Melatonin Gummies Pose Poisoning Risks For Children: Study

Parents should be aware of the risk of unpredictable quantities of melatonin and CBD in gummies given to children to help them sleep.

A new study raises safety concerns about the potential side effects of melatonin gummy supplements, indicating many of the products currently on the market contain high levels of melatonin, and at least one contained cannabidiol (CBD), without disclosing it as an ingredient on the label.

Child melatonin poisonings have increased six-fold over the past 10 years, with large increases seen during the pandemic. Health officials have previously warned about the rising number of child poisoning calls involving melatonin, and researchers from Cambridge Health Alliance and the University of Mississippi now warn that some melatonin gummy supplements may contain up to 350% of what’s listed on the label.

Their findings were published on April 25 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Melatonin Poisoning Risks

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It helps synchronize the body’s circadian rhythms with the light-dark cycle, and naturally increases a few hours before bedtime to help with sleep.

For many individuals, the supplements can be helpful transitioning to bed, especially for shift workers, individuals experiencing ease jet lag and those with certain medical conditions. However, a growing number of children are also given melatonin supplements, often in a gummy form.

If too much of the supplement is taken, there is a risk of melatonin poisoning, especially among children. Melatonin products that contain CBD also may cause serious health side effects, including trouble breathing, vomiting, and excessive sleepiness.

Melatonin Supplements Frequently Mislabeled

In this latest study, researchers tested 25 over-the-counter melatonin supplements to determine the level of melatonin each supplement contained.

The study found 88% of the supplements contained melatonin in ranges from 1.3 mg to 13 mg per serving size. The actual quantity of melatonin contained in each supplement ranged from 74% to 347% of what was indicated on the label.

One supplement did not contain any melatonin. Instead, it contained 31 mg of CBD, a chemical found in marijuana. However, it did not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); the component of weed that gets people high.

Nearly all of the supplements were labeled inaccurately, the researchers determined, which matches the findings of  other studies, which have also shown levels of melatonin in OTC products often differ from what is listed on the label.

Only three supplements contained the quantity of melatonin that was listed on the label or within 10% of the labeled amount.

Five supplements indicated CBD as an ingredient. The labeled quantity ranged from 10 mg to 31 mg per serving. The actual quantity of CBD was 104% to 118% of what was listed on the label.

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Melatonin-Related Poisonings On the Rise

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, roughly 1.3% of children in the U.S. were given melatonin by their parents, most commonly for sleep, stress, and relaxation. A recent study indicates the number of children and teens using melatonin to treat insomnia has significantly increased by about seven-fold in recent years.

At the same time, calls to U.S. Poison Control Centers for child melatonin poisonings increased by 530% from 2012 to 2021. The calls led to nearly 28,000 emergency department and clinic visits, resulting in 4,000 hospitalizations, 287 intensive care unit admissions, and at least two deaths.

The majority of the poisonings were “unintentional ingestions”, according to poison center data.

Based on the findings of the new melatonin study, children accidentally ingesting melatonin can be exposed to between 40 to 130 times the quantity of melatonin recommended by doctors.

Considering melatonin gummies are highly appealing to children as a sweet candy-like product, they may eat several at a time.

“The great majority of melatonin gummy products were inaccurately labeled, with most products exceeding the declared amount of melatonin and CBD,” the researchers warned. “Given these findings, clinicians should advise parents that pediatric use of melatonin gummies may result in ingestion of unpredictable quantities of melatonin and CBD.”

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