Molecule of the Day

Safrole is a simple organic compound found in sassafras oil:


It has a pleasant odor and used to be used to flavor root beer, but sassafras oil has fallen out of favor in the past few years for a few reasons: first, safrole has been deemed carcinogenic and banned as a flavoring agent by the US FDA. Second, it’s actually a drug precursor – like pseudoephedrine-containing allergy medicines, it’s not illegal to buy sassafras oil (as far as I know, I’ve never tried!), but it’s watched closely by US drug enforcement. The people buying pints at a time probably aren’t making a few gallons of root beer, and safrole-free sassafras oil is available for flavoring purposes anyway, so you might have some ‘splaining to do if you were to pick up a case.


  1. #1 Mike Jenkins
    June 8, 2007

    Hmmm, that molecular structure looks more like MDMA than amphetamine proper.

  2. #2 Abe
    June 9, 2007

    Yes, safrole is used to make Ecstasy, not regular amphetamines.

  3. #3 Vince Noir
    June 10, 2007

    Safrole has such a lovely smell….like an entire candy store worth of sweetness.

    Does anyone else think the structure of safrole looks like a cute little mouse?

  4. #4 Jones
    June 11, 2007

    I think it looks like a frog who has had a leg pulled off.

  5. #5 Katherine Sharpe
    June 12, 2007

    Yes, I too think that the molecule looks like a cute little mouse.

  6. #6 Oskar
    June 12, 2007

    If you like this, check out the nanoputians:

  7. #7 Jeboslav
    June 12, 2007

    Is it realy carcinogenic or is it baned becouse it could be used as a drug? If the second is right I would love to get my hands on some!

  8. #8 Saul Wall
    June 12, 2007

    The 5-6 ring bit has a similar shape to purines. I bet it gets incorporated into DNA as a base (or the associated enzymes) and gets into all sorts of mischief. So I put my money on it being an actual carcinogen. Am I right but for the wrong reason? If not I am going to start making root beer. They take all the fun chemicals out of soft drinks and cold medicines. Childhood just has not been the same since they took the cocaine out of Coke and the heroin out of cough syrup.

  9. #9 Vince Noir
    June 12, 2007

    No, safrole itself isn’t a drug of abuse. (It is antiseptic, and numbs the mouth, but that’s about it). Safrole can be converted into MDA or MDMA (ecstasy), but not without some serious organic chemisty. Which, of course, is illegal and dangerous, and should not be attempted!!

  10. #10 Elinker
    June 13, 2007

    If those Nanoputians weren’t from a famous scientist they would have been ridiculed to death. The daft thing is that, it’s only the written paper presentation in 2D that it looks anything like a stickman.

  11. #11 Dale DeWitt
    December 2, 2007

    Amphetamine is an acronym built from IUPAC nomenclature. A-alpha (first); m=methyl (an extra methyl radical bonded to the first/alpha carbon from the amine nitrogen); ph=phenyl (the 6-carbon aromatic ring); et=ethyl (the two carbon chain bonded to the ring). Amphetamine is used as a generic term to describe phenylethylamines with that extra alpha methy from the amine function. A large share of chemical crossing the blood brain barrier are nitrogen amine types. Safrole is the molecule responsible for the root beer smell. Removing that 90% from Sassafras would defeat its purpose. In the game of chemistry converting safrole to MDMA is routine. Not difficult at All. I’ve done it 10 times.

  12. #12 Cobra
    April 17, 2009

    Sassafras can’t be converted into MDMA without a real lab

  13. #13 george
    October 31, 2009

    1 litres can produce around $200.000 in extacy,tabs,beans Etc. Etc.

  14. #14 Dale Thomas DeWitt
    June 11, 2010

    Another note: Safrole was used extensively for ridding unsavory smells from saponified animal tallow (soap making). I’ve not investigated current commerce but huge amounts are shipped around the world from Asian tree sources. Its North American counterpart Sassafras xxxxx ranges 2-? percent in the root bark though whole trees are consumed to those aims. Its use for mid 1900s beverages was supplanted by caramel and might find current use in legit soapmaking. Aroma Therapy makes legitimate claims for the unaltered steam distillate and clandestine entrepreneurs develop around with organized criminal backing working cat/mouse alongside stuffy DEA operations.

  15. #15 molly drug
    May 13, 2012

    Its a shame that all of the rainforests in Brazil are being ruined just to harvest the safrole the trees produce.

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