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Why Is Melatonin Banned In The UK?

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the brain which regulates your internal body clock (circadian rhythm) and is a popular treatment for jet lag. While it isn’t technically illegal, in the UK, melatonin is classed as a medicine. It is limited in availability to prescription, and that only to those over 55 years old suffering from a sleeping disorder.

So why is melatonin so popular? In one word – jetlag. It can be brutal, days or even weeks spent awake at 3 in the morning and fast asleep in the afternoon. 

Some frequent travellers obsess on specific routines to avoid increasing the likelihood of disturbed sleep, from proactively adjusting to the new time zone before arrival, to staying awake on a red-eye flight to sleep on arrival. 

While these techniques can be useful in the right situation, they don’t work in most, and some people are generally more susceptible to insomnia. 

Across the Atlantic, the number of people in the US using melatonin has doubled, and over 3.1 million Americans use it to improve sleep. While it is available in up to 10mg doses in the US as a dietary supplement, 5x the maximum available via a GP in the UK. 

Note, melatonin is also available ‘unlicensed’ in the UK where a doctor deems it appropriate for conditions outside of the use as mentioned above case; although this is rare.

How does it work?

The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a primary neurotransmitter modulating mood balance, among other functions. 

Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland, in the middle of the brain, and it helps regulate day and night cycles.

The retina transmits signals related to exposure to light or darkness to reduce or stimulate melatonin production, and consequently, the body naturally secretes melatonin when it’s dark, as a signal to go to sleep. 

What are the benefits?

Melatonin can help you fall asleep, albeit indirectly, studies indicate it can reduce insomnia if taken 90 minutes before bedtime. 

Although, melatonin doesn’t appear to be as effective as other remedies promoting sleep.

It is commonly used to reset the body clock when travelling long distances across time multiple time zones, as a short term solution for jet lag. 

Research suggests that the realised benefits improve the more time zones crossed, but less so for westward travel. This study concluded melatonin is particularly useful for the treatment of jet-lag, but the pharmacology and toxicology of the substance needs further investigation.


Products sold over the counter (outside the UK) are usually synthetic copies of melatonin, and the drug is a hormone not merely a sleeping pill or standard supplement. 

Melatonin itself does not induce sleep; it informs your body that it’s night time and to prepare for sleep. Hence, why it’s useful for jet lag. 

It can also interact with other drugs, and while outside the UK it can be obtained without a prescription, extra care has to be taken to avoid conflicts and its use should always be advised by a medical professional.


The Endocannabinoid System, otherwise known as the ECS, is a system known to provide balance to our bodies. Including influencing appetite and sleep patterns through its interactions with our bodily functions.

Cannabinoids such as CBD are messengers of the ECS, interacting with cannabinoid receptors located throughout our body. Consequently, they are associated with maintaining a balanced ECS. 

In short, cannabinoids are what keeps our ECS in check, which is what maintains balance to our other systems. This knock on effect is why scientists are researching how exactly CBD and other cannabinoids (including those we naturally produce in our body) operate.

CBD vs Melatonin

CBD is a natural compound found abundantly in hemp, and its anecdotal use is increasing as a sleep aid. 

It’s through the interactions with the ECS is what can help promote your body to recharge and be ready fit for another day! For more information check out our post on CBD and sleep.

Nonetheless, the debate of CBD vs melatonin is becoming more popular on forums and through anecdotal reports from the public using both and comparing its use.