So, What is Methyl Salicylate? A Close Relative to Menthol
Methyl salicylate is a natural ester that performs very similarly to menthol. It is commonly extracted through steam distillation of wintergreen leaves.
According to WebMD, methyl salicylate is found in many topical ointments bought over the counter for minor joint aches or muscular pains. It can also be found in intimate products.
So, what is methyl salicylate and what does it do? Both menthol and methyl salicylate are known as counterirritants, which means they induce cooling and warming sensations on the skin. Counterirritants are primarily responsible for the name, and reaction, known as “icy hot.”
Most of these products should not be used on younger children because of toxicity concerns, which we’ll talk about later in this article.
You may still be wondering, what is methyl salicylate? You will often hear about wintergreen oil or “oil of wintergreen.” According to an overview in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine, methyl salicylate is the predominant ingredient in the oil and is also the purest form in the highest concentration you will find. According to an oil wintergreen podcast from the Royal Society of Chemistry, oil of wintergreen contains 96-99% methyl salicylate. From the same source, “…research has shown that methyl salicylate is part of a plant’s arsenal in the battle against pathogens and herbivores.”
Methyl salicylate smells very strongly of mint. In spite of this, it should also be noted that this compound does not belong in the mint genus of plant species. The burning cold sensation is activated through the TRPA1 channel. Methyl salicylate also activates the heat channel TRPV1, which is the same channel known to be activated by hot peppers like capsaicin. Sometimes, wintergreen oil is used in conjunction with peppermint oil, since the two in tandem are believed to attenuate beneficial effects. Wintergreen oil is obtained by steam distillation of the warmed, water-macerated leaves. It is sometimes used interchangeably with sweet birch oil for flavoring foods and candies.
Specific Products that Use Methyl Salicylate
- Icy Hot Cream
- Salonpas Pain Patch
- Analgesic Balm
- Menthocin Patch with Lidocaine
- Soothee Patch
- CVS Mouth Rinse Natural Citrus
- CVS Antiseptic Mouth Rinse
- K-Y Yours+Mine Couples Lubricant
- Jason Natural Cosmetics Dandruff Relief Treatment Shampoo
- Forever Living Aloe Heat Lotion
- Colgate Peroxyl Antiseptic Oral Cleanser, Original
- Orajel PM Toothache cream
- CVS Intense Strength Toothache relief
- Young Living Thieves Dentarome Ultra Toothpaste
- Eco-Dent Specialcare Toothpowders Tartarguard
Comparing Methyl Salicylate to Aspirin
One study published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy aimed to analyze the efficacy of methyl salicylate in platelet inhibition in comparison with aspirin. Platelet aggregation is another way of referring to platelets clumping together in the blood. This is related to blood clotting.
This study used a small sample of nine healthy men in the 30-46 age range. All participants were given 162 mg of aspirin before a washout period and then 5 g of 30% methyl salicylate preparation, both to be used on their anterior thighs. It was found that “[b]oth aspirin and MS produced statistically significant platelet inhibition; aspirin decreased the AUC from 183; 139 to 292 to 85; 48 to 128 (p = 0.008) and MS decreased the AUC from 197; 118 to 445 to 112; 88 to 306 (p = 0.011).”
There was no large difference between the two. This suggests that methyl salicylate works as effectively as aspirin for platelet aggregation, at least in healthy individuals.
Toxicity Myths and Concerns
Investigation of this substance on the internet will reveal a handful of case reports of infant death. A few things should be noted about these. Such infant deaths often involved the accidental swallowing of pure oil of wintergreen, the highest concentration of methyl salicylate you can get.
This doesn’t mean that overdoses can ONLY happen with ingestion; the substance can be absorbed through the skin and then integrated into one’s system. However, it was found in “Toxicity Myths: The Actual Risk of Essential Oil Use,” published in the International Journal of Aromatherapy, that, “if 10?ml of a 2.5% formula of wintergreen oil were to be applied all at once to the skin and totally absorbed, the dose would represent the same amount of salicylate present in one 325?mg aspirin tablet.”
This is why oil of wintergreen is considered to be relatively low-risk with few side effects. However, it is recommended that new parents avoid having the substance in the house, on the off-chance that an infant could get his or her hands on it.
Also, it is worth noting that methyl salicylate has been restricted for use in cosmetics in Canada.
Trace Amounts Are Present in Hemp Seed Oil
Among many nutritional benefits of hemp seed oil constituents, you can also find trace amounts of methyl salicylate. Hemp seed oil’s fatty acid content (omega-3s and omega-6s) is most notable as a nutritional plus. The oil also contains 10-15% fiber, 20-25% protein, and 20-30% carbohydrates.
A bioassay published in “The Composition of Hemp Seed Oil and Its Potential as an Important Source of Nutrition” reported on the methyl salicylate content of hemp seed oil. They also reported on the other things present in hemp seed oil, such as cannabidiol, ?-Sitosterol, tocopherols, and terpenes and terpenoids.
So let’s go over what we’ve learned thus far:
- Methyl salicylate is a natural ester that can be made organically or synthetically in the lab but is usually extracted via steam distillation of wintergreen leaves.
- Oil of wintergreen is the strongest, purest concentration of methyl salicylate.
- DO NOT INGEST oil of wintergreen.
- Methyl salicylate is also found in over-the-counter products such as toothache creams and muscle pain relievers to relieve pain and cause a soothing sensation. It is also sometimes used in small amounts to flavor foods and candies.
- Wintergreen oil applied to the skin in the right doses can represent the same amount of salicylate present in one 325 mg aspirin tablet.
- Methyl salicylate works effectively against platelet aggregation—about as much as aspirin does.
- Methyl salicylate is found in hemp seed oil in trace amounts.
We hope this gives you further insight into just how complex and versatile the cannabis plant is in its constituents and compounds. Visit our blog to learn more about cannabinoids, CBD, anxiety, or news topics about dispensaries. Have you used methyl salicylate before without recognizing what it was? Let us know down in the comments below. And feel free to ask any questions about CBD products.