Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder marked by a variety of symptoms, the most common being inattention, hyperactivity, forgetfulness, fidgeting, and lack of impulse control. Previously known as attention-deficit disorder (ADD), it tends to afflict children more frequently than adults, with about 6.1 million kids diagnosed in the U.S. as of 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As many as 11% of children suffer the symptoms of ADHD, and often become disruptive, defiant, and have difficulty fitting in and getting along with peers and classmates.
Stimulant and non-stimulant medications are often used to treat ADHD patients, as well as behavioral therapies and treatments. With their recent rise in popularity for aromatherapy and other uses, essential oils are also being considered to help people living with ADHD manage their symptoms on a more holistic level.
Essential oils are concentrated liquids containing the chemical compounds, or essence, of the leaves, roots, stems, and flowers of certain plants. Essential oils are typically obtained by steam distillation or cold press extraction, and because of their potential therapeutic properties, they are commonly used in aromatherapy and alternative medicine applications.
Few studies have been done on the effectiveness of using essential oils for ADHD treatment. Although this means there is no scientific proof that essential oils are an effective treatment for ADHD, many claims that using essential oils for ADHD symptoms can help reduce the severity, especially in children. And there is no harm in trying - used properly, and in consideration of allergies and other medical conditions, essential oils won't hurt you or your child, and most have few, if any, side effects.
Lavender essential oil - Stress and anxiety can make it hard for anyone to focus, let alone someone who has ADHD. Lavender essential oil, distilled from the blossoms of the lavender plant, may have calming, relaxing properties, which can ease stress and anxiety. Lavender essential oil can be toxic and have harmful side effects if not used properly. It should be used sparingly, in very small doses. Ingestion is not recommended, and it should never be used topically without being diluted in a carrier oil.
Vetiver essential oil - Vetiver is a derivative of grass common to the Indian subcontinent. It is said to relieve inflammation in the circulatory and nervous systems, and serves as a sedative, making it ideal for treating anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia, making vetiver oil ideal for use by ADHD patients.
Rosemary essential oil - Rosemary is an herb that belongs to the mint family, and the oil is extracted from the leaves. It is said to aid in digestion, improve cognitive function, reduce the symptoms of depression and mental fatigue, and relieve stress. It is considered a volatile oil and should be used with caution. It should not be used on young children, or by pregnant or nursing women.
Frankincense essential oil - Frankincense is extracted from the resin of frankincense trees, grown primarily in Africa. Proponents claim frankincense essential oil is a stress reliever and promotes deep breathing and relaxation. It is also said to reduce blood pressure.
Ylang ylang essential oil - Ylang ylang essential oil is distilled from the ylang-ylang tree, commonly found in Indonesia and the South Pacific. It is believed to be an antidepressant, reducing anxiety and inducing feelings of euphoria. It may help reduce high blood pressure. In recommended doses, ylang-ylang essential oil is safe, with minor potential side effects such as nausea and headache, when used excessively.
Bergamot essential oil - Bergamot essential oil is taken from the rind of a bergamot citrus fruit. It is commonly mixed with black tea to make Earl Grey tea. It is said to reduce anxiety and stress, as well as high blood pressure and depression. It may stimulate the production of dopamine and serotonin. It can become poisonous if exposed to sunlight, so it should be kept in the dark bottle and stored in a dark place.
Eucalyptus essential oil - Fresh eucalyptus leaves are used to distill eucalyptus essential oil. Its many health benefits have been touted for centuries, including increased blood flow, reducing feelings of exhaustion, and providing stress relief. The stimulating properties of eucalyptus essential oil are said to improve brain function. Consult a doctor before using eucalyptus essential oil, because it can have severe side effects, including allergic reaction, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can be toxic when used in excessive amounts.
Lemon essential oil - Lemon essential oil is extracted from the rind of the lemon fruit. It has calming and detoxifying properties and reduces anxiety, nervousness, and mental fatigue. It is believed to increase focus and concentration. Direct sunlight should be avoided immediately after topical use. Used as directed, the lemon essential oil is harmless.
Cedarwood essential oil - Distilled from the cedar tree, cedarwood essential oil is believed to reduce inflammation, relieve tension, and calm anxiety. It also promotes deep, restorative sleep. In high concentrations, it may be a skin irritant, and it should never be ingested. Pregnant women should avoid cedarwood essential oil.
Mandarin essential oil - Also known as tangerines, mandarins lend their peels to mandarin essential oil. It acts as a sedative and reduces anxiety. Avoid direct sunlight for about 12 hours after topical use. Mandarin essential oil is mostly safe but can cause skin irritation in some people. An allergy spot-test is recommended.
Basil essential oil - When inhaled or ingested, basil may reduce mental fatigue and depression, relieve migraines, and improve concentration and clarity. Basil essential oil should be avoided by pregnant or nursing women.
Myrrh essential oil - Myrrh is derived from the resin of the myrrh plant, native to Egypt. It is believed to stimulate the brain and nervous system, as well as promoting alertness and improving blood circulation. It can be toxic when used in excessive amounts and should be completely avoided by pregnant women.
You may also consider experimenting with mixing essential oils to create blends to combine the properties of multiple essential oils. For example, lavender or ylang-ylang blend ideally with vetiver oil for ADHD.
Safe ways to use essential oils include:
A word of caution: although many are completely safe, certain essential oils are not without their potential dangers. Since by nature, essential oils are highly concentrated, they should be used sparingly and with care. Using essential oils improperly can cause harmful skin irritation or allergic reactions, and in some extreme cases, improper or excessive use of essential oils can have toxic effects. Never use essential oils topically without first diluting the essential oil with a carrier oil. Ingestion of oils can be dangerous. Research the proper, safe way to administer each essential oil and understand the dosage and potential side effects.
Additionally, some experts caution against using certain essential oils, like eucalyptus, peppermint, and rosemary, on children under the age of 10. You should consult a physician before using essential oils, regarding any concerns and possible interaction with medications or other potential hazards. You may also want to talk to your child's doctor before using essential oils if your child suffers from severe asthma, allergies, or skin irritation.
It is also wise to perform an allergy test before using any essential oil topically, by applying a small amount of the diluted oil to a small area of the body, like the back of the hand. Prior to using essential oils it's important to talk with your trusted healthcare provider to be sure there are no contraindications for you or others in your home.
Also, know that essential oils and aromatherapy are not to be considered a cure for ADHD. They can be used in tandem with other treatments as a complement to medication, therapy, and behavior modification, but not in place of such treatments. Essential oils may help improve the quality of life for ADHD patients, but they are not intended to replace professional medical intervention.