Melatonin is a hormone that is released at night by the pineal gland located in the brain. Melatonin controls the sleep-wake cycle (24-hour cycle). In other words, melatonin acts as a biological clock that regulates sleep. Melatonin, therefore, can be used to promote and regulate sleep (Wagner et al., 1998). This post answers the question: Can you get melatonin over the counter in the UK? Additionally, the availability of different areas of melatonin supply in the UK will be discussed.
- Can you get melatonin over the counter in the UK?
- Can you get melatonin on-prescription in the UK?
- Availability of prescription-only melatonin in the UK
- Can you get melatonin on Amazon.co.uk?
- How to get melatonin in the UK?
- Can buy melatonin abroad?
- An alternative option to over the counter melatonin
Is melatonin effective sleep aid medicine?
In the UK, licensed forms of melatonin are prescribed either for the management of insomnia in adults over 55 years of age or to help with jet lag.
Cochrane Collaboration (a world-wide collaboration of scientists) looked at the effectiveness of melatonin in the management o jet lags. Cochrane looked at a number of trials that involved airline passengers, airline staff and military personnel who used melatonin or placebo ( a dummy pill) to evaluate the effectiveness of melatonin.
Cochrane concluded that melatonin is ‘remarkably effective’ in preventing or reducing jet-lag. It also concluded that short-term use of melatonin is safe (Herxheimer & Petrie, 2002).
Can you get melatonin over the counter in the UK?
In the UK, melatonin is classified as a prescription-only medication. The supply of prescription-only medicines is possible after a prescription (NHS or private prescription) is issued to the patient by a doctor or another qualified prescriber.
Unlike in other countries (for example USA), melatonin is not sold in the UK as a supplement.
What melatonin is available on prescription in the UK?
1. Circadin tablets
The most popular form of melatonin dispensed in the UK is Circadin 2 mg prolonged-release tablets (melatonin 2mg prolonged-release tablets). The licensed use of Circadin is as follows:
- the short-term treatment of insomnia characterised by the poor quality of sleep in patients aged 55 or over.
Despite this well-defined licensed use, Circadin is very often prescribed off-license to children and adolescents. An increase in prescribing can be seen for Circadin when looking at the most popular prescription sleeping pills in the UK.
2. Melatonin 2mg, 3mg and 5mg capsules (generic)
Both medicines are used for the short-term treatment of jet-lag in adult.
3. Slenyto 1mg and 5mg prolonged-release tablets
Slenyto tablets have a specific licensed use. Slenyto can be used by children and adolescents aged 2-18 with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and/or Smith-Magenis syndrome to treat insomnia when lifestyle changes did not produce satisfactory results.
4. Syncrodin 3 mg film-coated tablets
Sycrodin tablets are licenced as a short-term treatment of jet-lag in adults.
5. Melatonin liquid (Melatonin oral solution)
Melatonin liquid is a prescription item. Each 1ml of melatonin contains 1mg of melatonin. Melatonin solution is licensed for short term management of jet-lag in adults.
Can you get melatonin on Amazon.co.uk?
When searching for melatonin supplements on Amazon.co.uk, plenty of products are described as ‘natural melatonin source’ or ‘natural melatonin’ (see example below); however, none of the products actually contain melatonin.
- 97% OF CUSTOMERS SLEPT BETTER - In a survey of 127 customers, 82% also woke up less, 76% fell asleep faster and 98% would recommend. Includes proven advice for better sleep and free access to our sleep course to maximise results. Randomised, double blind, placebo controlled clinical trials (the gold standard) will conclude in 2021
- REDUCE TIREDNESS - Our trademarked MagneRest (Magnesium Blend), Vitamins B5 and B9 contribute to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue
- 5HTP & MELATONIN - Our Melo-Fruit blend is made from natural melatonin sources (montmorency cherry, grape skin). Tryptophan (from watermelon) converts into 5 HTP, then serotonin, then melatonin providing a time release formula throughout the night
How to get melatonin in the UK?
1. Getting melatonin prescribed by NHS doctor
The most appropriate way of getting melatonin in the UK is by having it prescribed. Individuals who experience a jet-lag or seek temporary aid to their sleeping problems may contact their GP and discuss the possible use of melatonin.
Alternatively, over the counter sleeping medicines such as sedative antihistamines can be used as a temporary aid to sleeping problems. See the next section.
2. Buying melatonin from UK online pharmacies (private service)
A number of online pharmacies (for example, UKMeds, TheOnlineClinic) offer private services by which patients are able to buy prescription-only medicines after online consultation takes place (usually screening questionnaire).
Online consultation covers general health questions, including questions about any concomitant conditions. The screening questionnaire is then reviewed by a doctor who issues a private prescription with drugs being delivered to the patients home. Consultation fees are usually included in the total price of prescribed medicines.
3. Getting melatonin on a private prescription
It would be possible to get melatonin on a private prescription from a doctor after a private consultation takes places (Online GP services or Private consultation). A number of online GP services provide private consultation services. Alternatively, similar services may be offered for individuals who have private insurance in place.
The difference between this and the previously discussed route is that a private prescription is issued, which patients need to take to a pharmacy to get a supply of melatonin. When a drug is supplied on a private prescription, a patient needs to cover the cost of medication and any additional supply fees, regardless of their age or NHS exemption. Read more about private prescriptions.
4. Buying melatonin from abroad
In many countries, including the USA, melatonin is classified as a supplement and is available over the counter. Non-UK websites such as Amazon.com and eBay lists melatonin on those websites. See the next paragraph for more details.
Can you import melatonin for personal use?
It is possible to buy melatonin from abroad, for example, from the USA (Amazon.com, eBay.com) and import it for personal use. It is illegal to sell or redistribute imported melatonin in the UK since melatonin is classified as prescription-only medicine in the UK.
Please note the higher delivery cost to the UK. You may also have to pay import duty tax, which may contribute to the high overall cost.
Melatonin – alternative medicines available over the counter
The mainstream management of temporary sleep disorders in the UK involves the use of sedative antihistamines, most of which are available without prescription from the pharmacy. Common antihistamines use in sleeping pills include:
- Diphenhydramine (for example, Nytol)
- Promethazine (for example, Sominex)
Read more about over the counter sleeping pills in one of my previous posts.
Can you get melatonin over the counter in the UK? – Conclusion
Melatonin offers a great alternative to currently used prescription sleeping drugs such as benzodiazepines, antihistamines and antidepressants and over the counter sleeping medicines.
Unlike most sleeping drugs, melatonin does not produce dependence and addiction. Side effects are not commonly experienced when taking melatonin. This makes melatonin a more suitable medication for the temporary management of sleeping disorders and jet lags.
Reclassification of melatonin from a prescription-only medicine to pharmacy-only medicine (drug available from pharmacies only) would be a reasonable approach.
Is melatonin legal in the UK?
Melatonin is legal in the UK. However, melatonin is classified as prescription-only medicine in the UK, which means it can be supplied after qualified prescriber issues a prescription.
What is melatonin called in the UK?
The most commonly prescribed melatonin in the UK is called Circadin (2mg of melatonin). Other brands of prescription-only melatonin include Slenyto and Syncrodin. Generic melatonin is also available in the UK.
Do you need prescription for melatonin?
In the UK a prescription is needed for melatonin as it is classified as a prescription-only medication. Melatonin is classified as a supplement in many countries including the USA.
Does melatonin cause weight gain?
Weight gain is listed as an uncommon side effect of melatonin use. Uncommon side effects have a frequency of more than 1 in 100 but less than 1 in 1000 patients.
Herxheimer A, Petrie KJ. Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(2):CD001520. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001520. PMID: 12076414. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd001520 Accessed on 27/02/2021
Wagner J, Wagner ML, Hening WA. (1998) Beyond benzodiazepines: alternative pharmacologic agents for the treatment of insomnia. Ann Pharmacother. 1998 Jun;32(6):680-91. doi: 10.1345/aph.17111. PMID: 9640488. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1345/aph.17111 Accessed on 25/03/2021
Zisapel N. (2018). New perspectives on the role of melatonin in human sleep, circadian rhythms and their regulation. Br J Pharmacol. 2018;175(16):3190-3199. doi:10.1111/bph.14116 Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1111%2Fbph.14116 Accessed on 25/02/2021