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Sassafras oil overdose

Sassafras oil comes from the root bark of the sassafras tree. Sassafras oil overdose occurs when someone swallows more than the normal or recommended amount of this substance. This can be by accident or on purpose.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual overdose. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual overdose. If you or someone you are with overdoses, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

Safrole is the poisonous ingredient in sassafras oil. It is a clear or slightly yellow oily liquid. It can be dangerous in large amounts.

Where Found

Sassafras oil is banned in foods and medicines in the United States and Canada, except for very small amounts of safrole. Safrole can cause cancer.

Symptoms

Below are symptoms of a sassafras oil overdose in different parts of the body.

STOMACH AND INTESTINES

HEART AND BLOOD

LUNGS

NERVOUS SYSTEM

SKIN

  • Burns (if the oil is on the skin)

Home Care

Seek medical help right away. Do NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strength, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.

The person may receive:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Laxative
  • Medicine to reverse the effect of the poison and treat symptoms
  • Tube from the mouth into the stomach to empty the stomach (gastric lavage)

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well someone does depends on the amount of sassafras oil swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance is for recovery.

Sassafras oil is very toxic. If damage to the liver or kidneys occurs, it may take several months to heal. Sassafras oil can also cause cancer if someone uses it for a long time.

References

Auerbach PS. Wild plant and mushroom poisoning. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Medicine for the Outdoors. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2016:374-404.

Kingston RL, Foley C. Herbal, traditional, and alternative medicine. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 68.

Smolinske SC, Daubert GP, Spoerke DG. Poisonous plants. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 24.

St. John TM. Chronic hepatitis. In: Rakel D, ed. Rakel: Integrative Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 19.

Update Date 10/14/2015

Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.