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What Is Octanol?


Octanol is an alcohol with a chain of eight carbon atoms and one OH group, and it has a molecular formula of C8H18O. Octanol is often used in research and industrial chemistry as a perfume and flavor additive to food and beverages. Octanol is also an industrial solvent, surfactant, foam control agent, and biodiesel additive.

There are many terpenes in cannabis with potent anti-inflammatory properties, of which octanol is one. These terpenes can increase cannabis’ therapeutic potential, and octanol, in particular, may increase the bioavailability (absorption rate and circulation) of THC inside the body.

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What Does Octanol Do?

Octanol is a naturally occurring fatty alcohol in many plants, including mint, lavender, cannabis, hops, tea, oats, and ginger. The most commonly occurring isomers are 1-octanol, 2-octanol, and 3-octanol. Due to its strong odor, octanol is frequently used as an additive to perfumes, adding a note described as “sweet,” “woody,” “herbal,” and “earthy.”  It’s also added to foods to give a fatty, mushroom taste.

Fatty alcohols are long, straight hydrocarbon chains with single alcohol at one end. This creates a polar structure at one end and nonpolar at the other, similar to fatty acids. 1-Octanol, also referred to as caprylic alcohol or n-octanol, is very similar to the fatty acids found in the human body. This has led to using 1-octanol as a model chemical for testing the solubility of chemical compounds in the human body, called the partition coefficient.

Compounds with a higher partition 1-octanol/water coefficient are more easily absorbed into the body’s cells. In contrast, compounds with a lower 1-octanol/water coefficient may have difficulty reaching their intended target.

The high similarity of 1-octanol to human cell membranes causes it to be particularly soluble in the lipid bilayer of the cell membrane. Including 1-octanol in the cell membrane alters membrane permeability, allowing other chemicals to enter the cell more easily. This causes other drugs, such as nicotine, to be more effective when combined with n-octanol.

This increased membrane permeability may explain why 1-octanol has been shown to increase the anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing effects of ⍺-pinene and linalool in what’s known as the entourage effect. All three of these chemicals are present in cannabis, making it likely that they’re partially responsible for reducing pain and inflammation when cannabis products are consumed.

As 1-octanol increases the uptake of most chemicals, it can be assumed that the natural presence of 1-octanol in cannabis is beneficial. However, it’s challenging to detect the presence of 1-octanol using gas chromatography because 1-octanol is often used as the solvent in the procedure.

This has led to an absence of information on whether 1-octanol is present in all cannabis strains and, if so, in what concentrations. Although the presence of 1-octanol and 3-octanol has been detected in at least one strain (cultivar) of cannabis, currently, no strains of cannabis are marketed as containing octanol.

Octanol Effects

  • Smells sweet, earthy, and woody
  • Tastes similar to a mushroom
  • Increases cell permeability and drug uptake

Health Benefits of Octanol

Treatment of Essential Tremor

Essential tremor is a medical condition that causes body parts to shake and tremble for no apparent reason. It’s prevalent among the older population and is often treated with drugs, such as beta-blockers and ethanol, which have several potentially harmful side effects. Octanol shows promise in reducing tremors with only a small dosage and carries no harmful side effects. Phase 1 and 2 human trials have been completed successfully.  

Treatment of Cystic Fibrosis

One cause of cystic fibrosis is a mutation in the gene encoding for “Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator” (CFTR), which causes the CFTR protein not to function as often or as well as it should. One study has shown that octanol stimulates the activity of both standard and mutated CFTR and may be of use in treating cystic fibrosis symptoms.

Anti-inflammatory and Anesthetic

Research has shown the anti-inflammatory properties of octanol can reduce scarring after stroke or head trauma, preventing the formation of scar tissue that would otherwise interfere with brain function. Studies in rats have also shown that octanol can reduce the amount of paincaused by injury.

Due to ethical concerns, research on the anti-inflammatory and anesthetic properties of octanol is almost entirely animal-based. Further research is required to determine if octanol affects humans similarly.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

  • Octanol is exceptionally well tolerated and has low toxicity. Contact with the skin and eyes can irritate due to the removal of natural oils.
  • Octanol increases the uptake of other drugs and could cause overdose if both are taken simultaneously.
  • Exposure to octanol fumes can cause headaches, dizziness, cough, sore throat, and confusion.
  • Octanol is flammable, with a flashpoint of 88°C (190°F). In case of fire, use a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher.

Cannabis Strains High in Octanol

No cannabis strains are currently marketed as being high in octanol.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Octanol Used For?

Octanol has a wide range of industrial applications due to its properties as a nontoxic solvent, surfactant, and foam-control agent. Products containing octanol include essential oils, perfumes, food, and beverages. The FDA has approved octanol for use as a flavor additive.

Is Octanol Poisonous?

Overall, octanol has low toxicity. Exposure to the skin can remove oils, causing dryness and cracking. If your skin has come into contact with octanol, wash the affected area with soap and water and moisturize. If eye irritation occurs, flush any residue out of the eyes with clean water.

If ingested in sufficient quantities, symptoms such as headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion, muscle weakness, and coma can appear. A potentially lethal dose for an adult is around one cup. Due to its pungent aroma and unpleasant taste when concentrated, no human deaths attributed to octanol have been recorded.

Octanol is highly poisonous to aquatic life, even in small doses, and may cause long-lasting damage to the surrounding environment.

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