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Azadirachtin — toxicity, side effects, diseases and environmental impacts

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 by

Azadirachtin is a chemical typically used in pesticides that inhibit the growth of insects. Its mode of action involves blocking the production and release of hormones that induce metamorphosis and other physiological changes in insects. Azadirachtin can be used as a feeding deterrent as well.

The name of this substance comes from the neem (Azadiractha indica) plant — the plant which azadirachtin is extracted from. Azadirachtin looks like a yellow-green powder and possesses a strong odor likened to that of sulfur and garlic.

List of known side effects

While Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some health complications have been linked to azadirachtin exposure. For example, azadirachtin can harm the skin, eye, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems.

Skin irritation has been recorded with dermal contact. Lesions, abrasions, and cuts on skin can increase the damage caused by azadirachtin as this substance can enter the bloodstream through these entry points and may “produce systemic injury with harmful effects.”

Direct ocular contact with azadirachtin can lead to conjunctival redness or tearing of the eyes, as well as slight abrasive damage.

Inhaling azadirachtin can be troublesome for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as chronic bronchitis or impaired respiratory function. Moreover, long-term exposure to high dust concentrations of azadirachtin has been associated with changes in lung function, the symptoms of which include breathlessness and lung shadows that appear on x-rays.

When swallowed, azadirachtin can cause nausea, vomiting, and gastrointestinal discomfort, as well as contribute to the deterioration of organs that have already sustained damage by other means. Furthermore, oral administration of neem seed oil (of which azadirachtin is an active ingredient) has been found to cause diarrhea and general discomfort among sensitive individuals, while children who received similar treatment for minor conditions experienced drowsiness, tachypnea with acidotic respiration, polymorphonuclear leukocytosis, and encephalopathy. At least two deaths were reportedly caused by the ingestion of azadirachtin-containing neem seed oil.

Azadirachtin is a combustible solid that can emit carbon monoxide if set alight and left to burn.

The effects of azadirachtin only come about through ingestion, making this substance relatively harmless to bees, spiders, and other non-target insect species. However, azadirachtin is known to be moderately to highly toxic for aquatic organisms. Large concentrations of azadirachtin in waterways have resulted in fishkill.

Body systems affected by azadirachtin

Azadirachtin can harm the skin, eyes, digestive, and respiratory systems, depending on the route of entry and amount of dosage.

According to, azadirachtin has the potential to affect the central nervous system as “stimulation and depression have been observed.”

Items that can contain azadirachtin

Azadirachtin can be found in a variety of pesticides under the names “Align”, “Azatin”, and “Turplex”.

Moreover, azadirachtin is present in neem oil, a vegetable oil widely used in personal care products and cosmetics.

How to avoid azadirachtin

Check the labels of pesticides to see if they contain azadirachtin as an ingredient.

Those who work with azadirachtin will need to take more steps in ensuring their personal protection. First and foremost, always wear the proper gear when handling this material: chemical-protective gloves, safety glasses with side shields, overalls, and respirators when necessary. Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking while working this material, and always wash hands with soap and water afterwards. Azadirachtin containers should be kept tightly sealed when not in use, and should be kept in cool, dry, and well-ventilated areas.

Where to learn more


Azadirachtin is a plant-based chemical commonly used in pesticides. The route of exposure determines the damage that this substance can cause, though it’s especially dangerous when swallowed. Aside from causing gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea, azadirachtin ingestion has been linked to encephalopathy, tachypnea with acidotic respiration, and even the deaths of children. In addition, azadirachtin can irritate the skin and respiratory system, and can damage the eyes with direct contact.

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