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 article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual overdose. If you or someone you are with has an overdose, 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.
Safrole is the poisonous ingredient in sassafras oil. It is a clear or slightly yellow oily liquid. It can be dangerous in large amounts.
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.
In some parts of the world, sassafras oil is used in aromatherapy.
Below are symptoms of a sassafras oil overdose in different parts of the body.
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
HEART AND BLOOD
- Rapid breathing
- Shallow breathing
- Burns (if the oil is on the skin)
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
Your local poison control 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 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.
Tests that may be done include:
- Blood and urine tests
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
Treatment may include:
- Fluids through a vein (by IV)
- Medicine to reverse the effect of the poison and treat symptoms
- Activated charcoal
- Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs and connected to a breathing machine (ventilator)
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.
Aronson JK. Lauraceae. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:484-486.
Tisserand R, Young R. Essential oil profiles. In: Tisserand R, Young R, eds. Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Providers. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 13.
Review Date 9/26/2017
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.