Part 3: The chemist
By Josh Peter, Yahoo Sports
August 28, 2007
PART 4: The comeback | PART 5: The product | REPORT: Drug allegations
Couch on Laxogenin
It takes one glance to realize Mark Thierman is no ordinary chemist.
He recently headed for work in a SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt and pajama bottoms. He sports wiry, shoulder-length gray hair and an unruly mustache and beard. He sleeps next to what looks like a .22-gauge shotgun but actually is a .177-caliber Gamo pellet gun, which Thierman assured that at close range "can blow your head off."
One day last month, for the benefit of a visitor, Thierman loaded the gun with gold-plated pellets, opened the front door of the house he rents in Tucson, Ariz., and took aim at a stop sign across the street in the residential neighborhood. He pulled the trigger.
The pellet fired.
"I'm a little wobbly yet," he said after missing his target. "I haven't had my Xanax."
The enemy, he said, are rogue U.S. government agents out to get him because they consider him a threat. He said they've infected him a dozen times with biological weapons, and it's clear he's suffering from something.
He pointed to his swollen bare feet, pocked with open sores. He lifted his T-shirt to reveal his strangely distended belly. He looked up and down his arms, covered with bruises, scabs and more open sores.
Doctors have been unable to diagnose the ailments, according to Thierman, who is convinced they are the result of bio weapons. He said morphine he buys on "the black market" helps ease the pain. But Thierman credits his survival to the substance Brian Yusem hails as the world's most powerful natural supplement.
"If somebody wants to call me a kook, that's fine," said Thierman, 47. "The bottom line is if you want something from me, when people order product from me, I have never once ever failed to deliver. I think that's why people put up with my many so-called eccentricities."
About a 10-minute drive from his home, Thierman cooks up what he says is the raw material for Yusem's product, Laxogenin. The process looked as raw as the substance itself during a recent visit to the makeshift lab cluttered with chemical bottles scattered across a table and in cardboard boxes.
Working without sanitary gloves and in the SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt that left open wounds on his arms uncovered, Thierman and his roommate checked on batches of the raw material. The stockpile included a large bowl of yellow liquid and several casserole trays filled with white powder. The powder, Thierman said, is mailed in one-kilo bags to Boca Raton, where Yusem has the raw material compounded into gel squares about the size of Chiclets gum that are taken orally and dissolve in one's mouth.
"This is how you tell if it's any good," said Thierman's roommate, Paul Motichek, who scooped up some of the white powder with a spatula and dumped it into his mouth.
"Mmmm," he purred.
Considering Thierman's past, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might take an interest in his lab work. In the early 1990s, Thierman continued to make and sell GHB even after he was indicted, according to published reports, and he served almost four years in prison. But he recently dismissed fears of more legal troubles, saying what he's doing is perfectly legal.
The FDA, in response to a request for comment, sent an overview of its rules regarding dietary supplements. The text reads:
"Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the dietary supplement manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement is safe before it is marketed. FDA is responsible for taking action against any unsafe dietary supplement product after it reaches the market. Generally, manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements. Manufacturers must make sure that product label information is truthful and not misleading.
"FDA's post-marketing responsibilities include monitoring safety, e.g. voluntary dietary supplement adverse event reporting, and product information, such as labeling, claims, package inserts, and accompanying literature. The Federal Trade Commission regulates dietary supplement advertising."
"All this does is give a growing industry a bad name or a bad mark," said Boyd Landry, executive director of an advocacy group called Coalition for Natural Health.
Thierman's credentials and background as a chemist are unorthodox. After dropping out of college, Thierman said, he learned about steroids, HGH and other chemical substances while serving a prison sentence in the 1980s for breaking into post offices and selling stolen stamps. He embarked on a career in chemistry without a chemistry degree and said Russian studies from the 1970s led him to the supposed powerful elixir.
He began producing the raw material he said is used in the Laxogenin product, and a health food store owner in San Francisco said he couldn't get enough to meet demand. Eventually he couldn't get any.
In 1993, Thierman went back to prison on the GHB-related charges.
The supply dried up. But Marvin Babin, the health store owner from San Francisco who had bought the raw material, said he saved a few bottles of what he sold under the label Anabolica, now sold under the name of Laxogenin. Babin moved to Florida and more than a decade later gave a sample of Anabolica to a new friend. The friend was Brian Yusem, and he instantly was sold on the product.
Yusem said he asked Thierman to supply him with the raw material, and despite initial reservations, Thierman said he liked the idea of working with someone so "experimental." He also liked the idea of making enough money to pay his bills.
"I don't have a bank account, I don't own a house, I don't own a car," he said during a recent interview. "I don't even have a bike."
With that he let out a laugh, which leavens his anger over $500,000 in savings and a $250,000 house Thierman said he lost as a result of his legal troubles with the government. He also hopes that Laxogenin can lead to redemption in the eyes of government officials he said accused him of plotting to kill a judge and branded him as a terrorist.
Thierman said he's willing to provide Laxogenin to the government for free and claims the product would help jet fighter pilots withstand greater G-forces. He also said Laxogenin is the active product in a lotion that removes wrinkles, a medication that revitalizes older dogs and, potentially, for a medication to treat pancreatic and liver cancer.
Though he said he didn't know Couch was taking Laxogenin, when asked what the product could do for professional athletes, Thierman grinned.
"It can make them superhuman," he said.
Josh Peter is a writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Josh a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Tuesday, Aug 28, 2007 12:40 pm, EDT