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Terpene Toxicity

Practice Essentials

Terpenes are natural products derived from plants that have medicinal properties and biological activity. Terpenes may be found in cleaning products, rubefacients, aromatherapy, and various topical preparations. Terpenes may exist as hydrocarbons or have oxygen-containing compounds such as ketone or aldehyde groups (terpenoids).

The basic structure of terpenes is repeating isoprene units (C5H8)n, and they are grouped according to the number of repeating isoprene units. Monoterpenes contain 2 isoprene units; examples include cantharidin, menthol, pinene, and camphor.
 Diterpenes contain 4 isoprene units; examples include phytol, vitamin A1 
, and paclitaxel (Taxol).

The best-known compounds in this group are camphor oil and turpentine.
 The antineoplastic agent paclitaxel is a terpene derived from yew plant bark.
 An oil derived from the Saliva officinalis tree, thujone, became popular because of its hallucinogenic qualities, and became a drug of abuse.

Absinthe, a green liquor containing thujone, has been thought to be responsible for enhancing the creativity of many famous artists including Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

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