Scientific Name(s): Pinus palustris Mill., Pinus
Common Name(s): Gum thus, Gum turpentine, Turpentine, Turpentine balsam, Turpentine oil
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Nov 1, 2017.
Turpentine has been reported to be useful for its antiparasitic effects, particularly in the treatment of myiasis. Turpentine has been used experimentally in baths for treatment of disseminated sclerosis and sexual dysfunction; however, data are limited and safety and efficacy have not been established.
Refer to Adverse Reactions and Toxicology sections.
None well documented.
Contact allergies, hypersensitivity reactions, and benign skin tumors may occur when exposed to turpentine. Additionally, the resin has an irritant potential.
If ingested, turpentine is highly toxic, with fatal poisonings reported in children who have ingested as little as 15 mL. The average fatal oral dose is 15 to 150 mL. Toxic effects may include oral burning and pain, thirst, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, insomnia, dizziness, hematuria, urine odor similar to violets, difficulty urinating, albuminuria, hypotension, bradycardia, prolonged activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT), coma, and death.
The term "turpentine" is used imprecisely to describe the oleoresin obtained from the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.), slash pine (P. elliottii Engelm.), and other Pinus spp. that yield exclusively terpene oils, or to describe the essential oil obtained from oleoresin.Leung 1980 At least 6 additional Pinus spp. have been used in the production of turpentine.Trease 1989 The oleoresin is referred to as "gum turpentine," while the terms “turpentine” and "turpentine oil" (also known as "spirits of turpentine") refer to the essential oil.
Following steam distillation, gum turpentine yields turpentine oil and colophony resin (also known as "rosin"). Alternatively, rosin is collected by scarring the tree trunk, and then various grades of material are refined.Leung 1980, Trease 1989 Turpentine and rosin are also obtained by steam distillation of heartwood chips of pine stumps, which are byproducts of the lumber and paper industries; these sources currently account for the bulk of turpentine and rosin production in the United States.Leung 1980
In terms of volume, turpentine is the largest essential oil product in the world, with the bulk of production occurring in the United States. Because collection of oleoresin is very labor intensive, output in the United States has declined considerably. Other principal world producers are Portugal and China, and other contributors include Spain, Greece, India, and Morocco. Trease 1989
The primary use of turpentine has been as a solvent in paints. During the last century, it became an important starting material for the commercial synthesis of many widely used compounds, including camphor and menthol. Various products derived from turpentine have been used in chewing gums. Steam-distilled turpentine oil has been used as a food and beverage flavoring in very small quantities (typically about 20 ppm). The oil has a strong, bitter taste and is colorless.Guzel 2015 Turpentine and its related products have a long history of medicinal use, primarily as topical counterirritants for the treatment of rheumatic disorders and muscle pain. A gum derived from turpentine was used in traditional Chinese medicine for relief of toothache. Other extracts (including the semisynthetic derivative terpin hydrate) have been used for the treatment of cough and cold symptomsZiment 1991; the cis-form of terpin hydrate is used as an expectorant.Morton 1977
A variety of gum and resin products (including gum turpentine and rosin) derived from pines were used as tars and pitches in the early naval industry. Consequently, the terms "wood naval stores" and "gum naval stores" came to be associated with these pine-derived products.Trease 1989
Turpentine is composed primarily of monoterpene hydrocarbons, the most prevalent of which are the pinenes, camphene, and 3-carene. Rosin contains mostly diterpene resin acids, such as abietic acid, dehydroabietic acid, palustric acid, and isopimaric acid. Numerous other compounds are present in small quantities in all turpentine products.
Canada turpentine, or Canada balsam, is an oleoresin obtained from the stems of the balsam fir (Abies balsamea [Family Pinaceae]).
Uses and Pharmacology
Turpentine and its related products (the oil and rosin) are important in commerce and traditional medicine. These products can pose a toxicity risk and should be handled and stored carefully.
In vitro data
In an in vitro study, turpentine oil exerted antibacterial effects against Staphylococcus epidermidis and Escherichia coli. It was also found to exert activity against 2 strains of yeast.Schelz 2006
Literature primarily documents turpentine use in experimental animal models of inflammation to induce a systemic inflammatory immune response, with demonstrated beneficial effects.Elhija 2006, Pous 1992
Turpentine has been noted to possess varying antiparasitic effects. It has been used in the treatment of myiasis. Specifically, it is useful in helping to remove the larvae in cases of myiasis.Kumar 2012
A case report describes a 28-year-old male patient with a history of maxillofacial trauma who presented with oral myiasis. He received topical cotton application of turpentine oil on the area infested with maggots. After 10 to 12 minutes, the cotton was removed, and the maggots were subsequently removed. Further treatment with surgical debridement and oral ivermectin was provided.Kumar 2012 Another case report describes removal of blowfly larvae with turpentine oil in a neonatal patient.Bapat 2000
In a study of rats, inhibition of bone resorption occurred in a dose-dependent manner with turpentine.Muhlbauer 2003
Abstract data from a study in Russia suggest turpentine baths may assist in the treatment of disseminated sclerosis, but the safety of this treatment has not been established.Ludianskii 1992
One study from Russia documents the use of turpentine white emulsion baths in patients with sexual dysfunctions, but the safety of this treatment has not been established.Karpukhin 2000
When applied topically, turpentine causes skin irritation and, therefore, has been shown to exert rubefacient and counterirritant actions. However, in a systematic study, a pine oil product derived from Pinus palustris and Pinus elliottii reduced dermal inflammation in a mouse ear model of contact irritant–induced dermal inflammation as well as second-degree burns to the mouse paw.Clark 2014
Pregnancy / Lactation
Avoid use during pregnancy and lactation because of the risk for toxicity.
None well documented.
The contact allergenic activity of turpentine may be caused primarily by the pinenes 3-carene and dipentene. The resin also has irritant potential. In one survey of individuals involved in the manufacture of tires, patch testing indicated that 2.6% developed hypersensitivity reactions to turpentine. Benign skin tumors have been observed in animal models following chronic topical application of turpentine.Leung 1980, Rudzki 1991 A reported increase in sensitization to turpentine has been noted.Borrego 2012
Turpentine has been used for traditional self-medication in the United States, and fatal poisonings have been reported in children who have ingested as little as 15 mL.Boyd 1991 Turpentine is among the most commonly ingested poisons among childhood cases reported to poison control centers.Melis 1990 The average fatal oral dose is 15 to 150 mL.Guzel 2015
Turpentine oil is toxic when inhaled through the lungs or ingested through the GI tract. Signs and symptoms of toxicity generally emerge within 2 to 3 hours after exposure. After oral ingestion, patients may experience an oral burning sensation, pain in oral cavity, thirst, cough, vomiting, and diarrhea.Guzel 2015 Other toxic effects of turpentine ingestion include headache, insomnia, hematuria, urine odor similar to violets, difficulty urinating, dizziness, albuminuria, coma, and death.Guzel 2015, Leung 1980 A case report of an accidental ingestion of turpentine oil 50 mL by a 9-year-old boy describes the development of hypotension, bradycardia, and prolonged aPTT.Guzel 2015
Inhalation exposure to turpentine irritates the respiratory pathways.Filipsson 1996 A case report documented a 20-year-old male treated with oxygen, steroids, and eventually intercostal tube drainage after turpentine-induced chemical pneumonitis that evolved into a bronchopleural fistula.Rodricks 2003
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