Americans have a hard time sleeping — according to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly a third of U.S. adults have experienced insomnia. But sleeping pills can cause plenty of unsavory side effects, which is why so many people are turning to natural remedies. And over the past two decades, one of the most popular has been melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body to help regulate the circadian rhythm, or the sleep-wake cycle. During the day, melatonin levels decline to the point of being undetectable. When the sun goes down, melatonin levels begin to rise and gradually signal to the body to begin falling asleep. However, a variety of factors, like stress or shift work, can desynchronize one’s normal cycle, making it difficult to initiate sleep or wake up at the desired time.
“For patients suffering from sleep issues related to circadian-rhythm changes, such as shift-work disorder or jet lag, melatonin can help to readjust their sleep-wake cycle,” says Dr. Philip Gehrman, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
Oral melatonin supplements are the most popular form of ingestion, and are widely available over the counter. Yet as the demand for melatonin continues to grow, there are now several melatonin vaporizers designed to cut the absorption period down to mere seconds. If melatonin vaporizers work as well as their manufacturers claim, that would make them the fastest-acting over-the-counter sleep aid on the market.
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When concentrated melatonin is inhaled, in theory, it is instantly absorbed by alveoli in the lungs and enters the bloodstream, instead of being metabolized by the liver, as would a tablet. Only a small amount of melatonin, then, is required to create a physiological effect. But Dr. Philip Forys, a pulmonologist at Indiana University, is skeptical about vaped melatonin’s proposed absorption rates. “Melatonin is a large chemical compound, unlike nicotine and other commonly vaped substances,” Dr. Forys tells Rolling Stone. “While it’s possible this product may work, we really don’t know if this is an efficient delivery mechanism, as there have been no studies conducted on the effects of vaping melatonin.”
Vaping is considered to be relatively safer than smoking, but the CDC’s investigation into the health risks of vaping is ongoing. In the past several months, there have been at least 55 vaping-related deaths and thousands of cases of illness, mostly from black-market THC vaporizers that contained vitamin E acetate. In a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vitamin E acetate was found in the lung injuries of 48 out of 51 patients who used vaping products. But unlike illicit THC vapes, melatonin vaporizers are commercially available and do not list vitamin E acetate as an ingredient.
In October 2019, Cloudy, which was founded earlier that year, became the first and only melatonin vaporizer to join Google’s prestigious Brand Accelerator program, an invitation-only program developed to help support disruptive brands that have high-growth potential. Once inhaled, Cloudy claims, melatonin enters the bloodstream and immediately begins to “mellow you out” before leaving you “sleeping on a cloud.” In each puff of Cloudy, there is .5 mg of melatonin. Cloudy recommends around seven inhales per night, a dosage in line with oral tablets. “A typical recommended dose of oral melatonin is .5 to 5 mg,” Dr. Michael Grandler, director of the University of Arizona’s Sleep and Health Research Program, tells Rolling Stone. “But the dose of melatonin is very tricky to get right, and most people use more than is optimal. I am not sure if [vaping] allows for tight control over the dose.”
InhaleHealth, a Beverly Hills biotech company that in 2016 launched the first-ever melatonin vaporizer, makes theirs with lavender and chamomile. They also sell B12 and caffeine vaporizers, but according to CEO Daniel Wolf Shapiro, the “sleep on-demand” melatonin vaporizer is both the most popular and well-reviewed product on their website. Yet they go for a smaller concentration — each inhalation of its vaporizer yields an average .1 mg, with 40 mg of melatonin per device. “Less melatonin is necessary to take effect as it’s instantly absorbed, allowing consumers to use as they go, and take only what they need,” Shapiro says.
For Dreamt, a vaporizer that launched in December 2019, melatonin wasn’t initially in the plan. They had hoped to create a cannabis vape that would help people sleep, but realized that marijuana wasn’t enough. “THC and CBD weren’t as effective as I expected them to be on their own,” says chief scientific officer Carolina Vazquez Mitchell, who has developed more than 40 cannabis products during her career. “But I introduced melatonin, terpenes, as well as valerian root to the distillate and I haven’t had trouble falling asleep since.” When combined, Mitchell says, these substances work synergistically to not only put you to sleep quickly but ensure you stay asleep throughout the night.
According to Mitchell, melatonin can only be vaporized above 900 degrees Fahrenheit — more than twice the boiling point of CBD or THC — so those molecules are dragged along with each puff, never reaching a gas phase. Therefore, it’s very likely a high percentage of it is absorbed before it even reaches the lungs. In each two or three second puff of Dreamt, there is .1 mg of melatonin, the same amount as in InhaleHealth’s vape, and five times less than Cloudy’s. Mitchell says Dreamt does not recommend taking more than three puffs, but she personally only needs one puff to feel the effects.
Though these companies are finding success with melatonin vape products, the lack of scientific study concerns some medical professionals. When melatonin is taken inappropriately — as Dr. Christine Won, director of Yale’s Sleep Laboratory, fears may happen with these vaping products — it can disrupt our circadian rhythm. Some physicians don’t even consider melatonin to be an effective sleep aid. “There have been quite a few randomized trials showing that melatonin is no better than placebo to help people sleep,” says Dr. Gehrman. Until vaporizers have been scientifically evaluated, physicians remain cautious about this recent evolution in vaporizers. “I have never heard of any research being done on melatonin and vaping,” Dr. Grandler told Rolling Stone after combing through published medical studies and ongoing Clinical Trials. “It sounds like this is an area that has had no research to explore it.”