Wednesday, 25 March 2015

All about that "bute"

Dani and her horse Polo

Phenylbutazone, commonly referred to as “bute”, is a medication similar to aspirin that is aimed primarily at horses, cows, and other large mammals for management of pain. [1] It also helps reduce fever and inflammation. [1] Originally designed for humans suffering from arthritis pain, it was found to cause unpleasant side effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea. [1,2] It may even have more potentially life-threatening consequences. There is a great risk of increasing ulcers or bleeding in your stomach or intestines, it can cause painful swelling from fluid backup in your limbs and lungs, and has been related to a type of blood disorder. [3] The disorder, aplastic anemia, is what happens when your body stops producing enough new blood cells, and can result in full body failure if it is not caught and treated early enough. [3]

If all of this happens, why use it?

It is relatively non-toxic to horses, taking over 90 grams to be a lethal dose for the average equine. [1] Consider this: Horses can weigh up to ten times as much as we do! While the toxic effects can still occur, dosages are generally going to be low enough and not frequent enough to cause damage. As with any medication, using it on an as-needed basis is unlikely to result in significant side effects. 

So how does it work?

Similar to aspirin, bute is a synthetic drug that works on blocking certain enzymes that are responsible for smooth muscle cells to constrict or dilate, increase blood clotting, and increasing spinal nerve activation of pain sensation. [2,4] It is not selective to the two types of receptors, and does not bind permanently like aspirin does. [1,2] It is gone from the system typically in two to three days. 

Cool, so how would I give it to my horse?

Bute comes in either oral or IV form. [5] While IV is certainly fastest, only someone trained in IV should give it. This is because it can cause death of the tissue if it goes outside of the blood vessel. [3] Oral methods are paste, tablets or powder. Find out which one your horse likes best (mine enjoys the powder on a hot mash) and be sure to follow your vet’s instructions. 

[1] Drug Bank. (2013). Phenylbutazone. Retrieved February 10, 2015, from
[2] Fraser, C. M. (1986). The Merck veterinary manual (No. Edition 6). Merck & Co. 
[3] Bishop, Y. M. (Ed.). (2005). The veterinary formulary. Pharmaceutical press.
[4] Small Molecule Pathway Database. (n.d.). Phenylbutazone action pathway. Retrieved February 17, 2015, from[compounds][]=DB00812&highlight[proteins][]=DB00812
[5] Thal Equine, LLC. (2013). Bute & Banamine®: Commonly Used & Misused in Horses. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from 

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Ethylene Glycol

Ethylene glycol by itself is an odorless,colorless, sweet-tasting syrup-like liquid in it's natural state[1]. As appealing as that might sound however, keep out of reach of children! This isn't something to have with your morning pancakes! Although the LD50 is fairly high it is still considered toxic [5]. Although slightly hazardous if contact with skin or eyes occurs (skin/eyes will be irritated) the real hazards come when ingested [5]. Ethylene glycol when ingested can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, central nervous system depression and kidney damage [5]. Now if these scare you and you're looking for a safer version, you're in luck...sort of. Propylene glycol was made as a substitute for ethylene glycol as it is less toxic so therefore "safer" for use [4]. However, both chemicals once used, have waste products caused by it's interaction with other chemicals, and both end up being equally toxic [6]. Another draw back from propylene glycol is that it is a more pricier product [4]. So unless you want to spend more for the same toxic result it may not be in your best interest. But back to ethylene glycol, what is it used for?  If you own a vehicle you have probably used ethylene glycol, since it's a main component in antifreeze[2]. This molecule as shown above is just simply ethylene oxide (2 CH2 groups and an oxygen atom) that has been hydrated, which is the most common way to make this chemical since it is the most efficient [3]. Now, for ethylene glycol to be used as an antifreeze it must be paired with water [2]. When paired it lowers the freezing point of water, which gives it the antifreezing property [2]. Ethylene glycol while most commonly found as coolant for engines, can also be found in such products as latex paint, photographic developing fluid and even cosmetics (generally as a fragrance agent)[2].

Overall, this little chemical is plays a small but integral part of our day to day life. Be it a bus, plane,boat, car, this molecule keeps our engines in check and helps get us safely from point A to point B. Now you know a little bit more about it! Yay for learning!

[1] Royal Society of Chemistry (n.d.). Ethylene Glycol. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from
[2] Schlager, N. , Weisblatt, J. & Newton D. (2006). Ethylene Glycol. Chemical Compounds (pg. 313-316).Detroit, U.S.: Gale.
[3] The University of York. Ethane-1,2,-diol (Ethylene Glycol). Retrieved March 5,2015, from
[4] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(n.d.). Antifreeze. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from
[5] U.S. National Library of Medicine (n.d.). Ethylene Glycol. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from

[6] U.S. National Library of Medicine (n.d.). Ethylene Glycol. Retrieved March 5,2015, from

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Glycerin - Bad for your skin?

Glycerin is a sugar alcohol that many of us have encountered in our everyday uses.2 For instance, it is found in moisturizers, pharmaceutical drugs, sweeteners and solvents.2 It is useful in moisturizers as it hydrates your skin layers, making your skin smoother.4 This is also beneficial for healing surgical wounds as glycerin will decrease the dryness, tightness, stinging and cracking of skin.4 In addition, glycerin also smoothness to liquor, soft drinks and toothpaste.3,5 When glycerin is orally ingested, it is sugary so it is often used to sweeten foods.
Since glycerin is found in food, it is not considered very toxic.5 During its production, glycerin is released into the environment but is degraded by living organisms and bacteria.5 Glycerin is also easily digested and metabolized by the human body to make glucose and glycogen which makes it a chemical of low concern.5 It also does not greatly irritate skin which is useful in moisturizers.5 
However, there is one concern about the way that glycerin moisturizes skin. Glycerin is hydrophilic so it will attract water to the top layer of skin.5 However, under low humidity conditions, it is believed that glycerin cannot grab enough water from the atmosphere.1 This forces glycerin to grab water from the lower layer which is even worse for your skin as this starts to dry out your lower skin layers.1 Luckily, glycerin is often combined with occlusive ingredients in moisturizers.1 Occlusive ingredients prevent water evaporation which prevents your skin from becoming dry.1 
Overall, glycerin is considered a useful, non-toxic, multi-purpose chemical. Some other options to glycerin in moisturizers are honeyquat, sodium lactate and sodium PCA.1 However, it has been shown that glycerin works more effectively than these alternatives so it is still the preferred choice.1

1) Barclay-Nichols, S. (2013). Question: Does glycerin draw water from your skin when the humidity is low? Retrieved March 2, 2015, from
2) ChemIDplus: A Toxnet Database. (2015). Glycerin. Retrieved March 2, 2015, from
3) Morrison, L. R. (2000). Glycerol. In 
Kirk-Othmer encyclopedia of chemical technology.
4) Silva, M. D. S., & Ferreira, P. C. (2012). Chemical Engineering Methods and Technology : Glycerol : Production, Structure, and Applications. Retrieved from
5) USDA AMS Agricultural Analytics Division for the USDA National Organic Program. (2013). Technical evaluation report. Retrieved from

Caffeine -- Appetizing or Addicting?

Figure 1. Coffee while studying (4).

When you hear the word caffeine, what do you think of? Most people think of coffee, but caffeine can be found in everything from coffee to tea, to chocolate and pills, and even in leggings! The most common source of caffeine is from coffee beans, however it can also come from tea leaves, cocoa, or kola nuts (2). The main use of caffeine is to keep you awake from those long nights of studying (3). There are also many other uses for caffeine such as increasing alertness, helping babies that have trouble with breathing, or just as comfort food.

When you eat or drink something that contains caffeine, it gets absorbed by your body and carried to your brain by your blood (1). The caffeine will then bind to targets in your brain called "adenosine receptors" (1). These adenosine receptors normally stop the release chemicals to your body that will help with keeping your body alert and awake (1). When caffeine attaches to these receptors, it blocks their ability to stop these chemicals from being released which in turn allows more of these "energy" chemicals to be released (6). Warning! The more caffeine you drink/eat, the more will be required to get the same effect over time (3). This is because as more receptors are blocked, the body creates more receptors to try and compensate (6). Caffeine remains in the body of an adult for a couple hours (3-7 hours) followed by an energy crash (1).

In high enough amounts, caffeine can be lethal so over-consumption should be avoided (3). Caffeine is such a common substance that it is difficult finding alternatives. If an energy boost is needed, there are some other foods that you could try eating or drinking. For example fruits and fruit juices will give a temporary energy boost similar to caffeine (5). Decaf coffee is also useful in helping lowering caffeine consumption because of the lower caffeine amount in the coffee (5).

So although foods and drinks with caffeine can be delicious, it should be used in moderation. Try some of the healthier alternatives when possible.


(1) Caffeine. (2013). Drug Bank. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from

(2) Caffeine. (2015). Wikipedia. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from

(3) Ford-Martin, P. (2013). Caffeine. The Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health (3rd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 591-593). Detroit, MI: Gale Group.

(4) Meunier, B. (Photograph). (2009, July 29). Common bien partir la journee![Online image]. Retrieved from

(5) Russell, B. G. (2013). Offering customers a caffeine alternative. Specialty Coffee Retailer, 20(7), 14-17.

(6) Schlager, E., Weisblatt, J., Newton, D. (2006). Caffeine. Chemical compounds (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 137-141). Detroit, UXL: Gale Group.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


Think going to the hospital is safe for you? Think again. Some of the medical equipment may not be safe for use! Here’s why…

DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is a colorless, oily liquid that is soluble in the bodies proteins. It is artificially produced through a chemical process in the presence of an acid catalyst (4).  Usually it is used as a softening agent in plastics and is found in children’s toys, plastic bags, telephone cords and medical tubing as well as medical devices. Sometimes it can even be added into certain cosmetics like shampoo, hairspray and nail polish. (2)

So how is this dangerous for you when you are seeing your doctor? It could be carcinogenic to humans however this has not been proven yet. It is controversial because DEHP has been shown to leach out of plastics. Despite this, it does make medical devices easier to use, it causes less damage and is more comfortable for the patient. (5)

Is this really going to affect you? Maybe. However, only children under the age of three lack the elimination methods to get rid of DEHP from their bodies. (3)

What’s the solution? There are alternatives to using DEHP as a softening agent. The toxic dosages of the alternatives have  a much higher toxic dose than DEHP so more of the chemical is needed to actually do any harm. (1)

So next time you go to the doctor and are hooked up to a IV, dialysis machine, or any other medical device, remember that while you may be getting treatment for something else plasticizer may be leaching into your blood stream at the same time.


Dan Bolton. (2013). Suppliers going DEHP-free, its easier than you think... Retrieved 03/02, 2015, from (1)

Mangipudy, R. S., & Mehendale, H. M. (2005). DEHP (di-ethyl hexyl phthalate). In P. Wexler (Ed.), Encyclopedia of toxicology (second edition) (pp. 733-734). New York: Elsevier. doi: (2)

Strauss, A. A. (2004). Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP). The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics : JPPT : The Official Journal of PPAG, 9(2), 89. (3)

Toxicological profile for di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) (1993). . United States: (4)

Wilkinson, E. (2014, Warning over plastics used in treating premature babies. BBC News, pp. 1.(5)

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Oxybenzone is a chemical also known as benzophenone-3 [1]. It is found in many sunscreens, hair products and in lesser quantities in nail polish [2].  It is used in sunscreen mainly because it very effective when it comes to blocking ultraviolet rays from penetrating our skin [3].  Although it is useful when it comes to blocking ultraviolet rays from damaging our skin, which can eventually lead to skin cancer, it has its side effects. Studies have shown that oxybenzone doesn’t remain on the surface of the skin. It is able to enter our bloodstream and gets excreted in the urine [1].  Studies in rats have shown that “oxybenzone and its metabolites [concentrated] in the liver, kidney, spleen and testes and to a lesser extent in the intestine, stomach, muscle, heart and adrenal glands” [3]. Researches have also found oxybenzone in water stream. This resulted to further research to see how it affects animals that lives in water and plants. They found that oxybenzone to be responsible for dying off of coral reefs [3]. Some think oxybenzone is ineffective and harmful [4] and if that’s the case then why is it still used? If we want to protect our skin from sun damage and ourselves from skin cancer, we need to look for alternatives. The alternative might be to avoid using sunscreens with oxybenzone and turn into a mineral base [5] or organic sunscreens. If that is option is not available, try finding sunscreens with a minimal concentration of oxybenzone.
 [1] Drugbank. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27,2015, from /drugs/DB01428
 [2] O'Neil, M.J. (ed.). The Merck Index - An Encyclopedia of Chemicals, Drugs, and Biologicals. 13th Edition, Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck and Co., Inc., 2001., p. 1245
 [3] Burnett, M. E., & Wang, S. Q. (2011). Current sunscreen controversies: a critical review. Photodermatology, photoimmunology & photomedicine27(2), 58-67. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0781.2011.00557.x
 [4] Environmental working group. (n.d.). Retrieved March 1, 2015, from
  [5] Loux, R. (2012). Retrieved on February 26, 2015, from http://www

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Toluene - is it worth the risk?

Toluene is widely used in a number of industries. Its primary use is as a component of gasoline; however, it is also used as a solvent and for the creation of other chemicals2. Additionally, toluene has been used in explosives2 and in the production of methamphetamine3. Toluene is considered relatively safe for commercial use as its lethal dose is fairly high4. However, if it is so safe, why are most countries in the world trying to phase it out?
Toluene is commonly used in very small concentrations, which is leading people to believe its use is safe. However, because it is used in a number of products all over the world, the risk of toxic effects is increased. This is known as a compound effect. The compound effect of toluene’s constant release into the environment is negatively impacting global health2,5. Though toluene may not cause cancer, at sufficiently high concentrations it does cause damage to the nervous system, birth abnormalities, and death4. Additionally, because toluene dissolves well in fats2, like those in cell membranes, it can enter living organisms fairly easily. This is not only an issue for humans, but for all plant and animal life as well2. In addition to its negative health effects, when toluene is released into the atmosphere it produces dangerous chemicals. These chemicals contribute to smog production and act as green house gases5. Therefore, toluene is promoting the green house effect5, ultimately increasing global warming. Overall, Toluene is harmful to the organisms it directly touches and to the health of our global ecosystem. However, because toluene exposure in small concentrations has little to no observable effects on the body, it is still being used. Unfortunately, because it is so widely used, its compound effect may be taking a substantial toll on human and environmental health. So I ask you, is toluene worth the risk?

  1. Mills, B. (Creator) (2006) Toluene-potential. (Web). Retrieved from
  2. Fabri, J., Graeser, U., & Simo, T.A. (2011). Toluene. Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from
  3. Red phosphorous/iodine methamphetamine synthesis. (2004). Retrieved February 20, 2015, from
  4. The KAVLI Nanoscience Institute. (2005). Material safety data sheet: Toluene. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from
  5. Stoye, D. (2000). Solvents. Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from

Have you lately been thinking that there is no way to make your cat love you? Clearly you haven’t tried nepetalactone, which is the active component in catnip [1]. If your cat is one of the 60-70% of cats who respond to catnip, its use can make them love you for 10-15 minutes [1]. Cats will roll, chew or sniff catnip to inhale the nepetalactone, which binds to receptors in their noses [2]. You will notice your cat becoming more playful, vocal and active [2]. They may salivate and rub up against you, as the catnip has aroused them [2]. If you are into exotic cat breeds such as tigers and lions, catnip has been found to have the same effect on large cats as it does on small cat breeds [3].
Since the plant is so hardy, you can have an endless supply for your cat, because you can grow it in your own backyard [4]. Just be sure to gather the leaves when the plant is in full bloom and allow it to dry [4]. Once gathered, be sure to store the plant in a cool, dry room to keep it fresh [4].
If some catnip has accidently spilled into your tea or latte, do not fret. Catnip is not toxic to both cats and humans [2]. In fact, in humans is has very mild calming effects [2]. It may even help repel insects from you [5]!
            If catnip is too mainstream for you other more potent options are available. Tatarian honeysuckle and Japanese catnip both have a chemical similar to nepetalactone, but have a stronger effect in cats [1].
            Now if you’re worried about having to check your cat into rehab because he’s become addicted to catnip, do not worry. Catnip is not an addictive substance [5]. The nepetalactone doesn’t actually get into the cat’s bloodstream to affect its brain, so it acts through different pathways then typical drugs [5]. Also, cats do not get ‘high’ they get aroused [2].
            Stand up to not receiving the love you deserve from your cat and try catnip. With no side effects and only the possibility of love awaiting you it seems like a simple decision.

[1] Simms, J. (2013, September 26). Alternatives to catnip. In PetMeds. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from
[2] Turner, R. (2007). How does catnip work its magic on cats?. In Scientific American. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from
[3] Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (Ed.). (2011). The Handy Science Answer Book (p. 440). Detroit: Visible Ink Press.
[4] Kowalchik, C., Hylton, W. H., & Carr, A. (Eds.) (1998). Catnip. In Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs (pp. 71-74). Emmaus, PA: Rodale
[5] What is catnip (n.d.). In Professor's House. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from