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Sassafras

What is it?

Sassafras is an herbal medicine that should not be used because of its potential to cause cancer.

Other names for Sassafras include: Saxifrax, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Saloop, Sassafras varifolium, and Sassafras albidum.

Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist if you need more information about this medicine or if any information in this leaflet concerns you.

Before Using:

Tell your doctor if you

  • are taking medicine or are allergic to any medicine (prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) or dietary supplement)
  • are pregnant or plan to become pregnant while using this medicine
  • are breastfeeding
  • have any other health problems, such as high blood pressure or heart or blood vessel disease

Dosage:

Talk with your caregiver about how much Sassafras you should take. The amount depends on the strength of the medicine and the reason you are taking Sassafras. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the medicine bottle. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to.

To store this medicine:

Keep all medicine locked up and away from children. Store medicine away from heat and direct light. Do not store your medicine in the bathroom, near the kitchen sink, or in other damp places. Heat or moisture may cause the medicine to break down and not work the way it should work. Throw away medicine that is out of date or that you do not need. Never share your medicine with others.

Warnings:

  • Before taking Sassafras, tell your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • It is not safe to take Sassafras except under the direct supervision of your healthcare giver (1)
  • Safrole, an ingredient of Sassafras oil, may cause liver cancer (3, 4, 5)
  • A few drops of Sassafras oil in a young child or a teaspoon in an adult can be poisonous and cause death (6, 7)

Side Effects:

Stop taking your medicine right away and talk to your doctor if you have any of the following side effects. Your medicine may be causing these symptoms which may mean you are allergic to it.

  • Breathing problems or tightness in your throat or chest
  • Chest pain
  • Skin hives, rash, or itchy or swollen skin

Other Side Effects:

You may have the following side effects, but this medicine may also cause other side effects. Tell your doctor if you have side effects that you think are caused by this medicine.

  • Call your doctor right away if you have stupor (not able to wake up), severe throwing up, muscle spasms, or paralysis (unable to move body parts) (6, 8)
  • Large amounts of Sassafras oil may cause hallucinations (seeing or hearing things) (6, 8)
  • You may feel tired, have a lower body temperature, and not be able to walk (8, 9)

References:

1. Anon: IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risk of chemicals to man. Some naturally occurring substances. Vol 10, International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization, 1976.

2. Ioannides C, Delaforge M & Parke DV: Interactions of safrole and isosafrole and their metabolites with cytochromes P-450. Chem Biol Interact 1985; 53(3):303-311.

3. Anon: Sassafras In: DerMarderosian A (ed). The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Facts and Comparisons, St Louis, MO; 1997.

4. Heikes DL: SFE with GC and MS determination of safrole and related allylbenzenes in sassafras tea. J Chromatog Sci 1994; 32(7):253-258.

5. Wrba H, el-Mofty MM, Schwaireb MH et al: Carcinogenicity testing of some constituents of black pepper (Piper nigrum) Exp Toxicol Pathol 1992; 44(2): 61-65.

6. Newall CA, Anderson LA & Phillipson JD: Herbal Medicines. A Guide for Health-care Professionals. Pharmaceutical Press, London, UK; 1996.

7. Craig JO: Poisoning by the volatile oils in childhood. Arch Dis Child 1953; 28:475-483.

8. Grande GA & Dannewitz SR: Symptomatic sassafras oil ingestion. Vet Human Toxicol 1987; 29(6):447.

9. Segelman AB, Segelman FP, Karliner J et al: Sassafras and herb tea. Potential health hazards. JAMA 1976; 236(5):477.

10. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R et al (eds): American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL; 1997.


Last Updated: 10/4/2017
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