Article written by
Ruth LemonVP of Operations
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Isoborneol is a naturally occurring chemical found in many plants, including camphor, nutmeg, ginger, lavender, allspice, and cannabis.
Isoborneol is commonly used to add a woody or spicy fragrance or taste to food, drinks, and perfumes. Isoborneol has antiviral properties and is a potent inhibitor of the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).
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What Is Isoborneol?
Isoborneol is an isomer of borneol. Isomers are molecules with the same chemical composition but differ in how the atoms are arranged in the molecule. Isoborneol occurs naturally in various plants, including nutmeg, ginger, rosemary, cannabis, valerian, and fir trees. Artificial isoborneol combines camphor – a natural terpene from the camphor tree – with sodium borohydride.
Isoborneol and borneol are both members of the terpene family, a class of organic compounds with ring structures in their molecules. Isoborneol naturally occurs in two forms, 1S and 1R. There appear to be no significant differences in how isoborneol type 1S and isoborneol type 1R react with other chemicals.
Terpenes are often found in plants with a strong odor, and the essential oils often have insect-repelling or antimicrobial properties. Research has found several health benefits associated with the terpenes in these oils.
Traditional Chinese medicine has claimed that camphor oil, high in borneol, has had many health benefits for hundreds of years. Isoborneol is not as well studied, despite being present in many consumable plants and added to foods to enhance the taste of spices or artificial flavors.
Recently the naturally occurring borneol in traditional Chinese medicine has been mixed with or replaced by synthetic borneol, around one-third of which may be isoborneol. This does not appear to change the efficacy of the medication, suggesting both isoborneol and borneol have a similar effect on the human body.
Both isoborneol and borneol are found in cannabis: they add a pleasant spicy-citrus or woody scent and taste to the plant. Recent research suggests isoborneol shares many of the therapeutic benefits borneol is known for, including antibiotic, pain-killing, and sedative effects. This research implies that isoborneol may play a role in the beneficial effects of cannabis products.
Free Cannabinoid and Terpene Guide
- Used as a pleasant woody, earthy or aromatic scent
- Used to add a minty or spicy flavor to chewing gum, ice cream, and candy
- Natural insect repellent
Health Benefits of Isoborneol
Prevention of Heart Disease
Many Chinese traditional medicines use medicinal compounds high in isoborneol for treating various illnesses, including heart disease. Recent research has shown that isoborneol can help prevent cardiovascular disease by preventing plaque buildup and lesions inside blood vessels.
In Chinese traditional medicine, camphor oil, high in borneol, has been used to treat inflammation for hundreds of years. Synthetic borneol, a mixture of borneol and isoborneol, is still sold today under Bing Pian (冰片).
Scientific studies have shown that isoborneol has the same anti-inflammatory effect as borneol. Isoborneol effectively reduces the inflammation and pain associated with acne when used as a topical anti-inflammatory.
Antibiotic and Disinfectant
Research has shown isoborneol has antibiotic, anti-fungal, and antiviral properties. Most impressively, studies show isoborneol completely inactivates and prevents the replication of HSV-1, the virus which causes cold sores. Although this treatment has not yet been tested outside of isolated human cells, isoborneol looks to be a promising new candidate for successfully treating and preventing HSV-1.
Due to its strong antimicrobial abilities and low toxicity, isoborneol is also incorporated into self-disinfecting paint.
Plants high in isoborneol, such as valerian, chamomile, lavender, and cannabis, are often known for their soothing properties. Studies have shown that mice that have inhaled isoborneol show signs of sedation, pointing to isoborneol as one of the compounds which give these plants their soothing abilities. Two studies examining human neuron cell cultures suggest that isoborneol could be a potential anti-anxiety medication because it binds with chemical receptors in the anxiety response.
Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease
Research indicates that isoborneol helps prevent nerve damage associated with Parkinson’s disease. As a potent antioxidant, isoborneol prevents free radicals from causing oxidative damage to human neurons in cell cultures. Although not yet approved for human use, this suggests that isoborneol may be a helpful treatment to slow the progress of Parkinson’s disease.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
Toxic When Highly Concentrated
Isoborneol is very toxic in pure concentrations, with a lethal adult dose of around one teaspoon. It is rare to find isoborneol used in concentrations greater than one milligram per liter outside industrial applications. Due to this and the strong bitter taste of concentrated isoborneol, poisonings are rare.
Isoborneol is licensed as a food additive by the FDA and is safe to consume within limits set for compliant foodstuffs and beverages.
Irritant to Skin and Eyes
High concentrations of isoborneol can cause eye and skin irritation.
Cannabis Strains High in Isoborneol
- Golden Haze
- Amnesia Haze
- OG Kush
- Girl Scout Cookies
- Sour Diesel
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is Isoborneol used for?
Isoborneol is used as traditional anti-inflammatory medicine, for flavoring food and drink, adding scent to perfumes, and as an insect repellant.
Is Isoborneol toxic?
Isoborneol is safe to eat in the quantities regulated by the FDA. Concentrated isoborneol can irritate the skin and eyes on contact. In large amounts, isoborneol can cause kidney and liver damage and may be fatal.
What is the difference between Borneol and Isoborneol?
Borneol and isoborneol are isomers, meaning they share the same chemical composition but differ in how the atoms are arranged. Functionally very little difference seems to be found between the two, as isoborneol shares the same health benefits and risks as borneol and is used in the same medication.