Aspirin Research Project

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Should the management of Aspirin be altered as a result of the adverse effects it presents?


Aspirin is a common drug which is utilised for medicinal purposes around the globe. Furthermore, the drug itself is a synthetic organic compound derived from the salicylic compound group (International Aspirin Foundation, 2016). Although, aspirin may possess medicinal benefits it also poses detrimental effects to society and the environment. Hence, an issue regarding its usage is should the management of aspirin be altered as a result of the adverse effects it presents? This issue is relevant on a social level as its usage is common within societies throughout the world. Likewise, the implications of its harmful effect raise immediate concerns for the public as their safety is of importance.

Chemical Background

Aspirin is known as acetylsalicylic acid and possesses a chemical formula of C9H8O4 (International Aspirin Foundation, 2016). Furthermore, it is a synthetic compound from the group of salicylates. Additionally, it is an aromatic compound which consists of an ester and carboxylic acid functional group (International Aspirin Foundation, 2016). Figure 1 reflects the chemical structure of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).

Aspirin is produced through the reaction of salicylic acid and acetic anhydride with the utilisation of an acidic catalyst (Pillai, 2015). However, the salicylic acid necessary for this production is prepared through a variety of different reactions. Initially, phenol (hydroxybenzene) is reacted with sodium hydroxide to produce sodium phenoxide (Pillai, 2015).

+ NaOH → + H2O

C6H5OH + NaOH → C6H5ONa + H2O

Phenol + Sodium Hydroxide → Sodium Phenoxide + water

(Pillai, 2015)

In effect, the sodium phenoxide produced is reacted further with carbon dioxide to produce sodium salicylate (Royal Society of Chemistry, 2003).

+ CO2 →


Sodium Phenoxide + Carbon Dioxide → Sodium salicylate

(Royal Society of Chemistry, 2003)

Thus, the sodium salicylate is treated with an acid to produce salicylic acid and a sodium compound which is dependent on the acid utilised (Brown, 2016). For instance, if hydrochloric acid were to be used to acidify the sodium salicylic, then the sodium compound produced would be sodium chloride.

+ HCl → + NaCl

C6H4OHCOONa + HCl → C7H6O3 + NaCl

Sodium Salicylate + hydrochloric acid → Salicylic acid + Sodium chloride

(Brown, 2016)

In effect, an acetylation is performed using the salicylic acid and acetic anhydride to produce aspirin and acetic acid (Brown, 2016). This process is deemed as an acetylation as an acetyl functional group (CH3CO) is integrated into the chemical compound of salicylic acid to produce acetyl salicylate (aspirin) (Brown, 2016). Furthermore, during this process an acid is utilised to catalyse the reaction (Let Learn Science, 2012). This catalyst is necessary in the reaction as it lowers the necessary activation energy by providing an alternative pathway for reactants hence lowering the rate of reaction (Evans, McCann, & Morton, 2012). Figure 2 reflects an energy profile reflecting the effect of a catalyst within a reaction.

+ → +

C7H6O3 + (CH3CO)2O → C9H8O4 + CH3COOH

Salicylic acid + acetic anhydride → acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) + acetic acid

(Brown, 2016)

Alternatively, aspirin can be produced through the esterification of salicylic acid with acetic acid (Royal Society of Chemistry, 2003). However, this is avoided commercially as this reaction is slow in reaching equilibrium, where the reaction occurs both ways at equal rates (Aus-e-tute, 2013).

(reflux/ H2SO4)

+ + H2O

C7H6O3 + CH3COOH C9H8O4 + H2O

Salicylic acid + acetic acid acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) + Water

(Aus-e-tute, 2013)

Moreover, aspirin in tablet formed often has solid sodium hydrogen carbonate mixed in (Aus-e-tute, 2013). This enables for the carboxylic acid group of the aspirin molecule to convert to a water-soluble carboxylate which becomes ionic when the tablet is reacted with water (Aus-e-tute, 2013). In effect, aspirin becomes sodium acetylsalicylate which is water soluble as it forms ion –dipole bonds with water molecules. (Aus-e-tute, 2013) This conversion of aspirin to a carboxylate salt is conducted as a means to ease its administration and to make it faster acting within bodies (Evans, McCann, & Morton, 2012). Figure 3 reflects the ion – dipole bonds formed between the carboxylate salt of aspirin (sodium acetylsalicylate) and water.
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+ NaHCO3 → + CO2 + H2O

C9H8O4 + NaHCO3 → C9H7NaO4 + CO2 + H2O

+ → + +

(Aus-e-tute, 2013)


Social and Environmental Perspectives

Aspirin is a fundamental drug in society as it reduces pain, fever and inflammation (Flower, 2003). It achieves this through the inhibition of the production of prostaglandins which are lipid autacoids (unsaturated carboxylic acids) that cause pain, inflammation and fevers (Ophardt, 2003). Hence, aspirin inhibits prostaglandin production as it blocks the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX) through its acetyl ...

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