Is melatonin poisonous?

A recent study raised alarms about the increasing number of calls to poison centers across the country about children and teens who took too much melatonin, or took melatonin not intended for them. We have been seeing this same trend at the Northern New England Poison Center: we had more than two and a half times as many cases in 2021 as we did in 2012. So just how dangerous is melatonin?

Let’s start by talking about what melatonin is: melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by humans and animals to help regulate sleep. Because of this natural function, melatonin is also chemically manufactured and sold over the counter as a supplement with the intention of aiding sleeping or lessening the effects of jet lag.

Generally speaking, melatonin is very safe for adults and unlikely to cause problems if you use it according to the directions on the label. However, taking too much—relative to your weight—or taking it with medications that cause drowsiness can lead to symptoms like dizziness and confusion. This is especially true for young children who get into melatonin while exploring. Taking what is a small amount for an adult can be a big amount for a little body.

Fortunately, most children who get into melatonin can be managed at home with advice from the poison center—a trip to the emergency department is rarely necessary. Give us a call any time at 1-800-222-1222.

The increase in exposures to melatonin likely suggests that more and more people have it in their homes, especially since the start of the pandemic, which has negatively affected many people’s sleeping habits. It’s a good reminder that we need to keep all medications and supplements up high, out of reach of children and pets. It’s also a good reminder to check with your doctor or other primary care provider before you or your child starts using a new supplement. Your doctor can talk to you about possible interactions, side effects and other considerations.

Don’t hesitate to contact the poison center with questions about melatonin. We’re available 24/7 by calling 1-800-222-1222, chatting online or texting POISON to 85511.

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