DMSO: Pain Relief Without a Prescription?
Cynthia J. Koelker, MD
by Cynthia J. Koelker, MD: Horse
and Buggy Dentistry
A reader of
SurvivalBlog wrote to ask whether dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is safe
and effective for use in humans. The chemical is well-known in veterinary
circles for its soothing effect on swollen, inflamed equine (horse)
muscles. But would it have the same effect on people?
pain is a great fear among survivalists and preppers. Few have access
to narcotics or anesthetics. Wouldnt be great if there were
a readily available, safe and effective over-the-counter remedy?
That is the primary question with DMSO.
What is DMSO
anyway? The chemical dimethyl sulfoxide is a potent solvent, produced
as a by-product of the wood pulp industry. It is best known medically
for its ability to penetrate the skin, and has been useful as a
carrier to aid the absorption of other beneficial medications. Therein
lies one of the concerns: if the skin is contaminated or the DMSO
formulation is impure, unwanted chemicals may enter the body. Therefore
if you are going to use DMSO as a topical preparation, make sure
you use medical grade rather than industrial grade DMSO.
works as a topical pain reliever is controversial. The party
line of the medical establishment is that it is probably NOT
effective. One study (in the journal Pain. 2009; 143(3):238-45)
concluded that topical DMSO was no more effective than placebo in
relieving symptoms of chronic knee osteoarthritis. However, such
a study does not answer the question completely. Did the DMSO penetrate
inside the joint capsule, to the actual source of pain? A study
on the knee cannot answer the question as to whether DMSO is effective
for muscular pain, or perhaps acute joint pain caused by strain
or overuse. In 2008 a systematic review of DMSO use in osteoarthritis
(Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2008; 16(11):1277-88) concluded there
is insufficient evidence either way to decide whether it is beneficial.
another point: pain is not simply one thing. Joint pain and muscle
pain are not the same. Acute pain is different than chronic pain.
Traumatic bone pain is different from cancer pain. Neuropathic pain
is not the same as primary muscle pain. Bladder pain is different
than headache pain.
DMSO has been
used effectively for certain types of pain. Currently it is only
officially FDA-approved for discomfort or pain associated with interstitial
cystitis, a chronic condition of the bladder causing pelvic pain
and/or urinary symptoms. A small amount of DMSO is instilled into
the bladder via a catheter, where it is left in place for 10-15
minutes, then emptied. This process is repeated every week or two
for a few months, and most patients experience some relief of pain.
DMSO is thought to work by reducing inflammation and possibly decreasing
bladder muscle contractions.
If DMSO can
work in the bladder, might it not be effective elsewhere? One of
the worst pain syndromes is cancer-related pain. DMSO (plus sodium
bicarbonate) has been used as IV therapy for patients with refractory
metastatic cancer pain unresponsive to other treatments with encouraging
results [J Pain Palliat Care Pharmacother. 2011; 25(1 and 4)].
So where does
this leave us? Doctors dont really know. Ive had patients
who have sworn DMSO is effective. These have been younger patients
with acute injuries or inflammation; such patients are prone to
conditions akin to the acute injuries active horses might suffer.
Treating a young injured race horse is likely to yield better results
than treating a worn-out work horse.
prefer to have strong proof for what we advise, though that is often
lacking. Regarding DMSO, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
concludes, Most of the clinical studies done on DMSO were
published in the 1980s and early 1990s. Reliable data to verify
its purported uses are limited.
the concerns are acute and long-term side-effects. Any use of DMSO
is likely to yield either bad breath or a garlic-like taste in the
mouth or similar odor on the skin. Rashes and dry skin are common
with topical use. Allergic reactions are possible as well. Those
using the product long-term may suffer kidney or liver damage and
ideally would undergo blood testing every 6 months (a difficult
proposition at TEOTWAWKI).
MSDS sheet lists a multitude of concerns (but no more than other
drugs we use every day, including aspirin).
My own conclusions
- DMSO probably
does work for certain conditions which have not been well-identified,
but may be related to acute injury or overwork rather than chronic
- It is reasonably
safe to use medical-grade DMSO topically on an intermittent basis.
who already have liver or kidney damage or who are pregnant or
nursing should not use DMSO.
- We need
more studies to prove which ailments DMSO is best used for. Unfortunately,
those studies are unlikely to be performed due to lack of funding.
- Using industrial-grade
DMSO can be dangerous and result in unwanted poisoning with unidentified
- DMSO is
probably no more effective than OTC NSAIDs (aspirin or willow
bark, ibuprofen, naproxen) but may provide an alternative, especially
for patients intolerant of these meds.
- All users
should be warned about the garlic-onion-oyster odor [or taste]
they will experience.
dont know everything, but we err on the side of caution.
Readers are further warned to store DMSO only in containers with
tight-fitting lids that are vapor tight, and to store their supply
of 99.9% pure medical (or veterinary) grade DMSO well away from
any toxic substances. The solvent's amazing carrier properties are
well-documented. Keep in mind that if you apply it to a sore muscle
using your hands then any contaminants on your hands will be absorbed
through the skin and enter your bloodstream. The speed with which
this can occur can be astonishing. I once read about a man who washed
his hands with a scented soap shortly before using DMSO. Then, less
than a minute after applying the DMSO with his hands to his sore
knees, he could taste the hand soap on his tongue, almost as if
he had licked the bar of soap! Some drug addicts have reportedly
used DMSO as a "soft" way to ingest drugs that require
only small doses, such as PCP and Fentanyl. And though perhaps exaggerated
in the frequency of occurrence in popular fiction, DMSO mixed with
a powerful toxin such as saxitoxin
has reportedly been used by foreign intelligence agencies for killing
some political opponents of unpopular regimes.
the rest of the article
J. Koelker, MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty
years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker
holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T.,
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University
of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance
her medical education. The author continues to practice medicine
in Akron, Ohio where she resides with her family and beloved golden-doodles.
She is the author of 101
Ways to Save Money on Health Care: Tips to Help You Spend Smart
and Stay Healthy.
© 2012 Survival Blog
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