There’s much more to essential oils than soccer moms selling them like Tupperware. Essential oils often get a bad rap, and they’re no miracle cure, but using them can be beneficial for managing symptoms of a variety of conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
OK, so essential oils kinda look like a bunch of potions for a witches brew (we’re not complaining).
Plant based medicine often seems too old-world, even fake, because of the modern drugs we have today. But, going the “natural” route can be helpful, and in fact, about 25 percent of all drugs in clinical use contain ingredients derived from plants.
While there isn’t a ton of concrete research out there to support the effectiveness of essential oils, and the FDA has not approved them as a treatment for ADHD, there are studies and thousands of personal accounts in support for using essential oils to manage symptoms.
So, what exactly are they? Black magic? Love potions? A new snake oil scheme? Well, they’re hardly new, and have been used in natural remedies for thousands of years.
Essential oils, also known as volatile oils, are highly concentrated oils made from distilled plants. This high concentration is thought to amplify the plants’ effects on the body and (potentially) have healing properties.
So, while it might sound like some hippy nonsense, it’s really just basic medical science that’s been around for a long time.
Oils that have calming and/or focus enhancing effects are what you’ll want to have in your ADHD tool kit. Here are our top picks. You can also mix oils to create personal synergies, but make sure to research the safety of any mixture before you start playing potions.*
- Rosemary. Studies have shown rosemary essential oil can help concentration.
- Frankincense. Frankincense is more than a biblical reference. This holy grail of oils is believed to help boost attention and combat anxiety.
- Vetiver. Known as the “oil of tranquility,” vetiver is a calming oil with a deep earthy scent that can also help you get to work. Studies show the oil can help people stay focused.
- Cedarwood. Cedarwood helps promote relaxation and focus.
- Patchouli. Patchouli isn’t just for dirty hippies (and the real EO smells so much better than the artificial fragrance that you’re likely familiar with). It’s another essential oil credited for calming effects.
- Melissa. Also known as lemon balm, Melissa officinalis essential oil has a lemony scent that, like citrus, has an awakening effect that helps with concentration. Some people also find it useful to help relieve headaches.
- Lavender. Lavender is the most known calming essential oil. The scent has been shown to soothe anxiety and calm the nervous system.
- Peppermint. The smell of peppermint can be very stimulating, and some people swear it helps them focus.
- Sandalwood. Sandalwood is credited as a calming oil.
- Chamomile. It’s not just for teatime. Chamomile essential oil also shares the same soothing benefits you love from a cup of tea.
- Ylang Ylang. Ylang ylang, with its beautiful floral scent, is also an oil known for its calming benefits.
- Sweet Orange. The citrus aroma of orange helps boost concentration. Hot tip: Citrus oils make your skin sensitive to the sun and can cause burns, so avoid sunlight after applying topically!
*Friendly reminder: These oils are not for chugging (or consumption in general). Although many essential oil companies suggest you take them orally, the concentration of oils is often too high to safely ingest. In fact, aromatherapist organizations such as the Alliance of International Aromatherapists don’t endorse using essential oils internally.
You know that essentials oils can help, but let’s talk about how and why.
ADHD is a mental disorder that affects the brain, causing a person to behave impulsively and have hyperactive tendencies. People diagnosed with ADHD may be easily distracted and have trouble paying attention, which is frustrating when you’re trying to get your sh*t done.
When paired with behavioral therapy, essential oils can be an additional tool to help lesson ADHD symptoms.
Behavioral therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), helps target behaviors, to understand why they’re happening, and how to potentially change behaviors or action to mitigate the problem in the first place.
Studies have shown behavioral therapy can help people combat things like trouble sleeping, disorganization, and lack of productivity.
In addition to a CBT or Rx treatment plan, essential oils can help remedy the lack of focus, hyperactivity, and anxiety symptoms that often go hand-in-hand with ADHD.
Remember to use essential oils either topically on the skin (though never without diluting first) or aromatically — a fancy way of saying sniffed or inhaled.
Studies show that using oils aromatically is the most successful way to use essential oils for ADHD. Research suggests inhaling/sniffing the oils impacts the endocrine and central nervous symptoms.
Through the mucus in your nasal passages and lungs, small molecules in the oil compounds can cross the blood-brain barrier when inhaled and get a one-way ticket to the brain where they’ll deliver their healing effects.
Essential oils can be used both by inhaling aromatically, or diluted and then applied topically. It’s basically a personal spa at your fingertips. Already feeling relaxed? Here’s how you can use your oils of choice to help your ADHD symptoms.
To use essential oils topically, you must mix the oils with a carrier oil (see below about ratios).
Essential oils are extremely potent — some can even burn the skin — and carrier oils help dilute them for safe topical use. Here are a few we love:
- jojoba oil
- fractionated coconut oil (liquid)
- coconut oil (solid at room temperature; use for lotions or creams)
- rose hip seed oil
- grapeseed oil
You can apply most carrier oil/essential oil blends to your wrists and chest, but be careful with any type of coconut oil. Coconut oil can clog pores, so avoid using this oil if you break out easily.
Now, to make a concoction that would make Professor Snape proud (miss you Alan Rickman), be sure to follow dilution rates.
Dilution rates for topical application of essential oils depends on the type of oil and the age of the person using the oil. Because of the strength of oils, children will use a much more diluted version than adults.
Check out this dilution chart from the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies here to create the perfect concoction.
Roller balls are an easy way to store an essential oil blend that’s great for on the go use. Simply add your oils of choice and fill the rest of the roller bottle with a carrier oil at the suggested dilution rate.
Using a diffuser is simple. Just follow the instructions on your diffuser and your oils of choice to determine how much oil to use. The water carries the oils into the air so you can breathe them in.
Do this a few times per day or when you notice your ADHD symptoms are at their worst. Make sure you diffuse in a well-ventilated area and only for 30-minute intervals.
Also, make sure your furry friends can leave the room if the scent starts bothering them. Too much can be dangerous for you and for Fido.
- More research is needed, but essential oils can be an additional treatment option to combat ADHD symptoms.
- Certain essential oils — like rosemary, frankincense, and vetiver — can help calm hyperactivity or boost focus.
- Essential oils can be inhaled or applied topically when diluted, but should not be ingested.