Is DMSO Arthritis Treatment a Hoax? Can a Chemical Solvent Really Ease the Pain of Arthritis?

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What is DMSO?

Dimethyl sulfoxide forms during the process of turning trees into paper. This chemical acts as a solvent and antifreeze, but scientists discovered that it did not cause harmful side effects when applied topically to the skin. Dr. Stanley Jacob, a surgeon at the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center, started experimenting with DMSO in the early 1960s. He applied the chemical to people suffering from arthritis, burns and sprains. His initial experimentation led over 100,000 people to use DMSO arthritis treatment and DMSO for bruises, minor burns and sprains by 1965.

The Food and Drug Administration halted DMSO clinical trials when animal studies revealed that DMSO had the potential to cause eye damage. One year after the ban, the FDA eased these research restrictions to allow scientists to experiment with DMSO for treating scleroderma, interstitial cystitis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Current Use of DMSO

As of 2010, the Food and Drug Administration considers DMSO a relatively safe drug, but has only granted approval for its use as a drug for treating difficult cases of cystitis. In double-blind studies, the researchers and investigators do not know who has received the study drug and who has received the placebo. Because DMSO has a very distinctive taste and odor, study investigators and research subjects know which study participants received the drug. This makes it difficult to perform unbiased clinical studies of DMSO in a research setting. Some people travel overseas to receive this drug for the purpose of treating arthritis.

Side Effects

Some side effects of DMSO when used orally or topically include dry skin, drowsiness, dizziness, skin reactions, nausea and vomiting, vision problems, constipation, diarrhea and breathing problems, according to WebMD. The drug also creates an odor or taste similar to garlic after use.


Pregnant women and those who breastfeed should avoid the use of DMSO arthritis treatment. Scientists do not know enough about the drug’s effects on the body. Those with kidney or liver problems should use caution when taking this drug, as it can damage these organs. Those with existing kidney or liver function problems should get kidney or liver function tests every 6 months to detect damage early. Because some research indicates that DMSO changes the way insulin works, those with diabetes should use caution when taking the drug. Insulin dosage adjustments may be needed, so check your blood sugar levels often.

Drug Interactions

When a person takes two drugs together, one drug may affect the other. In other cases, using the two drugs together produce bothersome side effects. This treatment has several possible drug interactions of note. When taking DMSO, consult a doctor taking other medications orally or applying them to the skin. DMSO sometimes increases absorption of other medications, which could increase the side effects and risks of the second medication.



The Arthritis Foundation: Supplement Guide: DSMO