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What is Octanol?

By M. Haskins
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Octanol is a chemical substance called a fatty alcohol that is a natural ingredient in certain essential oils, but can also be synthesized. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States as a food additive. This liquid alcohol has no color, but does have a very strong and penetrating smell. It is used to make foam-control agents, and also commonly used to manufacture chemical compounds called esters that are used to make fragrances in the perfumery industry and to make various types of artificial flavors. There is some experimental medical testing being done using octanol to treat conditions involving involuntary neurological tremors, such as those caused by the disorder essential tremor (ET).

Octanol is also known as capylic alcohol and octyl alcohol. When it is combined with acetic acid, an ester called octyl acetate is produced. It has a floral or herbal scent, and is used to make artificial orange flavoring and other food additives. Octyl acetate is also used to make various kinds of solvents used for waxes, oils, and resins.

The medical use of octanol to treat neurological tremors is still experimental, but some promising results have been obtained in scientific studies. Small doses of ethanol, also known as pure alcohol and drinking alcohol, are known to provide relief from these kinds of involuntary tremors. It is hoped that other types of alcohol, such as octanol, can provide relief without also causing intoxication.

Though it is approved as a food additive, this liquid fatty alcohol should not be ingested in large quantities or in its pure form because it can be harmful. It can irritate both skin and eyes, causing redness and pain, and it is recommended to wear safety goggles, gloves, and protective clothing when handling it. One should flush the eyes with water if they come into contact with this substance, and skin should be washed very thoroughly with soap and water in case of contact. Inhaling this substance can irritate the airways and affect the central nervous system, causing dizziness, headaches, coughing, and even unconsciousness.

The word octanol is derived from the Latin word octo, meaning eight, and the substance is so named because it has eight carbon atoms. There are four different types, or isomers, commonly referred to as octanol that have similar though not identical properties. These four types are known more specifically as 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-octanol. This fatty alcohol is flammable and can be a fire hazard if not handled correctly.

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