Medically reviewed on December 11, 2017
Scientific Name(s): Pinus palustris Mill. and several other species and varieties of Pinus . Family: Pinaceae
Common Name(s): Turpentine , gum turpentine , gum thus , turpentine oil , turpentine balsam
Turpentine has been used experimentally in a bath for the treatment of disseminated sclerosis and sexual dysfunction. It also has been studied for its antibacterial activity and inhibition of osteoclast activity. Turpentine is utilized in experimental models of inflammation to induce a systemic inflammatory immune response in animals.
Review adverse reactions and toxicology.
Avoid use during pregnancy and lactation because of toxicity.
None well documented.
The contact allergenic activity of turpentine is believed to be caused primarily by the pinenes, 3-carene, and dipentene. The resin also has irritant potential. In one survey of persons involved in the manufacture of tires, patch testing indicated that 2.6% of those tested developed hypersensitivity reactions to turpentine. Benign skin tumors have been observed in animal models following chronic topical application of turpentine. 1 , 2
If ingested, turpentine is highly toxic and fatal poisonings have been reported in children who have ingested as little as 15 mL of the material. 3
The term “turpentine” is used imprecisely to describe either the oleoresin obtained from the longleaf pine ( Pinus palustris Mill.) or the slash pine ( P. elliottii Engelm.) along with other Pinus species that yield exclusively terpene oils, or the essential oil obtained from the above oleoresin. 1 More than a half-dozen additional Pinus species have been used in the production of turpentine. 4 The oleoresin is sometimes referred to as “gum turpentine” while turpentine or its oil (also known as spirits of turpentine) are terms for the essential oil.
Following steam distillation, gum turpentine yields turpentine oil and a resin called colophony (also known as rosin). Alternately, rosin is collected by scarring the tree trunk, and then various grades of material are refined. 4 Turpentine and rosin also are obtained by the steam distillation of pinewood chips that are by-products of the lumber and paper industries, and these sources currently account for the bulk of their production.
In terms of volume, turpentine is the largest volume-essential oil product in the world, with the bulk of production occurring in the United States. The labor-intensive production of rosin, however, occurs to a greater extent in Spain, Greece, India, and Morocco.
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, and steam-distilled turpentine oil has been used as a food and beverage flavoring in very small quantities (typically about 20 ppm). 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 to relieve the pain of toothaches. Other extracts (including the semi-synthetic derivative terpin hydrate) have been used for the treatment of cough and cold symptoms; 5 the cis-form of terpin hydrate is used as an expectorant. 6
A variety of gum and resin products had been derived from pines for use in the early naval industry as tars and pitches. Consequently the terms “wood naval stores” and “gum naval stores” came to be associated with these pine-derived products. 4
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 problem and should be handled and stored carefully. Literature primarily documents turpentine being utilized in experimental models of inflammation to induce a systemic inflammatory immune response in animals. 7Antibacterial activity
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the antibacterial activity of turpentine.Sclerosis
Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of turpentine for sclerosis.Clinical data
Preliminary reports from Russia suggest that turpentine baths may assist in the treatment of disseminated sclerosis, 9 but the safety of this treatment has not been established.Sexual dysfunction
Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of turpentine for sexual dysfunction.Clinical data
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. 10Miscellaneous
When applied topically, turpentine causes skin irritation and, therefore, has been shown to exert rubefacient and counterirritant actions. Turpentine inhibits bone resorption in rats dose dependently. 11
Avoid use during pregnancy and lactation because of toxicity.
None well documented.
The contact allergenic activity of turpentine is believed to be caused primarily by the pinenes, 3-carene and dipentene. The resin also has irritant potential. In one survey of persons involved in the manufacture of tires, patch testing indicated that 2.6% of those tested developed hypersensitivity reactions to turpentine. Benign skin tumors have been observed in animal models following chronic topical application of turpentine. 1 , 2
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 of the material. 3 Turpentine is among the most commonly ingested poisons among childhood cases reported to poison control centers. 12
Turpentine will irritate the respiratory pathways. 13 A case report documents a male, 20 years of age treated with oxygen, steroids, and eventually intercostal tube drainage after turpentine-induced chemical pneumonitis that evolved into a bronchopleural fistula. 14 Toxic effects of turpentine ingestion include headache, insomnia, coughing, vomiting, hematuria, albuminuria, and coma. 1
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2. Rudzki E, Berova N, Czernielewski A, et al. Contact allergy to oil of turpentine: a 10-year retrospective view. Contact Dermatitis Research Group in Comecon Countries. Contact Dermatitis . 1991;24:317-318.
3. Boyd EL, et al. Home Remedies and the Black Elderly: A Reference Manual for Health Care Providers . Levittown, PA: Pharmaceutical Information Associates, Ltd.;1991.
4. Trease GE, Evans WC. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy . 13th ed. London, England: Balliere Tindall; 1989.
5. Ziment I. History of the treatment of chronic bronchitis. Respiration . 1991;58 (suppl 1):37-42.
6. Morton JF. Major Medicinal Plants . Springfield, IL: Thomas Books; 1977.
7. Pous C, Chauvelot-Moachon L, Lecoustillier M, Durand G. Recombinant human interleukin 1 beta and tumor necrosis factor affect glycosylation of serum alpha 1-acid glycoprotein in rats. Inflammation . 1992;16:197-203.
8. Agarwal DC, Singh B. Orbital myiasis—a case report. Indian J Ophthalmol . 1990;38:187-188.
9. Ludianskii EA. The extension of the use of physical methods of treatment to patients with disseminated sclerosis [in Russian]. Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult . 1992;34-37.
10. Karpukhin IV, Li AA, Gusev ME. Turpentine white emulsion baths in the rehabilation in patients with sexual dysfunctions [in Russian]. Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult . 2000;32-33.
11. Muhlbauer RC, Lozano A, Palacio S, Reinli A, Felix R. Common herbs, essential oils, and monoterpenes potently modulate bone metabolism. Bone . 2003;32:372-380.
12. Melis K, Verbeke S, Bochner A. Chemical pneumonia in children [in Dutch]. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd . 1990;134:811-814.
13. Filipsson AF. Short term inhalation exposure to turpentine: toxicokinetics and acute effects in men. Occup Environ Med . 1996;53:100-105.
14. Rodricks A, Satyanarayana M, D'Souza GA, Ramachandran P. Turpentine-induced chemical pneumonitis with broncho-pleural fistula. J Assoc Physicians India . 2003;51:729-730.
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