Category: Natural chemicals
Introduction and description
Coumarin (2H-chromen-2-one), chemical formula C9H6O2 is a chemical compound (specifically, a benzopyrone) found in many plants.
It has a sweet scent, readily recognised as the scent of newly-mown hay, and has been used in perfumes since 1882. Sweet grass and sweet clover in particular are named for their sweet smell, which is due to their high content of this substance. It has been used as aroma-enhancer in pipe tobaccos and certain alcoholic drinks. In high concentrations in foods and drinks, coumarin is a “bitter-tasting appetite suppressant”.
Coumarin itself seems to be produced by the plants as a defense mechanism from over grazing. This strategy hasn’t entirely worked as several species of Lepidoptera moth and butterfly consume the plants in order to provide themselves with chemical protection. By eating the plant they too become toxic!
Sida, for example, is a genus of flowering herbs and subshrubs in the mallow family, Malvaceae.
Sida species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera. These include Lemon Pansy (Junonia lemonias), Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina) and Indian Grizzled Skipper (Spialia galba) which have all been found on Arrowleaf Sida, and Chionodes mariona.
Coumarin at small normal doses will not harm you. It is to be found in numerous plants and food derivatives. It also has healing potential in those with cancer. But at ‘over-dose’ levels it becomes toxic and can produce hallucinations by poisoning you.
Extract from Coumarin Metabolism, Toxicity and Carcinogenicity: Relevance for Human Risk Assessment - B. G. Lake, BIBRA International, Woodmansterne Road, Carshalton, Surrey SM5 4DS, UK
The metabolism, toxicity and results of tests for carcinogenicity have been reviewed with respect to the safety for humans of coumarin present in foodstuffs and from fragrance use in cosmetic products. Coumarin is a natural product which exhibits marked species differences in both metabolism and toxicity. The majority of tests for mutagenic and genotoxic potential suggest that coumarin is not a genotoxic agent.
The target organs for toxicity and carcinogenicity in the rat and mouse are primarily the liver and lung. Moreover, the dose–response relationships for coumarin -induced toxicity and carcinogenicity are non-linear, with tumour formation only being observed at high doses.
….. The maximum daily human exposure to coumarin from dietary sources for a 60-kg consumer has been estimated to be 0.02 mg/kg/day. From fragrance use in cosmetic products, coumarin exposure has been estimated to be 0.04 mg/kg/day. The total daily human exposure from dietary sources together with fragrance use in cosmetic products is thus 0.06 mg/kg/day. It is concluded that exposure to coumarin from food and/or cosmetic products poses no health risk to humans.
So, bake an apple pie with a little cinnamon in it and you will come to no harm.
Smoke a herbal mixture with 3 teaspoons of essential oil in it hoping to get ‘high’ and you could be in trouble. It damages liver and kidneys and it is through this damage that the so called spiritual experience is obtained – you start to kill yourself.
Yet again, the reason I have included this extra information is because I found Internet descriptions and even descriptions in books that indicated many plants containing coumarin had ‘hallucinogenic properties’.
There are also capsules for sale, essential oils and smoking mixtures based on coumarin containing plants which have been advertised as capable of giving you a ‘high’. From the ingredients they won’t, but you risk overdosing on coumarin from them. Coumarin was banned in the USA as an ingredient in cigarettes in 1997, but it appears to be readily available in smoking mixtures. The main problem is that you don’t know how much they have added. If it was added as an essential oil, you could be going way beyond the safe dose.
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, for example, has established a ‘tolerable daily intake’[TDI] of 0.1 mg coumarin per kg body weight, but has also indicated that if this level is exceeded for a short time only, there is no threat to health. For example, a person weighing 135 lbs or about 61 kg would have a TDI of approximately 6.1 mg of coumarin.
Coumarins and the sick
Coumarins and many derivatives of coumarin have a toxic effect in large doses upon the well, but for the very sick, they are being investigated as possible healing agents.
This should tell us something about their actions – if they can kill cancer cells in the sick, they can kill cells in the well. Auraptene, for example, is a ‘natural bioactive monoterpene coumarin ether’, first isolated from members of the genus Citrus. It is being investigated for its preventative effects in degenerative diseases and cancers of liver, skin, tongue, esophagus, and colon. [Curini, M., Carvotto, G., Epifano, F. and Giannone, G. "Chemistry and Biological Activity of Natural and Synthetic Prenyloxycoumarins"(2006). Current Medicinal Chemistry, 13, 199-222. ].
Study of the anti-proliferative effects and synergy of phthalides from Angelica sinensis on colon cancer cells - Winnie Lai Ting Kanet al - Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong July 2008.
Angelica sinensis is a Chinese medicinal herb for treating gynecological and gastrointestinal disorders, and also in conjunction with cancer chemotherapy. In the present study, the cytotoxic and anti-proliferative effects of three main Angelica sinensis phthalides, namely n-butylidenephthalide (BLP), senkyunolide A (SKA) and z-ligustilide (LGT), and their synergy on colon cancer HT-29 cells were investigated. ……..The conclusions are that the three phthalides might have anti-cancer potential, but that the phthalides, in combination with other ingredients in Angelica sinensis extract, display significant synergy leading to a stronger anti-tumor effect.