This article presents the results of a research project I carried out, which explored the potential use of essential oils as a viable method of complementary support in managing the symptoms and co-morbidities of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Six semi-structured interviews were conducted with parents of adolescent sons, aged between 11-14 years, who had been Statemented (section 168 of the Education Act 1993 and the Education (Special Education Needs) Regulation 1994) as presenting emotional and behavioural difficulties, in particular ADHD. A review of relevant literature, research findings and the experiences of professional aromatherapists and essential experts were also sought. Synthesizing the resulting information gleaned, I aim to provide the unfamiliar reader with an insightful background in relation to the aetiology and consequence of ADHD, followed by discussion relating the use of essential oils in this context.
The remaining information is presented under the following sub-headings:
• What is ADHD?
• The Experience of ADHD
• ADHD and Essential Oils
What is ADHD?
The term ADHD was coined by the American Psychiatric Association (1994) (DSMV-1V), and is the label most commonly referred to. Hyperkinetic Disorder is the term, with similar implications, applied by British and other European Psychiatrists (ICD-10) (Munden & Arcelus 1999). ADHD is usually present with other similar learning disorders, especially those that fall under the dyslexic ‘umbrella’ and other behavioural disorders such as Opposition Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Autism and Bi-Polar Disorder (Dobson 2015; Mayes 2012; Cooper & Bilton 1999). Some traits may overlap with others, which can complicate diagnosis.
ADHD is reported to affect between 4 and 20% of school age children, with boys outnumbering girls 3:1, or according to some studies, 10:1 (Munden & Arcelus 1999). Official figures vary, which may serve to accentuate the complexities underpinning the disorder, variations in parameters of measurement and diversity of professional opinion.
A variety of labels have been applied to this ‘disorder’ or ‘condition’ since George Still wrote on the subject in the Lancet during 1902. For example, labels have included terms like ‘minimal brain dysfunction’, ‘brain-injured child syndrome’, ‘hyperkinetic reaction of childhood’, and ‘hyperactive child syndrome’ (Barkley 2006; 1998).
Several postulations relating to its cause have been forwarded and biomedical researchers, assuming that ADHD is an abnormality or dysfunction, continue their exploration for possible causes in a bid to find a ‘cure’. Meanwhile, there remains much speculation and debate in the absence of conclusive evidence (Nutt et al., 2006).
A link between damage, or injury, to the frontal lobe of the brain, as well as damage caused by toxin exposure, and ADHD-like behaviour or symptoms, has been postulated, for example. Other factors, such as maternal tobacco and alcohol use and premature birth have been implicated. Research suggests that collectively, these factors may be implicated in approximately 20% of reported incidences of ADHD (see for instance Barkley 1998). In spite of this, neural-imaging studies provide evidence that brain damage, which would produce ADHD-like symptoms, is not present in the actual disorder of ADHD. These studies, though, apparently indicate that some individuals with ADHD may exhibit ‘abnormalities’ in the development of specific brain regions, particularly the striatal region, the area of the brain which controls behaviour and movement (Paule et al 2000). Other researchers claim to have found subtle structural ‘abnormalities’, suggesting that the brains of ADHD subjects were more symmetrical compared to those of a matched control group (Castellano 1996). So far, however, this research has not proved conclusively that there is a general direct correlation between such brain abnormalities and ADHD.
The strongest evidence produced so far appears in genetic research, which provides evidence of a potential link between ADHD and ‘unusual’ brain development, evidenced in twin studies (Faraone & Biederman 1998). This research has identified certain gene differences and a strong inheritable tendency in ADHD subjects, particularly affecting the dopamine D4 receptor, dopamine D2 and the dopamine transporter gene (Mugalia et al 2000). Noradrenalin (norepinephrine) and dopamine control attention and hyperactivity; low levels may be experienced as restless boredom. Serotonin is implicated in depression, aggression, disturbed sleep patterns, impulsivity and anxiety. Low levels may induce suicidal or violent thoughts (Gallahar 2001). Supporting this, Fisher and Beckley (1999) suggest:
The neurotransmitters that operate in the frontal area of the brain are predominantly dopamine and norepinephrine. It is the biochemical system that is affected; this [ADHD] is not a disorder involving any damage to the brain. Rather the brain is intact, just not able to work to its potential.
Research also suggests that this deficiency state or biochemical imbalance within the dopaminergic system, especially a deficit of dopamine transporter, may also result in high levels of novelty seeking:
Novelty seeking is a personality dimension defined as a compulsive need for varied, novel and complex sensations with the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experience. (Gerra et al 2000)
Observing behavioural traits, cognitive researcher assume that there are four executive functions ‘down’ or impaired in ADHD (Cooper & Bilton 1999).
- Impairment of working memory – this makes it difficult for individuals to retain and manipulate information for purposes of appraisal and planning.
- The function of internalized speech – here the consequences and implications of impulses are weighed up and discussed internally in most people, which allows for self-control and discipline. However, this process appears to be inhibited or lacking in ADHD individuals.
- Motivational appraisal – this facet of internal deliberation enables decisions to be made by providing information about emotional associations generated by an impulse and the extent to which the impulse is likely to produce desirable outcomes.
- Reconstitution or behavioural synthesis – this function enables the planning of new and appropriate behaviours.
Healey and Rucklidge (2015) suggest, however, that processing speed and reaction times may be the driving factors behind behaviours observed in ADHD, and not necessarily poor executive function (working memory, planning and problem solving). Others hypothesise that, while neural-imaging shows activity in unexpected areas of the brain and less in expected areas, such as the prefrontal cortex and straitum, this may not necessarily be entirely due to deficit or abnormal function (Seidman et al 2015; Gallahar 2001). They suggest that individuals with ADHD naturally ‘think’ differently, using parts of the brain useful to eliciting spontaneous responses in the way that helped our ancestors remain alert to their environment and survive the threat of physical danger and intrinsically assist in their search for food. The frontal region of the brain is the most recent part to develop (relatively speaking) and accommodates the type of abstract thought processes engaged by modern industrial/intellectual human beings. According to Gallahar (2001), the areas of the brain that individuals with ADHD engage correspond with sensual, intuitive feelings and responses. This is not to suggest that individuals with ADHD are less intelligent, however. In fact, many individuals with ADHD have been found to score within the average to above average IQ scales when tested (Maja 2011; Gallahar 2001).
Parallel with this line of thinking, a correlation between ADHD and creativity and sensitivity is also postulated (Healey and Rucklidge 2015; Crammond 1995). This hypothosis purports that those who exhibit mixed brain dominance, or anomalies, may also display remarkable creative talents, suggesting that those with ADHD may have a greater abundance of spontaneous, creative thought and, consequently, more internal distraction from fleeting sensory input. Equally, they may have less command over their thought processes or distractions from ‘outside’ noises or images, which may impinge upon their attention.
Diet has also been implicated as a cause for hyperactivity and ADHD-like symptoms (Feingold 2001; Murray & Pizzorno 1999). Feingold (2001) for example, found that hyperactivity was reduced in some 55% of cases when certain foods containing artificial colours, flavouring, preservative and natural salicylates were excluded from the diet; see table 1 for example (Renton, 2009). This exclusion was supported with inclusion/intake of specific vitamins and minerals. For example, vitamins B (all), C, D, E, and magnesium, iron, essential fatty acids, potassium and zinc; either balanced or increased (Feingold 2001; Sharon 1998). Such measures have been shown to significantly reduce hyperactivity where ADHD-like symptoms were present, and improve concentration. However, this type of exclusion regime has not shown to ‘cure’ the underlying symptoms of those with ‘true’ ADHD (Baggs and Kracitz, 2001; Feingold 2001). Werbach (1995) suggests that aggressive behaviours, which include traits such as impulsivity, irritability, restlessness as well as violence, are instigated or exacerbated by insufficient availability (due to dietary lack or poor uptake by the digestive system), and in some cases excessive consumption, of certain minerals, vitamins and macro nutrients, such as proteins (amino acids). For example, niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamine, vitamins B6 and C, manganese, tryptophan (amino acid), also magnesium and iron, and heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and aluminium.
Colours (generally reds and yellows) mainly derived from coal tar and also known as the ‘dirty six’ which are found in sweets, jellies, ice lollies, fizzy drinks and icing on cakes:
- Sunset yellow
- Ponceau 4R
- Quinoline yellow
- Allura red
- E122 (also found in Calpol)
- E129 (Commonly used benzoate preservatives)
- E210 to E219
The parents I interviewed confirmed that an exclusion diet quelled their son’s hyperactivity to a certain degree only. These results, though, indicate that sensitivities and allergies to foods and non-food substances and an unbalanced diet might present contributory factors and/or a co-related feature of ADHD, which may aggravate or exasperate the underlying symptoms.
But what does all this mean for the individual with ADHD?
The Experience of ADHD
The individual with ADHD appears to be spontaneous and reactive to their environment and to sensory stimuli. They appear to be constantly physically active and restless, unable to remain seated or in one position for any length of time, often fidgeting or ‘playing’ with objects when forced to sit still – tapping feet or fingers, playing with pens, doodling when listening. Some individuals with ADHD argue that this behaviour actually helps them to concentrate because it channels their restless energy while they focus attention (Hallowell 1992). Unfortunately, this fidgety behaviour may be irritating to others and may be a source of disturbance, or may even be interpreted simply as inattention. Individuals with ADHD act as they think, often interrupting others, butting into conversations or blurting out answers or statements. This behaviour is also explained as a response to short-term memory inadequacy, where information or questions are quickly forgotten if they are not responded to immediately (Cooper & Bilton 1999) or, as mentioned above, poor processing speeds and reaction times (Healey and Rucklidge 2015). Unfortunately, these behavioural traits may be regarded as rude and/or anti-social.
The individual with ADHD often shifts from one task or object to the next before one is completed. This gives the outward impression that they are chaotic, disorganised and messy, but often, left to their own devices, some manage to multi-task well and will complete tasks or assignments in their own time and order (Hallowell 1992). Others find that staying ‘on task’ or completing projects is overruled by their inner lack of sustainable attention or in some cases, boredom. Some individuals with ADHD engage in daring or risky activities because they have not deliberated about the consequences, they ‘just do it. Individuals with ADHD do not seem to have a sense of time, which further impinges on their apparent inability to be organised, often forgetting deadlines and important dates and arriving late for appointments. This inability to fit in with an ordered, ‘clockwork’ environment causes obvious problems. Unfortunately, to the observer these behavioural traits appear undisciplined and chaotic, and are not always conducive to discipline in circumstances where control and uniformity are necessary; one instance being in school, for example.
For those who do not relate to the traits of ADHD, or understand that such traits are often not deliberate, these behaviours can become annoying and frustrating. These traits may also be interpreted as defiance or as oppositional, particularly as ADHD individuals have difficulty sticking to the usual ‘rules’, driven by their spontaneity and apparent inability to think things through before acting. Consequently, individuals with ADHD may feel misunderstood and alienated, having difficulty maintaining friendships, and upsetting people with outspoken, thoughtless comments (Cooper & Bilton 1999). A sense of isolation, of not fitting in, of being different, leads to obvious psychological challenges. Depending on the maturity or character or familial stability of the individual with ADHD, this will have an impact on their self-esteem and confidence, and may lead to feelings of depression and anxiety (Cooper & Bilton 1999). Individuals with ADHD appear easily frustrated and are often argumentative and/or volatile, especially when they are denied immediate access to something they want, which, unfortunately, tends to alienate them even further from those around them.
To summarise thus far, the individual with ADHD may have a poor sense of time, with short-term memory deficiency that renders them forgetful, and an inability to ‘stop and think’ which makes them appear reckless. They may be sensitive, even over-sensitive, to their environment. They may be potentially unable to control or switch off from the stimulation of sensory input; images, colours, sounds and movement. They may be easily distracted (or over-focused) by their internal thought process, yet conversely they may act and speak spontaneously without the internal deliberation that enables a person to stop or withdraw. A ‘multi-coloured bouquet’ with blooms of creativity, ideas, fast thinking, fast talking, energetic enthusiasm – interspersed with sprays of depression, anxiety, frustration, even anger – held together with the delicate thread of their individual uniqueness.
Conventional management of ADHD
ADHD is a vivid, obvious and challenging condition for the affected individual and for those in their orbit. This ‘disorder’ appears to present enormous social difficulty in a society apparently driven (almost obsessively) by a need for control and order; so much so that medication such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) or dextramphetamine (Dexedrine) is increasingly the treatment of choice (Perry & Kuperman 2000). There is concern that medication is becoming oversubscribed and inappropriately used by some physicians (Miller 1999). Others suggest that pharmacological interventions, with or without psychosocial interventions, is a superior course of treatment to psychosocial interventions or standard community care alone (Paule et al 2000). Medication is apparently aimed at reducing hyperactivity and increasing concentration; however, the side effects experienced by some of the recipients, such as bedwetting, loss of weight, slowed growth and sleep disturbances, can be unpleasant (Zimmerman 1998).
Among those parents I surveyed whose sons took mythylphenidate (Ritalin) 75% expressed concern about the long-term consequences and side effect of taking medication. One parent said that she recognized that her son’s medication was not a ‘cure’, and questioned the ethics of her own dependency on being able to administer his medication when she could no longer cope with his hyperactivity. Another parent said that her son seemed to benefit from taking medication because it improved his concentration. There appears, however, some concern that medication could become a convenient ‘chemical cosh’ (Stohschein, 2007; Charach et al., 2006; Sawyer et al., 2002; Safer, 2000; Miller, 1999; Wilson 1999).
ADHD and Essential Oils
Are essential oils effective for ADHD?
I have found very little existing information or research evidence in relation to the use of essential oils and ADHD, in spite of the link between apparent symptoms (discussed previously) of the condition and the influence of essential oils on cerebral activity, especially within the limbic region (for example, the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, amygdale and hippocampus, which influence mood, emotion, behaviour, memory and hormonal activity (table 2) (Sorensen 2001, 2000; Robin 2000; Damian & Damian 1995; Herz 1999; Degel 1999).
Table 2. Essential oils that may potentially have a pronounced influence on certain limbic system structures (Essential Oil Gems)
- Salvia sclarea Clary Sage
- Jasminum officinale Jasmine
- Pogostemon cablin Patchouli
- Rosa damascena Rose Otto
- Cananga odorata Ylang Ylang
- Citrus bergamia Bergamot
- Boswellia carterii Frankincense
- Pelargonium asperum Geranium
- Aniba rosaeodora Rosewood
- Salvia sclarea Clary Sage
- Citrus paradisii Grapefruit
- Jasminum officinale Jasmine
- Rosa damascena Rose Ott
Amygdala & Hippocampus
- Piper nigrum Black Pepper
- Pelargonium asperum Geranium
- Citrus limon Lemon
- Melissa officinalis Melissa
- Mentha x piperita Peppermint
- Rosmarinus officinalis Rosemary
- Thymus vulgaris Thyme
In the absence of greater researched evidence in relation to essential oils and ADHD, these references remain anecdotal, the therapeutic properties merely suggestive according to the chemical composition of the essential oil, i.e. Franchomme/Pénoël ‘functional group theory’, and application of essential oils in other psycho-emotional contexts, such as depression and anxiety (Buckle 2003; Sorensen 2001; Grace 1999; Tisserand 1997; Damian & Damian 1995; Schnaubelt 1995; Franchomme & Pénoël 1990).
Synthesising available literature and research evidence with the survey results reported here, however, suggests that essential oils could be employed to support the symptoms (rather than the cause) of ADHD, especially the co-morbidities of anxiety, depression, low self esteem and to a certain extent, hyperactivity.
Essential oils may have a direct chemical influence on cephalic function, especially within the frontal lobe and limbic area of the brain (table 2), stimulating or balancing hormonal/dopaminerigic activity, positively influencing memory, mental alertness, clarity and attention, co-ordination, response time, mood, emotion and behaviour (Sorensen 2001; Degel et al 1999; Herz & Cupchick 1995; Imberger et al 1993; Knasko 1992; Buchbauer et al 1992; Jager et al 1991). For example, Miyazaki et al (1991) found ‘the inhalation of orange oil increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system’ and Miyake et al (1991) found ‘the odour of bitter orange affected the cortex and inhibited the excitement of the central nervous system’ inducing sedative affects. Imberger and colleagues (1993) found in a vigilance task that jasmine produced excitatory effects and lavender sedative effects on subjects.
Sorensen (2001) investigated the hormonal activity of Vitex agnus castus (Chaste tree), finding that identified (and unidentified) diterpenes with pharmacological dopaminergic activity act as dopaminergic agonists, especially affecting the D2 receptors. As already discussed, genetic research has established a link between ADHD and inheritable dopaminergic deficiencies, particularly dopamine D2 and D4 and dopamine receptors. Sorensen (2001) found that ‘hormonal, thereby emotional disorders, are treated very successfully with Vitex agnus castus (both extract and oil)’ especially depression and anxiety, although, she acknowledges this depends on the nature of the underlying disorder.
Synthesizing these findings, though, suggests that Vitex agnus castus essential oil may potentially benefit the symptoms of ADHD, justifying further investigation and research. However, the Sorenson’s vitex research was taken further by Chopin Lucks and colleagues (2003; 2002) concerning menopausal balance. As it appears that vitex does affect hormone balance, (affecting LH decreasing estrogen, promoting progesterone) there might be some risk in using this in prepubertal or pubertal children. Chopin Lucks (2003) did also find severe emotional reactivity in some women using this oil and now recommend it is used only after a thorough medical workup and under supervision. Although promising, this indicates further research is required in terms of the safe use of Vitex agnus castus with adolescents.
Tisserand (personal correspondence 2001) recommends that essential oils of nutmeg, rosemary, peppermint and eucalyptus may also benefit in aiding concentration and clarity due to their cephalic stimulating activity. However, Tisserand also points out, because of potential sensitivity traits amongst individuals with ADHD, that rosemary and peppermint oils be regarded with caution and administered in low dosages.
Significantly, the parent of an autistic child (personal correspondence 2001) reported that massaging essential oils of eucalyptus, geranium, lavender and peppermint into the soles of his son’s feet gave great benefit, stating that treatments ‘helped reduce the hyperactivity and increase his attention span’. There were a combination of separate factors present, though, which may also have contributed to this outcome that cannot be overlooked; for example, massage (touch), reflex zone/point stimulation (reflexology) and the parent/child relationship, as well as the synergistic potential of the essential oils.
The importance of self selection
Fitzgeral et al. (2007) observed from their study of the effect of gender and ethnicity of children’s attitude and preference for essential oils that:
….children do have scent preferences for essential oils and that these preferences may vary both by gender and ethnicity…response to essential oils is a complex process affected by multiple variables including gender, cultural exposure to specific odours, and/or individual experiences that create either pleasant or unpleasant associations.
I have observed in my practice that personal selection (and rejection) of essential oils forms an important aspect of creating a potent blend for therapeutic (and aesthetic) use; what one person finds pleasant another may dislike. The client’s participation in the selection of appropriate oils is, therefore, vital. Our sense of smell, taste and touch has been crucial to our survival since prehistoric time; we seem to intrinsically, instinctively know what is good for us, and what is not (Alexander 2001) Using this innate sense, clients are very good at choosing specific oils from a range presented by the therapist. This aspect, inevitably, complicates quantitative scientific research which might explore a single or a specific blend of essential oils against one condition. Exploration of essential oils in a therapeutic context appears best suited, therefore, to qualitative or semi qualitative research (Bell 1999; Jenkins et al 1998).
Odour cues and conditioning
According to Alexander (2001), there is an intrinsic neural connection between olfaction, cognition and reflexive behaviour and conditioning (Alexander 2001). Herz and colleagues (2000) used odour in connection with pleasant/unpleasant circumstances to examine the effect of odour on memory, finding that memories elicited by odours are:
More emotionally potent than memories evoked by other sensory stimuli and when salient emotion is experienced during odour exposure, the effectiveness of an odour memory cue is enhanced.
The odour cue works equally for positive and negative experiences and memories. Similarly and significantly, Ptiman (2000), in a study involving a group of 11-12 year-old children with ADHD and other behavioural problems, invited them to select three essential oils each. These oils were blended in vegetable oil for self administration during class. The oils were initially used in conjunction with relaxation techniques. One drop was rubbed into the wrist when the student felt the need or the blend was sometimes used at home in a bath. This method appeared to use the odour as a positive memory cue, while at the same time exploiting the cephalic psycho-emotional qualities of the particular essential oils selected (Alexander 2001; Tisserand 2001, 1997; Damian & Damian 1995; Shepperd-Hanger 1995). Pitman found that:
It was very noticeable that both the oils and the relaxation improved concentration. Students definitely stayed calmer, longer, and recovered quickly from upsets. There were fewer disruptions to lessons.
Table 3. Modes of application and effectiveness of essential oils used by the parents surveyed.
- Environmental essential oil burner or diffuser – 75%
- Bath – 50%
- Massage – 50%
- Those who found essential oils effective – 75%
- Those who found essential oils calming – 50%
67% of parents I interviewed said that they used essential oils at home with some success to help calm their son’s behaviour and improve their ability to relax, but they also agreed that the essential oils did not diminish the underlying symptoms. Table 3 outlines the ways by which essential oils were employed and the level of effectiveness. One parent stated that her son actually became more hyperactive when she vaporized ‘…the fruity ones, no matter which one it is can set him off high if I had it on for too long’. Significantly at least half the group surveyed reported incidences of underlying allergies, skin conditions, sleep disturbances or sensitivities to food (see Table 4 & 5).
Table 4. Conditions and sensitivities found in the survey group
- Allergies – 50%
- Asthma – 33%
- Eczema – 67%
- Epilepsy – 50%
- Foods and / food additives caused behavior to worsen – 50%
- Sleep disturbances – 50%
- Family history of ADHD and / or dyslexia – 50%
Table 5. Foods identified within the survey group that aggravated behavioural symptoms
- Anything processed
- Coca cola
- Coloured drinks
- Fish fingers
- Fizzy pop
- Flavoured crisps
- Oranges and orange juice
- Shop bough cakes
- Tinned peas
Feingold (2001) found a relationship between allergies, hyperactivity and chemicals in food (55%). Johnson (2000) found in an unofficial survey involving 65 ADHD adults that between 30% and 70% were hypersensitive, displaying symptoms such as skin conditions like eczema, rashes, or allergies to foods or environmental allergies such as hay fever; claustrophobia in crowds and sensitivity to noise etc. Of further significance, Aron (1999) suggests that hypersensitive people (HSPs) are easily aroused and highly sensitive to their environments:
High levels of stimulation (e.g. a noisy classroom) will distress and exhaust HSPs sooner than others. While some will withdraw, a significant number of boys especially will become hyperactive.
Relating this potential of sensitivity in individuals with ADHD to the use of essential oils indicates there is need for caution when applying treatment. For example, there is a risk that the recipient may develop an allergic reaction to certain essential oils or may become sensitized to others very quickly. Paradoxically, however, essential oils can also be of value for some of the underlying sensitivity conditions, such as eczema, sleep disturbance and emotional vulnerability. I have found in my experience, for example, that a blend of Boswellia carterii (frankincense), Anthemis nobilis (chamomile Roman) or Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) and Citrus bergamia (bergamot) or Citrus reticulate (mandarin), using one drop of the blend on a tissue and inhaling, helped quell panic attacks and feelings of anxiety in an ADHD client.
The key appears to be moderation and responding to observation when working with potential sensitivity; for example, the above mentioned parent used other essential oils, avoiding the ‘fruity ones’, having regarded her sons response to them. I have found that, when using essential oils for psycho-emotional conditions, small amounts are still very effective. Direct inhalation of essential oils requires limited amounts (½ to one drop) to procure a significant response. The essential oils both recommended and used by those surveyed and this author are listed in Table 6.
Table 6. Recommended and used essential oils
Essential oils recommended by therapists:
- Citrus bergamia (bergamot)
- Cedrus Atlantica (cedarwood Atlas)
- Lavendula angustifolia (lavender)
- Vetiveria zizanoids (vetivert)
Essential oils recommended by Robert Tisserand:
- Eucalyptus globulus / radiata (eucalyptus)
- Lavandula angustifolia (lavender)
- Myristica fragrans (nutmeg)
- VItex agnus castus (Chaste tree)
- Mentha piperita (peppermint)
- Rosemarinus officinalis (rosemary)
Essential oils used by parents and therapists:
- Anthemis nobilis (chamomile Roman)
- Boswellia carterii (frankincense)
- Cananga odorata (ylang ylang)
- Cedrus atlantica (cedarwood)
- Citrus bergamia (bergamot)
- Citrus reticulate (mandarin)
- Citrus sinensis (orange, sweet)
- Citrus aurantium v amara (neroli)
- Eucalyptus globulus / radiata (eucalyptus)
- Lavendula angustifolia (lavender)
- Mentha piperita (peppermint)
- Pelargonium graveolens (geranium)
- Rosa demascena (rose)
- Salvia sclaria (clary sage)
Essential oils used by the author:
- Anthemis nobilis (chamomile Roman)
- Boswellia carterii (frankincense)
- Cedrus atlantica (cedarwood)
- Citrus aurantium var. amara (orange bitter)
- Citrus bergamia (bergamot)
- Citrus reticulate (mandarin)
- Cupressus sempervirens (cypress)
- Ferula galbaniflua (galbanum)
- Lavendula angustifolia English (lavender)
- Nardostachys grandiflora (spikenard)
- Pogostemon cablin (patchouli)
- Santalum album (sandalwood)
- Valeriana fauriei (valerian)
- VItex agnus castus (chaste tree)
Essential oils and other modalities
Essential oils may be applied in conjunction with relaxation and mindfulness techniques (Godfrey 2018) or behavioural therapy. They may be employed for their chemical influence on the above processes, or used to reinforce positive memory cues (Godfrey 2018; Pitman 2000; Herz 1999). They may be applied in conjunction with massage techniques, where self esteem may be improved and hyperactivity temporarily quelled. This author has found that encouraging self massage, or peer massage (particularly when working with children and adolescents), of the hands and shoulders, encourages ‘ownership’, self support, personal control and when shared with peers, supports relationships and improves self esteem. Equally, this author finds that self administration to the wrists of an appropriate prescribed blend of essential oils and vegetable oil, using a small ‘roller bottle’, supportive in cases of anxiety, depression or grief; clients are able to use this method when ever they feel the need, therefore, taking personal control. Other methods of self application include:
Add up to 6 – 8 drops of an essential oil blend to full fat milk (to avoid slippery baths – especially poignant when used for children, the elderly, disabled or frail) or vegetable oil, and disperse in a bath before bedtime.
Vapourise up to 6 – 8 drops of compatible essential oils in a candle lit ‘oil burner’ or electrical diffuser (the latter being the safest, especially when used for children) in a room (when doing this in a shared environment permission or approval needs to be sought from other occupants).
Add up to 6 – 8 drops of an essential oil blend to vegetable oil or lotion to apply during self massage; shoulders, arms, legs, face, abdomen.
Apply up to 3 – 4 drops of an essential oil blend to a tissue, or material wrist band, and inhale when required (applying essential oils to a wrist band allows the odour to linger until evaporated during daily life/activities)
* When applying essential oils for use with children, the elderly, frail or those with sensitivities or allergies, half or less of the above amounts will be administered. Essential oils should be prepared and administered by a responsible adult.
Promoting safe use
Essential oils are available to purchase over the counter or through mail order. However, clearly, caution should be applied when using essential oils for personal use. Before they are applied, for example, due to their chemical nature, the user needs to be sure of their quality in terms of authenticity and purity (cheap essential oils are often adulterated or bulked out with inferior, less expensive chemicals or oils) and be aware of the chemical constituents present with in individual essential oils, which may influence their therapeutic value or may interfere with prescribed medication (it is advisable to check with the GP or other appropriate healthcare practitioner where medication is being taken). This is especially poignant where children, the elderly or frail are concerned or where there is potential sensitivity; in such circumstances, essential oils need to be applied in moderation (see above). For consistent use with long term or chronic conditions or for constant use for relaxation, minimal amounts might be applied and the oils used varied, with periods of regular abstinence (2 – 3 weeks of use followed by a week break, for example). In acute conditions, where specific oils are applied for brief periods only, the dose might be temporarily higher, once tested for sensitivity or allergy.
The chemical qualities and therapeutic versatility of essential oils appear ideal when managing the complexity of symptoms presented by ADHD. The evidence presented here suggests that essential oils may inspire significant benefit in terms of exerting a positive psycho-emotional and physiological influence within the recipient, especially in terms of supporting the co-morbidities of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and sensitivity. Essential oils can be used complementarily alongside other supporting strategies such as relaxation and mindfulness techniques, cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling.
By increasing awareness of ADHD, especially amongst other therapists, discussing its consequence and the results of other pertinent research, this article aims to assist those wishing to use essential oils as a complementary method of treatment and/or management. The evidence presented here in relation to the use of essential oils in the treatment of ADHD is anecdotal and suggestive, due to the limited research evidence so far available. Therefore, generalisation of the findings cannot be assumed. In sharing this information and her own experience and observations, however, I hope to inspire others; anecdotal evidence provided by therapists, parents, carers, support staff and teachers could begin to build a significant picture, which may assist others wishing to use essential oils in this capacity and may encourage and serve to justify funding for further investigation and research.
For information about other complementary, supportive, treatments and management tools:
To learn more about essential oils:
- Alexander, M (2001) How theories of motivation apply to Olfactory Aromatherapy: The International Journal of Aromatherapy: 10 (3/4): p 135
- Aron, E. N. (1999) The Highly Sensitive Person – how to survive when the world overwhelms you: Thorson UK
- Baggs, J.; Kracitz, F. (2001) Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD): Virtual Hospital: Iowa Health Book: Psychiatry www.vh.org/patients/IHB/Psycho/Peds/ADD
- Barkely, R. (1995) Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder: sciam.com/19980998issue/098barkely.html
- Bell, J. (1999) Doing Your Research Project: a guide for first time researchers: University Press
- Buchbauer, G.; Jirovetz, L.; Jager, W.; Plank, C.; Dietrich, H. (1992) Fragrance Compounds and Essential Oils with Sedative Effects upon Inhalation: Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences: vol. 82 no. 6 p 660-664
- Castellano, F. (1996) Subtle Brain Circuit Abnormalities Confirmed in ADHD: National Institute of Mental Health: The Archives of General Psychiatry: www.mhsource.com/hy/brainadhd.html
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