Thursday, February 7, 2013

Football Pain? Solve it with Solvent

A friend pointed me towards ESPN's recent interview with former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Tony Casillas. When asked about the recent hullabaloo regarding deer antler spray, Casillas reportedly answered: "That's nothing. We used to use this stuff called DMSO..."

DMSO? Dimethyl sulfoxide? Like, the polar aprotic solvent we all know and love from the Swern oxidation?

The very same.*

I hadn't realized that the compound had such a long history in medicine. Suppose I should have remembered hearing Breslow once talk about DMSO as his inspiration for the development of SAHA (vorinostat). Still, after the heated warnings I've always received from tox folks while handling DMSO stock solutions (Double gloves! Wipe up spills ASAP!), I'm hesitant to try it myself.

*A note of caution: I'm not endorsing rubbing DMSO on your balky knee or tennis elbow. You should always ask a medical professional before trying something like that. Please don't say "I read this on a blog..."


  1. When I was a sniveling summer student, I seem to recall my aged adviser making a comment about using DMSO to alleviate back pain. (Also, I had someone in the same lab tell me that getting DMSO on his skin meant that he instantly tasted garlic in his mouth.) #skeptical

    1. Actually, that's a legit side effect - seems to be both on WebMD and Wikipedia

  2. DMSO is awesome. Perfectly safe under normal conditions, very dangerous in an organic lab due to its ability to shepherd other compounds through the skin.

    Apparently conducting double blind trials is also a major pain. One of the metabolites causes rather distinctive garlic breath, breaking the blind almost instantly.

  3. Everything I have learned about DMSO is in agreement with Brandon. By itself it is perfectly safe, even used in massages and medicinally. HOWEVER, it will carry compounds though the skin. That is what makes it especially dangerous in a chemistry lab where compounds with unknown biological activity are being synthesized. I have heard of DMSO being used in as an alternative to a needle for inject-able drugs...

  4. DMSO is supposed to help arthritis. The only real drawback I know of is that it can cause cataracts if overused. If you dab a little on your skin, in a minute you'll have an oyster-like taste in your mouth (not so garlicky).

  5. The garlic smell is probably caused by dimethylsulfide (Swern again?). Also the qualities of methylsulphonylmethane, known by chemists by the more trivial name of dimethylsulfone, are rather widely touted these days (it is, of course, converted to DMSO in vivo).

  6. I remember seeing a talk back in the '80s where it was shown that DMSO degraded myelin sheaths. The I found my arthritic mom buying the stuff at a hardware store, and I talked her out of using it.

  7. re DMSO taking compounds through the skin....... There was a book (and movie of the same name?) called White Oleander Part of the plot involved the mother of the main character, who lived in SoCal, popping over to Tijuana to buy DMSO from a pharmacist there (nominally for back pain or suchlike). She then extracted the juice of White Oleander (the pretty shrubs planted down the middle of SoCal freeways), made a DMSO solution and coated a door handle with it - all to have the poison absorbed through her ex husbands skin and hence murder him. I assume it is all possible - though I stress have not tried to repeat the experiment.