Experts have raised the alarm over epilepsy drugs being promoted as weight loss pills on social media, including TikTok, Facebook and Instagram.
An investigation by the Pharmaceutical Journal found that TikTok was the “worst culprit” for bombarding young people with misinformation, including the promotion of some drugs used for other purposes.
The journal analysed the top 100 popular user posts under the hashtag #dietpills and found that a number were advocating the use of prescription-only medicines for conditions such as epilepsy, alcohol addiction and migraines.
It also surveyed more than 1,500 UK pharmacists and found that nearly 60 per cent have received questions about medicines patients had seen on social media.
Patients were most interested in medicines related to weight loss and Covid-19, as well as cannabis-based medicines and cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
One pharmacist said: “Women are more likely than men to do this. They follow advice from Facebook or Instagram believing unevidenced experiences or advocates.
“Many are obscure but some may be clinically appropriate considerations,” they continued, adding: “Others may be dangerous to health. Sometimes I am unable to comment for lack of information.”
Another respondent said that while it was “good that patients are doing their own research”, they often receive requests for medicines they can’t prescribe.
Sometimes, pharmacists are asked about drugs that are available in the US but are not licensed or used by many people in the UK.
The British Dietetic Association told the journal: “Diet claims that are unrealistic and not supported by evidence-based science on social media can be dangerous no mater what your age. But, for under 16s, they can have very real consequences.”
A spokesperson from TiKTok said: “Our Community Guidelines make clar that we do not allow the promotion or trade of controlled substances, including prescription weight loss medication, and we will remove content that violates these policies.”
The social media platform, which expects to reach 1.8bn active users by the end of 2022, removed some of the videos after they were reported, according to the Pharmaceutical Journal.