Melatonin supplements and their promise of a good night’s sleep have been mainstays of the wellness world for years. Now, vaporizers developed to deliver melatonin to the bloodstream significantly faster than a tablet have entered the market, Rolling Stone reports. Yes, this is what happens when millennials spin health into "wellness": We start vaping melatonin. As you might imagine after watching vaping-related illnesses crop up over the past year, experts remain skeptical about the effectiveness and the safety of this method of administering the "natural" sleep aid.
First, a biology refresher: Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces on its own to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Its levels fall as the sun rises, waking you up, and rise as the sky darkens, helping you fall asleep, per the National Sleep Foundation. Taking melatonin supplements can recalibrate your sleep-wake cycle when it’s disrupted by stress or jet lag, for example.
It’s thought that when you inhale concentrated melatonin, the alveoli — tiny air sacs in the lungs — would immediately absorb it, and it would diffuse into the bloodstream.
People usually take melatonin in tablet form, but vaping it could indeed cause it to kick in faster. When you pop a melatonin tablet, it needs to be metabolized by the liver before it enters the bloodstream. But it’s thought that when you inhale concentrated melatonin, the alveoli — tiny air sacs in the lungs — would immediately absorb it, and it would diffuse into the bloodstream. That means even a little bit of melatonin could yield a noticeable effect, according to Rolling Stone.
Philip Forys, a pulmonologist at Indiana University, told the magazine he wasn’t so sure whether this theory holds up, since “melatonin is a large chemical compound, unlike nicotine and other commonly vaped substances.”
Brands are manufacturing melatonin vapes, regardless. Cloudy’s device delivers 0.5 milligrams of melatonin per puff, and its recommended seven puffs per night contain roughly the same amount of the hormone as an oral supplement. But Michael Grandler, director of the University of Arizona’s Sleep and Health Research Program, told Rolling Stone that vaping might not enable stringent control over the dosing of melatonin.
Meanwhile, InhaleHealth’s vape, which also contains lavender and chamomile, delivers only about 0.1 milligram of melatonin per puff, claiming that its instant absorption into the bloodstream means that less of the hormone is required. Dreamt’s vape includes a combination of melatonin, various cannabis compounds, and valerian root, that it claims work synergistically to promote sleep.
But experts worry about the dearth of research evidence to support the use of melatonin vapes as sleep aids. Christine Won, director of Yale’s Sleep Laboratory, told Rolling Stone that melatonin can throw off our sleep-wake cycle when not taken appropriately, and in fact, some doctors doubt whether it's effective at all, even when it’s taken in supplement form.
More importantly, the safety of melatonin vapes remains murky. A nationwide outbreak of vaping-related lung injury — which has led to 57 reported deaths and 2,602 hospitalizations as of January 7, per the CDC — has shown that vaping clearly carries risks. The ingredients responsible for these cases have yet to be identified, although many of those affected had used illicit vapes containing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the high-inducing compound in cannabis), according to a recent CDC report. Vitamin E acetate also appears to be associated with vape-related lung injury. But Rolling Stone points out that melatonin vapes are commercially available and that vitamin E acetate doesn't appear on the ingredient labels.
Even if you use “safer,” commercially available devices, the chemicals in vape juice and their health effects are still largely mysterious.
Still, "at this time, no vaping of any product is 100% safe,” Timothy Fong, a professor of psychiatry who treats patients at the UCLA Addiction Medicine Clinic, tells Mic, adding that even if you use “safer,” commercially available devices, the chemicals in vape juice and their health effects are still largely mysterious. After all, vapes have been on the market for only 15 years or so, making them relatively new products.
The bottom line is that while melatonin in and of itself is benign, melatonin vapes may contain other potentially harmful ingredients, or have health effects we can’t anticipate. For now, it’s probably best to avoid them, or any vapes for that matter, until scientists conduct rigorous an unbiased human trials to validate their safety.
“I’m happy to vape melatonin created by a pharmaceutical company after years of safety testing,” Fong says — but that just doesn’t seem to be the case with the products available right now. Indeed, Grandler told Rolling Stone that his search of the clinical trial and other research literature for studies on melatonin and vaping had come up dry.
Fong doesn’t find the emergence of melatonin vapes that surprising, and predicts that we’ll see “more and more ‘vape-able’ substances.” InhaleHealth already sells a caffeine vape, and Fong raises the possibility of vaping asthma medication or even antidepressants. “The vaping technology is fascinating and could have incredible therapeutic potential, if done correctly,” he says. That’s a big “if,” though, and one that will require more research to bear out.