drug identification number (DIN) or a natural product number (NPN) on the vials, she changed her mind. ” It’s a “secret formula”. They [VitaminDrip] don’t give out the amounts to the general public, just to us, so we know what we’re giving, and we don’t have to give it out. I don’t see a DIN, because it’s a formulation [un mélange]. Otherwise, we would have 30 different bottles to put in there. It’s used all over the world, I know people in Argentina, Italy, Spain, France who use this company, ”she adds to reassure us.
Under the Food and Drugs Act and its regulations, any product sold or marketed in Canada that bears a therapeutic claim, as is the case here, must be approved by Health Canada as drug, medical device or natural health product. Authorized health products carry an eight-digit Identification Number (DIN), Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on their label that informs consumers that the product is approved by Health Canada for its safety and effectiveness.
Asked by The duty, Health Canada indicates that “a few intravenous vitamin supplements have been approved by Health Canada (identified by a DIN)”. “However, these products are indicated as supplements to parenteral nutrition [nutrition par intraveineuse]… They are also indicated in case of increased vitamin requirements in stressful situations [physique] such as surgery, extensive burns, fractures and other traumas, serious infectious diseases and comatose states. But the clinics’ vitamin blends are not licensed by the ministry, which unequivocally states that “the sale of unlicensed health products is illegal.”
A few days after his telephone consultation with IV Clinic, The duty went on site, in the city center, in a room located above an Asian restaurant. Two women are lying in the large living room, an IV in their arm, their eyes closed. They seem to be having a moment of relaxation while The duty is invited to complete a two-page form authorizing, in a free and informed manner, the IV Clinic to perform the injection.
The list of possible side effects is drawn up there, including “muscle cramps, low sugar level, inflammation of the vein used for the injection, phlebitis, dizziness, stomach pain, skin rash and allergic reaction”.
You must also confirm that you are not taking medication prescribed for chest pain or pulmonary hypertension, certify that you do not have kidney disease, but also that you are not allergic to the ingredients of VitaminDrip . However, we still do not know what the solutes that will be administered contain.
Perceiving our nervousness, the nurse tries to reassure us: “You can look on our website. It’s a little thing that we’re going to insert and it’s going to do really good. It’s minerals, electrolytes, it’s really good for your body […] It really is all natural. »
We then ask to see the injected products. The nurse brings us a plastic bag containing the reusable vials used for our “Diet and detox” infusion. Only one of these six bottles holds a DIN. Two others come from an Ontario dispensing pharmacy, Smith Pharmacy, and the last three are mixtures of vitamins and amino acids labeled with the name of the Ontario company VitaminDrip, without DIN or NPN.
Claiming allergies to certain medications, The duty cancel the infusion.
The nurse and the one who introduces herself as the person in charge of the place try to be reassuring by saying that they have Benadryl in case of allergy, that “the hospital is not very far” and that our vital signs will be taken before, during and after the procedure. They confirm that no doctor is present on site and ensure that in 15 months since the opening, “only one person has had an allergy to vitamin B3”.
As for the absence of DIN or NPN on the vials, the head of the establishment justifies it: “It’s like that. It’s a wording [mélange] that comes from the company, there is no DIN,” she says, while confirming that the products are all approved by Health Canada. “There’s no DIN because it’s a combination of things in it, specific formulas. »
“We have the protocol, we have the injection […] VitaminDrip’s information, they are around the world. We had Health Canada here, they saw what we do, what we buy. They were happy. That’s what I can tell you. »
Despite numerous attempts by Duty, no IV Clinic manager or owner accepted our interview requests after we identified ourselves as a reporter. Health Canada has confirmed that it has visited the premises and indicated that a “follow-up is in progress” and that it “will take action in the event of non-compliance with the Food and Drugs Act and/or the Food and Drugs Regulations. “.
Over the past five years, Health Canada has received 48 complaints related to intravenous vitamin therapy services. “The majority of these complaints related to non-compliant advertisements as well as the advertising and use of unauthorized drugs by clinics offering intravenous therapy services.”
“In Canada, intravenous health products are regulated as drugs under the Food and Drug Regulations. They must be authorized by Health Canada to be sold legally, ”says the institution by email.
VitaminDrip and VitaBoost are the two companies that provide intravenous vitamin supplements to the majority of clinics in the greater Montreal area that The duty has identified. According to Health Canada, their products are not approved: their sale is therefore illegal. And none of these companies hold a drug establishment license, which is essential to ensure, on the one hand, that the company meets regulatory requirements and, on the other hand, that it manufactures, packages and labels its products according to good manufacturing practices.
Like IV Clinic, 10 of the 17 clinics surveyed by The duty use products from the Ontario company VitaminDrip. The president and CEO of the latter did not respond to our numerous interview requests.
Health Canada has advised the Duty that “the many products offered on the VitaminDrip site are clearly presented as health products and meet the definition of “drug” within the meaning of the Food and Drugs Act”, that they “must be subject to ‘marketing authorization before they can be sold in Canada’ and that ‘several of the products […] could be considered unapproved prescription drugs.
The government institution also informed the Duty that it is currently evaluating the VitaminDrip website and that “if there is evidence of non-compliance, appropriate compliance and enforcement action will be taken”.