As one of the most common motion sickness drugs, dimenhydrinate, also known as Dramamine, is often considered a benign over-the-counter medication. However, dimenhydrinate and other similar drugs are increasingly misused by people wanting to get high. Unfortunately, an overdose can result and the consequences can be deadly. This risk is especially prominent for children. Therefore, learning about the safe use of dimenhydrinate is important.

What Is Dimenhydrinate?

Dimenhydrinate is an antihistamine. However, unlike many antihistamines, it is not used for allergies. Instead, it is more often used for nausea. The drug blocks the histamine 1 (H1) receptor, which is present in great quantities throughout the brain. Dimenhydrinate itself is not a single drug. Instead, it is a combination of two other drugs, which each make up around half of a dimenhydrinate dose. Those drugs are:

  • Diphenhydramine: This antihistamine is best known as being the main ingredient in Benadryl. Similarly, it is also the active ingredient in dimenhydrinate.
  • 8-chlorotheophylline: This drug is not an antihistamine and has no direct effect on nausea or motion sickness. Instead, it helps to block sedation, one of the main side effects of diphenhydramine. Therefore, people can take dimenhydrinate without feeling as sleepy as they might while taking diphenhydramine or other H1 receptor blockers.

What is Dimenhydrinate Used For?

Dimenhydrinate is usually reserved for treating motion sickness. It can help stop nausea by interfering with the chemical signals in the brain that make you feel queasy. By suppressing nerves in the brain and inner ear that cause you to feel nauseous, dimenhydrinate can relieve nausea. However, dimenhydrinate cannot cure all types of nausea. For example, it is not used for nausea from cancer chemotherapy.

Besides motion sickness, dimenhydrinate is often used for other conditions linked to upset stomach, like:

  • Meniere’s disease
  • Morning sickness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Radiation sickness
  • Vertigo

Dimenhydrinate is considered to be a first-generation antihistamine. This classification is mainly because the active drug in dimenhydrinate, diphenhydramine, is a first-generation antihistamine. By blocking the H1 receptors in the brain’s vestibular system, diphenhydramine can stop nausea.

The second component of dimenhydrinate, 8-chlorotheophylline, is in the xanthine class of drugs and is classified as a stimulant. This component of dimenhydrinate is similar to caffeine, to which it is chemically related. Because of its mild stimulant effects, it can stop the sedative effect of diphenhydramine.

Dimenhydrinate is usually taken as an oral tablet. The dose and frequency of the dimenhydrinate dosage depends on the person’s age:

  • People over age 12:  One to two 50 mg tablets every four to six hours as needed. The max dimenhydrinate dose is eight total tablets, or 400 mg, within any 24-hour period.
  • Children ages 6 to 12 years: One-half to one entire 50 mg tablet every six to eight hours as needed. The max dose is three whole tablets given within 24 hours. The lower dose is because of the higher risk of dimenhydrinate overdose in children.
  • Children aged 2 to 6 years: One-half 50 mg tablet every six to eight hours as needed. A max dose of one and a half tablets total may be given in 24 hours. Once again, the reduced dose is to avoid overdosing.

Dimenhydrinate is not to be used at all in children younger than two years old. Diphenhydramine, the active drug in dimenhydrinate, has led to death in babies and toddlers. No safe dose for dimenhydrinate exists for babies and toddlers because of their small size.

To prevent the onset of motion sickness, dimenhydrinate should be given 30 to 60 minutes before the activity likely to cause nausea takes place. Some people may find that giving dimenhydrinate ahead of time works better than using it when nausea has already set in. However, dimenhydrinate may alternatively be given after the person has become nauseous.

As a drug sold around the world, dimenhydrinate is known by multiple brand names. The brand name often depends on the country. In addition, the drug may also be sold under its generic name, like in the United States.

Some common brand names for the drug include:

  • Gravol: A brand name in Canada, Lebanon, Peru and Hong Kong.
  • Dramamine: A brand name in the United States, Argentina, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Peru, Turkey and Uruguay.
  • Draminate: A brand name in India.
  • Driminate: A brand name in the United States.

What Does Dimenhydrinate Look Like?

Because the drug has many different manufacturers across the world, the tablet appearance can vary. Some dimenhydrinate pills are chewable, while others should be swallowed. The drug usually has a text imprint to assist identification. Further, most tablets are scored, meaning that they have a line running down the middle so they can be split in half. In general, dimenhydrinate is characterized by the following:

Dimenhydrinate Side Effects

The most common side effects of dimenhydrinate at typical doses are:

  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness

Other side effects may include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Excitement
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Rash
  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Appetite loss
  • Urinary pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Thick mucus

Side Effects in Pregnant Women

Dimenhydrinate has not been studied in pregnant women. However, researchers have used it in pregnant animals and found that it does not harm the fetus. However, there may still be risks in humans. For example, some doctors worry that dimenhydrinate can cause contractions, especially if injected. You should speak with your doctor before using dimenhydrinate if you are pregnant.

It is not clear if dimenhydrinate is safe to take while nursing. Doctors have found that small amounts of the drug come are present in breastmilk.

Side Effects in Kids

Dimenhydrinate side effects can be unpredictable in children. Although adults often feel sleepy as the main side effect, the opposite can happen in children. The younger the child, the more at risk they are for a condition called paradoxical excitation. In these cases, dimenhydrinate revs up the central nervous system instead of calming it down. Children younger than six years old are most at risk. Symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Seizure

Further, dimenhydrinate should not be used at all in children under age two. The active ingredient in dimenhydrinate has been linked to deaths in babies and toddlers.

How Long Does Dimenhydrinate Stay in Your System?

After taking dimenhydrinate, the drug is absorbed and reaches its max level in the system in about two-and-a-half hours. Its half-life, or the time it takes for half of the drug to leave your body, ranges from one to four hours. However, dimenhydrinate can have different half-lives depending on the fluid in which it is found. The drug may stay in fluids for different amounts of time, depending on the fluid type:

  • Blood: Dimenhydrinate’s half-life in blood ranges from five to eight hours. Therefore, the drug is likely to be present in blood 25 to 40 hours after use.
  • Breastmilk: Small amounts of dimenhydrinate are present in breast milk. Although there is no recent data about how long dimenhydrinate stays in milk, there are older data. Data shows that some women can take dimenhydrinate without it showing up in their milk, while other women continued to have a high amount of the drug in their milk even five hours after taking the drug.

How Addictive is Dimenhydrinate?

Dimenhydrinate has abuse potential. When taken in higher-than-recommended doses, it can cause a high. When high on dimenhydrinate, the main symptoms are hallucinations and euphoria. These effects are thought to be because dimenhydrinate blocks acetylcholine, a brain chemical. Dimenhydrinate can increase levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a brain chemical closely linked to addiction because of its effects on the reward system of the brain. However, when compared to other drugs, dimenhydrinate is markedly less addictive. For example, cocaine is 10-times more potent than dimenhydrinate in terms of its ability to cause a dopamine surge.

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