Since the dawn of humanity, allergies are among the most common problems that we have been suffering from, and to this day, we only have medication to treat the symptoms and not the actual cause of allergies. Still, one cannot ignore the fact that even when simple allergies persist, they can bring misery to an overall healthy individual. Perhaps that is the reason why pharmaceutical companies across the world are producing strong formulas to treat nasty allergies; however, substances within these medicines can have detrimental effects on the overall well-being of people. Benadryl is among the largest brand of allergy medicines that is facing a ban in three countries.
What is Benadryl?
Benadryl is an over-the-counter cough and allergy medication that is available largely in the form of syrup, tablets, and in form of gel as well. Some people also use Benadryl to induce sleep and cure motion sickness. The active ingredient in Benadryl is Diphenhydramine, which is an antihistamine, that can minimize the production or halt the response of naturally occurring histamines in the body. Histamines are responsible for allergic reactions such as sneezing, watery eyes, and itching. Diphenhydramine was discovered by a chemical engineer working at the University of Cincinnati, George Rieveschl in the year 1940 while developing muscle relaxants. Following this discovery, The Parke, Davis, and Company acquired the formula, patented it under the name Benadryl, and George Rieveschl settled at five percent of the royalties until the patent expires. Benadryl was first launched in 1946, and it was sold only under prescription to alleviate symptoms of allergy. The mentioned patent ended in the year 1964, thus, it allowed other pharmaceutical companies to label Diphenhydramine as their own product. By the 1980s, Benadryl was deemed as an over-the-counter medication by the Food and Drug Administration. Presently, Benadryl is owned by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a company under Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Group. Inactive ingredients in original Benadryl are Ammonium Chloride and Sodium Nitrate. Benadryl is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which is similar to alcohol, and it can cause dizziness and drowsiness. Since it is similar to alcohol, people abuse it by mixing it with alcohol that causes sedation resulting in impaired motor skills and decreased alertness. Despite this, Benadryl doesn’t interact well with other medications such as anti-depressants, sleeping pills, and even other antihistamines. Upon doing so, it can land patients in the emergency room.
List of Countries where Benadryl is Banned
The first nation on this list to ban Benadryl is India, before the ban, it was available in the form of cough syrup. Interestingly, India is among the few nations where the number of people abusing cough syrup as a recreational drug is fairly low. Still, the ban is in place, and for a different reason.
Reason for the Ban
In 2016, after the test’s results provided by the Drugs Technical Advisory Board, India passed a law that stated medicines composed of non-interactive molecules combined with other substances are prohibited due to health concerns. In total, 344 medicines were banned, and Benadryl was among one of them because of the non-interactive nature of Diphenhydramine. Moreover, a study conducted by the Health Ministry of India found that Benadryl sold in India contained lead and Di(2-Ethylhexyl)phthalate, communally referred to as DEHP. While the lead in the formula was in trace amounts, it still puts patients at the risk of lead poisoning, and it can result in anemia and kidney dysfunction. As for the DEHP, it is a plasticizer, which is commonly used in manufacturing facilities to make a material more flexible. When ingested it can cause immune toxicity, halt development, nerve damage, and even cancer. Plus, Benadryl cough syrup was only sold in PET or polyethylene terephthalate bottles in India, which can cause leaching at room temperature, which was especially concerning during the peak of summers in India.
— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) March 20, 2016
The landlocked country in South Africa also has strict policies against Benadryl. In Zambia, Benadryl is classified as a controlled substance, similar to hard drugs like cocaine. It has been banned for over a decade, and Zambia’s government has no plan of removing this restriction in the future.
Reason for the Ban
The reason why Benadryl is banned in Zambia is because of its primary ingredient, i.e., Diphenhydramine. According to the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA), Diphenhydramine is an outdated antihistamine, and its side-effects, which are drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue, and altered coordination significantly outweigh its usefulness. Moreover, their neighboring country, Zimbabwe is facing a crushing epidemic caused by Codeine, an opioid-based cough syrup. Although Codeine and Benadryl are fundamentally different in their structure, authorities in Zambia didn’t want to take any chances. Therefore, all the medicines that are even slightly suspected of abuse are banned in this country. Their traveling guidelines state that tourists are welcome to bring Benadryl with them under prescription for personal use; however, people have been arrested, charged with drug trafficking, and faced prison for bringing Benadryl to Zambia. It is better to not take any chances and pick up alternative antihistamines when visiting Zambia.
The situation with Benadryl in Japan is a little different than in other countries. To begin with, Benadryl is not available in Japan whatsoever, yet a similar product is sold under the name of Drewell; however, it is sold as a sleeping aid, which makes it obvious why Benadryl is banned in Japan.
Reason for the Ban
The mentioned alternative, Drewell in Japan is strictly sold as a sleeping medicine, it is classified as a Class-2 Drug, and it contains the same amount of Diphenhydramine as Benadryl, which is sold as an allergy medicine. Moreover, the antihistamines available in Japan contain significantly lower amounts of Diphenhydramine or not at all. This makes Benadryl borderline a controlled substance. Interestingly, Japan’s travel policies allow tourists to bring Benadryl with them; however, a thorough prescription is required that can be cross-checked at any point without warning. Tourists can visit a Japanese doctor, and they’d be more than happy to write a prescription for local antihistamines, which is highly recommended because over-the-counter medicines in Japan are significantly more expensive than prescription medicine.
As it is with any medication, people end up using them for not the intended purposes. There have been reports from countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and many West African countries where people use Benadryl as a sedative because of its drowsiness. They not only use Benadryl for this purpose but also give it to their children under 6 to induce sleep. Unsurprisingly, children, especially, infants don’t metabolize Benadryl the same way adults do. The active ingredient of Benadryl, Diphenhydramine is notorious for causing dizziness; however, one thing to keep in mind is that the Diphenhydramine present in Benadryl is merely 50mg, yet it induces sleep in healthy adults. The recommended dose of Benadryl for adults is 50mg, which equates to 25ml, now, if the same amount of Benadryl is administered to a child, it can have devastating results. In addition to sleep, it can also induce headaches, coma, and even death. Unfortunately, there have been numerous cases in multiple countries where either the parent or caretaker gave some amount of Benadryl to infants, which resulted in their death. Although Benadryl offers a product that caters specifically to children, it still contains an excessive amount of Diphenhydramine, and it can be lethal to infants. Moreover, reports have surfaced across the world that child predators often use Benadryl to entice children, raising concerns among many parents.
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) June 6, 2016
Secondly, doctors raised their concerns regarding the usage of Benadryl and other Diphenhydramine-based antihistamines, as they state we might be becoming overdosing it unconsciously. According to a study conducted in the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy, out of 3,500 people, 800 developed dementia, and they stated that people using Diphenhydramine on a regular basis over the course of three years had a 54% chance of developing dementia despite their overall health. Moreover, World Allergy Organization stated in 2013 that the first generation of antihistamines is not recommended, since the second generation of antihistamines are available, and they are far more effective with fewer side-effects. Health Canada is reviewing their policies on the sale of Benadryl and similar products as an over-the-counter medication. In the province of New Brunswick, Canada, these products are now only available via prescriptions. Even The United States Food and Drug Administration raised warning regarding the usage of Benadryl.
Health Canada says it is reviewing concerns about the popular antihistamine which was introduced in the 1940s. https://t.co/yML3AYqUh1
— CBC News (@CBCNews) November 14, 2019
Another reason why Benadryl made the news recently was because of a social media challenge. In 2020, this challenge emerged in the form of social media trend on the popular social media platform TikTok, and it was called the Benadryl Challenge. In this, people, particularly, teenagers consume copious amounts of Benadryl, and then, record their reaction, mainly because of the hallucinations but also involved altered coordination and blurred vision. Unsurprisingly, with such a large amount of Benadryl comes serious risks, as it causes severe constipation, confusion, abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and even death. There have been countless reports across the United States and other nations, where several teenagers found themselves in the emergency room because of the overdose. Some even opened up on YouTube to raise awareness regarding this challenge. Unfortunately, the overdose of Benadryl had already taken the lives of many people, the most recent ones are from Texas and Oklahoma.