Study Buddy, an herbal-based “study aid” launched in Tucson in 2010, is now sold in Circle Ks across Arizona and Nevada, and at regional universities and community colleges.
“It was one of those things where we called them, asked for an opportunity, and went out and proved ourselves like we promised we would,” said University of Arizona alum Tyler Johansen, president of Study Buddy.
Every major university in Arizona and Southern California carries Study Buddy as well as almost all of the community colleges around Arizona, Grand Canyon University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he said.
Johansen declined to give revenue or sales figures for the company, Brainiac Supplements LLC, but said Study Buddy’s success in the marketplace has “attracted high-profile investors.”
Study Buddy’s vitamins and nutrients help students with focus and retention, according to the company’s medical director, Dr. Mahdi Pessarakli, a UA medical school graduate.
The supplement’s current formulation includes vitamin D3, B-vitamins, zinc, selenium, boron and other ingredients that he says help improve cognitive function.
It is billed as an alternative to binging on coffee or energy drinks — although Study Buddy does contain caffeine.
“Students using things to study like caffeine or energy drinks or something else, it’s always a good idea to do it in moderation,” said Lynn Reyes, counselor and drug- prevention specialist with Campus Health and the UA.
Reyes said she does not have an opinion about Study Buddy because she hasn’t looked into it. She said she would welcome scientific research on its effectiveness.
The federal Food and Drug Administration does not evaluate any dietary supplements and companies are not required to get FDA approval prior to manufacturing.
Some consumers say Study Buddy gives them an energy boost without undesirable side effects.
“In 15 to 30 minutes after I took the Study Buddy pills, I became like a flying jet without feeling jittery and anxious,” said Vanessa Luois, a UA wildlife-conservation junior.
However, through sampling events on college campuses, Pessarakli and Johansen did find that when opening a pack, students complained about the supplement’s distinct, strong smell and taste because of high B-vitamin content.
“It has a foul odor with a taste that’s a bit bothersome to a few of my friends,” Luois said. “I’m hoping that the medical director with Study Buddy can improve the quality of the taste and smell.”
In response, Pessarakli said Study Buddy has been re-formulated, using a different form of the B vitamin that won’t cause the new pills to have that strong odor.
Pessarakli and Johansen brought another doctor on board, Tim Marshall, who helps formulate the product, knowing how certain ingredients will interact in the body and with other medications.
“We are constantly looking at what are the better formulations in all respects, not only clinical effects but also we want customers to enjoy the product,” Pessarakli said.
The new Study Buddy formula will also have a lower caffeine content in case students were still taking the pills with coffee or other drinks. Study Buddy currently has the caffeine equivalent of an espresso shot, but will be taken down to the equivalent of less than half of a shot.
Also, because Study Buddy’s primary markets are in Arizona and California, Pessarakli said the company decided to tone down the vitamin D content, since residents get plenty of sunshine.
The newly formulated product will be available in six weeks and bottled with a month’s supply, without the current age disclaimer.
That disclaimer “was something that our lawyers thought made sense that would minimize our risk,” Johansen said. “But the fact of the matter that the product is safe for all ages, so going forward our packages won’t have that claim where you need to be 18 and up.”
Pessarakli said Study Buddy helps solve a problem that exists on college campuses with the illegal use of prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin.
In 2012, 7 percent of UA students who were surveyed acknowledged using Ritalin or Adderall that wasn’t prescribed by their physicians, according to UA’s Reyes. In 2013, about 7 percent of UA students surveyed acknowledged having used one of these medications in the past 30 days, she said.
Pessarakli said Study Buddy serves as a less risky way for students to study and focus.
Luois, who uses Study Buddy three times a week, will turn to the aid even more with midterms coming up.
“When the exams are around the corner, I would bounce up to five to seven times a week,” Luois said.
For those who continuously use Study Buddy, the company allows its customers to buy the product in bulk online and with a subscription.
A single two-aid pack in stores costs about $3. Online, customers can buy 12 for $36, 24 servings for $68 or 36 servings for $88.
Johansen and Pessarakli are also working on creating a product for seniors that will aim towards brain maintenance and enhancement, and a children’s version that will be geared towards cognitive and physical development of the brain.
They also hope to get Study Buddy into more convenience markets, grocery stores and pharmacies in the West.