ADHD Medication and Treatment Reviews

Essential Oils

Aromatherapy compounds used to treat various symptoms associated with ADHD

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are concentrated liquids containing aroma compounds from plants that are dispersed into the air using diffusers, or mixed with “base oils” to be applied to the skin. Certain essential oils — like lavender, peppermint, and chamomile — are thought to help with stress, inattention, and difficulty sleeping, and are used by some patients as a natural ADHD treatment or relaxation technique.

How do essential oils work?

Essential oils are made by distilling raw plant material using steam heat. The volatile compounds — the parts of the plant that hold aroma — are vaporized using steam, then re-condensed into a highly concentrated liquid.

The scent of essential oils is thought to stimulate the limbic system — a part of the brain involved in memory, behavior, motivation, and emotion. Pure essential oils are quite strong, and need to be diffused or diluted (usually using a mild “base oil” like coconut or almond) to avoid being overwhelming or dangerous. Electric or reed diffusers can disperse the scent of essential oils throughout a small room, while properly diluted essential oils can be applied to the skin in small amounts to maintain the desired effect.

Different essential oils are thought to have different effects:

Lavender oil is thought to produce a calming effect, helping with sleep, panic attacks, and general anxiety.

Chamomile oil is similarly thought to help manage anxiety and stress. However, people with ragweed allergies may also be allergic to chamomile.

Peppermint oil is thought to increase focus and promote wakefulness.

Orange oil is thought to help manage mood disorders and improve mood.

Who are essential oils for?

In some people, essential oils can cause side effects, most often headaches or nausea. Expectant mothers are advised to avoid essential oils, as a heightened sensitivity to smells and tastes can increase the likelihood of nausea. The use of lavender oil has been linked to breast growth in prepubescent boys, and should be discussed with a doctor. Essential oils should almost never be applied directly to the skin in their undiluted form, as they can cause allergic reactions or reach dangerous levels in the body. Never take essential oils by mouth.

How much do essential oils cost?

Essential oils range in cost, depending on their quality and volume. Most high quality essential oils cost anywhere from $10-$60 for 15 ml. Only a few drops are needed at a time, however.

What studies have been done on essential oils?

Studies on essential oils have had mixed results, and some experts caution that the difficulty in making these studies truly double blind may have had a confounding effect on the outcomes. A 2012 meta-analysis of studies on essential oils used to treat several conditions — including anxiety and mood disorders — concluded that, “the evidence is not sufficiently convincing that aromatherapy is an effective therapy for any condition.” However, a 1995 study from the Mie University School of Medicine in Japan found that patients on depressants were able to reduce their dose after being treated with citrus oil, and a 2000 study from the University of Vienna found that orange oil reduced anxiety in female patients.

Where can I learn more about essential oils?

The University of Maryland Medical Center has an overview of aromatherapy and the use of essential oils, available here. A summary of the research conducted on essential oils can be found on the University of Minnesota’s website.