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Dangerous prescription-only drugs for epilepsy and migraines ‘are being marketed to teens as weight-loss pills on TikTok’

  • Investigators found posts promoting dangerous drugs as weight-loss solutions
  • These medications are normally used to treat addiction, epilepsy and migraines
  • Experts slammed the trend as having potential for ‘real harm’, especially to teens
  • TikTok has removed some of the flagged videos, however others remain online

Dangerous prescription-only drugs are being marketed to teenagers as weight-loss solutions on TikTok, a probe has revealed. 

One medication being floated under the tag #dietpills is topiramate, which is dished out to people suffering from epilepsy and debilitating migraines.

When used correctly, the drug — currently the subject of a Government review into whether it is safe — can effectively treat these problems. 

It can also cause users to lose their appetite and experience weight-loss.  

But it can also produce some rare, yet serious complications, such as glaucoma and kidney problems.

Investigators found potentially dangerous prescription only medications are being promoted as weight-loss aids to teenagers 

One of these drugs found to be promoted by TikTok users as weight-loss aid was the prescription only medication topiramate which is given to people suffering from epileptic fits and migraines.  It is currently the subject of a Government safety review after its use was linked to birth defects when taken during pregnancy 

The NHS says a good diet and regular exercise as the best way to lose weight.

However, for those can’t shed their excess fat this way there are two drugs currently approved for use.


What is it?

It is a pill taken up to three times a day.

How does it work?

It prevents fat being absorbed by the digestive system which then passed out of the body as faeces.

This helps stop people gaining more weight , motilium siroop kind but doesn’t cause weight-loss alone.

How do I get it?

In most cases orlistat is prescribed by a doctor if someone has already tried to lose weight but failed.

An over the counter version called Alli can be bought from pharmacists.

Does it have any side effects?

Fatty or oily poo, oily discharge from the rectum and high levels of flatulence.  


What is it?

An appetite suppressant drug delivered via a daily injection.

How does it work?

It alters the metabolism, making you feel fuller and less hungry. This leads you to eat less and, in theory, lose weight.

How do I get it?

Liraglutide is generally only prescribed after a GP refers you to a specialist weight loss management service and when orlistat hasn’t worked. 

People will need maintain a balanced diet and regular exercise when taking it. 

Does it have any side effects?

The most commonly reported are aches and pains, diarrhoea, fever, frequent urination, and trouble sleeping.

The drug has also been linked to birth defects if taken while pregnant or when trying for a baby, which promoted the Government to launch a safety review in July. 

Investigators found nearly a third of the 100 most popular posts on the social media platform’s #dietpills tag pushed tablets as a way to stay slim.

This was despite the account used being registered as belonging to a 16-year-old girl. 

Furthermore, a quarter of these posts promoted topiramate or other prescription-only drugs.

In some of the posts, users said that the pills helped ‘curb’ their appetite and boost their body temperature to lose substantial amounts of weight.

Experts today said the promotion of these drugs as weight-loss aids was ‘completely inappropriate’ and that there was a danger they could cause ‘real harm’. 

The UK lists only two drugs as safe and effective treatments for weight loss, yet neither are routinely offered to children.

These are orlistat, which is available over the counter at high street pharmacies, and prescription-only liraglutide. 

However, a swathe of other drugs can also induce weight-loss as a side effect.

This is either due to their impact on internal brain chemistry, and therefore appetite, or metabolism, which influences how much food their body processes. 

The Pharmaceutical Journal’s investigation found the most commonly promoted diet pill was phentermine, which is not licensed for use for weight-loss in the NHS.

However, it is offered by some private slimming clinics.

A combination of phentermine and topiramate was approved as weight-loss treatment in the US in 2012. 

Other drugs touted as weight-loss aids included naltrexone, a drug that helps people addicted to alcohol and opiates kick the habit. 

Side effects of this drug include loss of appetite, impotency, depression, and in extreme cases, liver damage. 

At the time of the investigation, TikTok’s diet pills tag had amassed 10million views.

The most popular post was liked over 20,000 times and has been shared by over a thousand users. 

Responding to the findings, a British Dietetic Association spokesperson said the claims being promoted on TikTok were dangerous, especially for teenagers.  

‘Diet claims that are unrealistic and not supported by evidence-based science on social media can be dangerous no matter what your age,’ they said.  

‘But, for under 16s, they can have very real consequences.’

Professor John Wilding, an expert in cardiovascular and metabolic medicine at Aintree University Hospital, said the promotion of medication as a cure for obesity on social media was ‘completely inappropriate’.  

‘Those containing phentermine can be legally prescribed for short-term use but only under very specific conditions,’ he said. ‘It remains a controlled drug.

‘Topiramate has never been approved for weight loss in the EU or the UK as it has some significant potential adverse events and may be teratogenic.’

Teratogenic is the scientific term for a drug that can cause birth defects if taken by a pregnant woman. 

A spokesperson from TikTok said they ‘care deeply about the health and wellbeing of our community’.

‘Our Community Guidelines make clear 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 spokesperson added.

TikTok did remove some, but not all, of the videos flagged by investigators. 

More than 42million adults in the UK will be overweight or obese by 2040, according to projections by Cancer Research UK

NHS recommendations list a good diet and regular exercise as the best way to lose weight.

GPs and pharmacists will generally only offer weight loss drugs if a person has made a substantial effort to shed their bulge. 

Excess bodyweight is considered one of Britain’s biggest and ever-expanding health issues, with the latest data showing 64 per cent of adults are overweight, and more of us are predicted to grow fatter in the future. 

Obesity doesn’t just expand British waistlines but health care costs, with the NHS spending an estimated £6.1 billion on treating weight-related disease like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers between 2014 to 2015. 

In the US an estimated 73.6 per cent of adults are considered either overweight or obese.


Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count

• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain

• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on

• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options

• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)

• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts

• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day

• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day

Source: NHS Eatwell Guide  

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