Turpentine - Encyclopedia

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TURPENTINE (in M. Eng. turbentine, adapted through the O. Fr. turbentine or terebentine from Lat. terebinthina, sc. resina, resin of the terebinth, Gr. 7-epE31,vOos or -rEpµcvOos), the oleo-resins which exude from certain trees, especially from some conifers such as Pinus sylvestris - and from the terebinth tree, Pistacia terebinthus, It was to the product of the latter, now known as Chian turpentine, that the term was first applied. The terebinth tree and its resin were well known and highly prized from the earliest times. The tree is a native of the islands and shores of the Mediterranean, passing eastward into Central Asia; but the resinous exudation found in commerce is collected in the island of Chios. Chian turpentine is a tenacious semi-fluid transparent body, yellow to dull brown in colour, with an agreeable resinous odour and little taste. On exposure to the air it becomes dry, hard and brittle. In their natural characters, turpentines are soft solids or semi-fluid bodies, consisting of resins dissolved in turpentine oil, the chief constituent of which is pinene. They are largely used in the arts, being separated by distillation into rosin or colophony (see RosiN), and oil or spirit of turpentine.

Crude or common turpentine is the commercial name which embraces the oleo-resin yielded by several coniferous trees, both European and American. The principal European product, sometimes distinguished as Bordeaux turpentine, is obtained from the cluster pine, Pinus Pinaster, in the Landes department of France. Crude turpentine is further yielded by the Scotch fir, P. sylvestris, throughout northern Europe, and by the Corsican pine, P. Laricio, in Austria and Corsica. In the United States the turpentineyielding pines are the swamp pine, P. australis, and the loblolly, P. Taeda, both inhabiting North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Venice turpentine is yielded by the larch tree, Larix europaea, from which it is collected principally in Tirol. Strassburg turpentine is obtained from the bark of the silver fir; but it is collected only in small quantities. Less known turpentines are obtained from the mountain pine, P. Pumilio, the stone pine, P. Cembra, the Aleppo pine, P. halepensis, &c. The so-called Canada balsam, from Abies balsamea, is also a true turpentine.

Oil of Turpentine, or Turps, as a commercial product is obtained from all or any of these oleo-resins, but on a large scale only from crude or common turpentine. The essential oil is rectified by redistillation with water and alkaline carbonates, and the water which the oil carries over with it is removed by a further distillation over calcium chloride. Oil of turpentine is a colourless liquid of oily consistence, with a strong characteristic odour and a hot disagreeable taste. It begins to boil at about 155° C., and its specific gravity is between o860 and o. 880. It rotates the plane of polarized light both to right and left in varying degrees according to its sources, the American product being dextrorotatory and the French laevorotatory. It is almost insoluble in water, is miscible with absolute alcohol and ether, and dissolves sulphur, phosphorus, resins and caoutchouc. On exposure to the air it dries to a solid resin, and absorbing oxygen gives off ozone - a reaction utilized in the disinfectant called "Sanitas." Agitated with successive quantities of sulphuric acid and distilled in a current of steam, it yields terebene, a mixture of dipentene and terpinene mainly, which is used in medicine. Chemically, oil of turpentine is a more or less complex mixture of hydrocarbons generically named terpenes. Oil of turpentine is largely used in the preparation of varnishes and as a medium by painters in their "flat" colours.

Pharmacology and Therapeutics

Oil of turpentine (Oleum terebinthinae) is administered internally as an anthelmintic to kill tapeworm. Applied externally it possesses, in higher degree than any of its fellows, the properties of the volatile oils. It acts as a rubefacient, an irritant and a counter-irritant. It is also an antiseptic and, in small quantities, a feeble anaesthetic. It is absorbed by the unbroken skin. The drug is largely employed as a counterirritant, the pharmacopoeial liniments being very useful applications. Such conditions as myalgia, bronchitis, "chronic rheumatism" and pleurisy are often relieved by its use. It may also be employed as a parasiticide in ringworm and similar conditions.

In large doses oil of turpentine causes purging and may induce much haemorrhage from the bowel; it should be combined with some trustworthy aperient, such as castor oil, when given as an anthelmintic. It is readily absorbed unchanged and has a marked contractile action upon the blood vessels. This gives it the rare and valuable property of a remote haemostatic, erroneously supposed to be possessed by so many useless drugs. It must not be used to check haemorrhage from the kidneys (haematuria) owing to its irritant action on those organs, but in haemoptysis (haemorrhage from the lungs) it is often an invaluable remedy. In large doses it has a depressant action on the nervous system, leading even to coma and total abolition of reflex action. The drug is excreted partly by the bronchi - which it tends to disinfect - and partly in the urine, which it causes to smell of violets. Glycuronic acid also appears in the urine. A small portion of the drug is removed by the skin, in which it may give rise to an erythematous rash. It must not be given to the subjects of Bright's disease.

Perhaps the most valuable of all the medicinal applications of turpentine, and one which is rarely, if ever, mentioned in therapeutic textbooks - owing to the fact that gynaecology has been so extremely specialized - is in inoperable cancer of the uterus. Quite 90% of these cases are seen too late for operation, and nearly all recur after operation. The exhausting pain, the serious haemorrhages, and the abdominal septicity associated with a repulsive odour and the absorption of toxic products, which are the chief and ultimately fatal symptoms of that disease, are all directly combated by the administration of oil of turpentine. So beneficial is the action that for years there prevailed the unfortunately erroneous belief that Chian turpentine is actually curative in this condition. But it undoubtedly prolongs life, lessens suffering, and by checking the growth of bacteria upon the cancer reduces the fetid odour and the symptoms of septic intoxication.

Old turpentine and French oil of turpentine are antidotes to phosphorus, forming turpentine-phosphoric acid, which is inert.

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