The same goes for ingesting other "similar" chemicals or substances. Just don't.

By Claire Gillespie
Updated June 05, 2020

The antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine has been making headlines for months. Back in March, President Donald Trump hailed it as a “game-changer” in the fight against the new coronavirus. And in May, Trump even revealed that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine—much to the dismay of nearly everyone.

Right now, the jury is still out on whether hydroxychloroquine has any real benefits to those with COVID-19. While the drug is being studied in clinical trials, and the Food and Drug Administration previously granted emergency approval to use hydroxychloroquine on patients who didn't otherwise qualify for a clinical trial, it hasn't yet been deemed an approved treatment. On top of that, the FDA warned in an April 30 news release that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were absolutely not to be used outside of a hospital setting or clinical trial due a risk of "heart rhythm problems" like ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation and, in some cases, death. 

The arguments against taking hydroxychloroquine outside of a specifically medical setting are clear, and yet, it seems individuals are still trying to get ahold of the drug—even, apparently, through a very dangerous DIY approach. If Google Trends data is anything to go by, searches for "how to make your own hydroxychloroquine" and "homemade hydroxychloroquine" have been on the rise lately, and Twitter recently took down posts from a user sharing a type of homemade recipe for the drug, as captured in this video from Inside Edition.

It should absolutely go without saying, but apparently we have to say it: Attempting to make your own hydroxychloroquine—or any drug, for that matter—is an incredibly dangerous idea.

There are, of course, the most obvious reasons for that: "A person would need specialized knowledge in organic and/or medicinal chemistry to understand how to create compounds," Bethanne Carpenter, PharmD, an infectious diseases pharmacy specialist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California, tells Health. “Additionally, depending on what needs to be compounded, they may need specific equipment to purify compounds, and know how to safely mix reagents together to synthesize new compounds.”

And that’s just the drug-making part. Drugs have to go through rigorous testing (often on animals first, before human testing) to determine their efficacy and safety. “All medications need quality assurance testing for accurate dosage and more,” board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist Sally Rafie, PharmD, tells Health. The whole process to get a drug to market usually takes several years. 

Dr. Carpenter says she’s heard of recipes being shared on social media on how to make hydroxychloroquine/chloroquine or posts advocating ingesting similar other marketed foods/drinks as substitutes because they are similar in molecular structure (quinine, small amounts of which is found in tonic water, is one of them). “While these molecular compounds may be similar, they are still different and may be dangerous to ingest because dosages are not regulated, leading to accidental overdose or ingestion of another toxic compound made during the mixing process,” she warns. Plus, there’s no proof these similar molecular compounds are actually effective in treating or preventing COVID-19—they haven’t undergone lab testing to show antiviral activity.

Getty Images

The list of things that can go wrong from making drugs at home is a long one, from toxic gas to overdosing from not knowing proper weight measurements. And manufactured substances can be extremely harmful if they’re not intended for medicinal use in humans. “A good example is the story from Arizona when a couple took chloroquine that was designed as antiparasitic therapy for their koi fish,” Dr. Carpenter says. “It may be a similar compound by name, but the product likely had higher doses than what is typically used for humans.” The outcome in this instance was tragic: the husband didn’t make it to the hospital and the wife was in critical condition. 

Dr. Carpenter stresses the importance of scientific evidence in determining whether a drug is safe and effective to treat or prevent a particular disease. “Drugs should be closely observed in a controlled setting such as a randomized, controlled trial to ensure effectiveness and identify potential harms to the patients,” she says. “It is only from these trials that we can evaluate if the benefits outweigh the risks in using the drug to treat a disease.”

It should be noted that one recent trial found hydroxychoroquine was no better than a placebo in preventing COVID-19 in people exposed to the virus.

Listen, it's a scary time right now, and it's understandable to want to safeguard your health—but this isn't the way to do it. The message from health agencies and those in the medical field is crystal clear, and though we've said it repeatedly throughout this article, it warrants repeating once more: Under absolutely no circumstances should you try to make hydroxychloroquine—or any other medication—at home, ever.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter