Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
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In a double-blind study, lavender oil worked as well as the valium-like drug lorazepam (Ativan) for relief of persistent anxiety, though there are concerns about estrogenic effects.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Lavender oil, distilled from lavender flowers, is “most often used in aromatherapy and massage. Despite its popularity…only recently [have] scientifically-based investigations [been undertaken] into its biological activity,” however. There have been “small-scale studies” suggesting benefit from lavender massage; but, maybe it’s the massage, not the lavender.

There was a study on patients in intensive care, comparing massage with odorless oil to lavender oil, and though patients massaged with lavender oil did say they “felt less anxious and more positive,” there were no objective differences found in terms of blood pressure, breathing, or heart rate. Frankly, maybe the lavender was just covering up the nasty hospital smells.

Subsequent studies using more sensitive tests did find physiological changes, though. We know, for example, the smell of lavender changes brain wave patterns. But, what effect does this have? Well, evidently it makes people feel better, perform math better (faster and more accurately), whereas the smell of rosemary, for example, seemed to enable folks only to do math faster—not necessarily with greater accuracy.

What if you actually eat lavender flowers, or, in this case, take capsules of lavender-infused oil, so you could double-blind the study to compare lavender head-to-head to a drug like Valium (lorazepam, known as Ativan), for generalized anxiety disorder.

Generalized and persistent anxiety is a frequent problem, and is treated with benzodiazepines—benzos or downers, like Valium. “Unfortunately, these substances” can not only make you feel like you have a hangover, but “have a high potential for drug abuse” and addiction.

So, they decided to give lavender a try. The drug Ativan certainly reduces anxiety, but, so does lavender. By the end, you couldn’t tell which was which. And, in fact, among those that responded to either, the lavender actually seemed to work better.

“Since lavender oil has no potential for drug abuse and causes no hangover effects [it] appears to be an effective and well-tolerated alternative to benzodiazepine [drugs] for [the] amelioration of generalised anxiety.”

One cautionary note, however; there was a case series published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Prepuberty Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender.” Reports of young boys exposed to lavender-containing lotions, soaps, hair gel, and shampoo starting to develop breasts, which disappeared after these products were discontinued—suggesting that lavender oil may possess hormone-disrupting activity.

And, indeed, when dripped on estrogen receptor-positive human breast cancer cells, lavender does show estrogenic effects, and a decline in male hormone activity, though it’s unknown if similar reactions occur inside the body when lavender flowers or lavender oil is ingested.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Off2riorob via Wikimedia

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Lavender oil, distilled from lavender flowers, is “most often used in aromatherapy and massage. Despite its popularity…only recently [have] scientifically-based investigations [been undertaken] into its biological activity,” however. There have been “small-scale studies” suggesting benefit from lavender massage; but, maybe it’s the massage, not the lavender.

There was a study on patients in intensive care, comparing massage with odorless oil to lavender oil, and though patients massaged with lavender oil did say they “felt less anxious and more positive,” there were no objective differences found in terms of blood pressure, breathing, or heart rate. Frankly, maybe the lavender was just covering up the nasty hospital smells.

Subsequent studies using more sensitive tests did find physiological changes, though. We know, for example, the smell of lavender changes brain wave patterns. But, what effect does this have? Well, evidently it makes people feel better, perform math better (faster and more accurately), whereas the smell of rosemary, for example, seemed to enable folks only to do math faster—not necessarily with greater accuracy.

What if you actually eat lavender flowers, or, in this case, take capsules of lavender-infused oil, so you could double-blind the study to compare lavender head-to-head to a drug like Valium (lorazepam, known as Ativan), for generalized anxiety disorder.

Generalized and persistent anxiety is a frequent problem, and is treated with benzodiazepines—benzos or downers, like Valium. “Unfortunately, these substances” can not only make you feel like you have a hangover, but “have a high potential for drug abuse” and addiction.

So, they decided to give lavender a try. The drug Ativan certainly reduces anxiety, but, so does lavender. By the end, you couldn’t tell which was which. And, in fact, among those that responded to either, the lavender actually seemed to work better.

“Since lavender oil has no potential for drug abuse and causes no hangover effects [it] appears to be an effective and well-tolerated alternative to benzodiazepine [drugs] for [the] amelioration of generalised anxiety.”

One cautionary note, however; there was a case series published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Prepuberty Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender.” Reports of young boys exposed to lavender-containing lotions, soaps, hair gel, and shampoo starting to develop breasts, which disappeared after these products were discontinued—suggesting that lavender oil may possess hormone-disrupting activity.

And, indeed, when dripped on estrogen receptor-positive human breast cancer cells, lavender does show estrogenic effects, and a decline in male hormone activity, though it’s unknown if similar reactions occur inside the body when lavender flowers or lavender oil is ingested.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Off2riorob via Wikimedia

Doctor's Note

The math thing is so cool! How else might one use natural means to improve cognitive performance? Check out Does a Drink Of Water Make Children Smarter? For more mind-body brain hacking tips, see Dietary Brain Wave Alteration.

More on dietary interventions for anxiety in:

In fact, the saffron may be aromatherapeutic too. See my follow-up to the PMS study, Wake Up & Smell the Saffron. And, speaking of brain effects, see Saffron vs. Prozac, Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s, and Saffron vs. Aricept.

For more flower power, see my blog post, Hibiscus tea: flower power. Also check out my videos, on hibiscus tea (Better than Green Tea?) and chamomile tea (Red Tea, Honeybush, & Chamomile and Chamomile Tea May Not Be Safe During Pregnancy). And hey, broccoli florets are just clusters of flower buds. See The Best DetoxBroccoli vs. Breast Cancer Stem Cells, and dozens of my other videos on broccoli.

How else might diet affect with the hormonal balance of young boys? Check out Dairy & Sexual Precocity.

More on lavender in my next video Lavender for Migraine Headaches.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

45 responses to “Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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  1. I still don’t know what to do with this information even though it is erudite.
    Maybe only treat women with GAD with Lavender (Gynecomastia in women is a welcome side effect for men) but the decrease in Testosterone in women may also mean a decrease in libido since testosterone is the hormone associated with increased sex drive.
    What’s a person with GAD to do?
    Well I guess when the GAD is so life altering, the side effects may not outweigh the benefits.

    Thanks for your hard work!




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    1. HemoDynamic: Do you think the data suggests that breathing?/eating?/lotions? lavender by a woman who has too much testosterone would be a safe way to lower her way too high testosterone levels? I had looked at licorice as a way to do this, but Dr. Greger’s warnings on licorice show that licorice is not a safe way to do it. Just wondering if you have any conjecture on this idea based on your experience/gut and this video. I’m not expecting medical advice. And of course, if you are too busy to respond, I would understand that too. :-)




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  2. By the time the video was finished I decided that it would be prudent
    to avoid lavender. Even with the positive GAD attributes, the last section of the video makes it pretty clear, to me at least, that lavender might not be such a good idea! Anyone else out there have this reaction? Was this your intention, Dr. G?




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    1. Agree. Interesting, but the side effects – especially long term – is a concern. This is a very fine example – because the “drug” is from the nature, that does not necessarily mean that it is safe.




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  3. I had the same reaction as Elsie. My daughter takes a med for GAD but she is also in a family with risk for breast cancer. If I understand this video correctly, Lavender oil is a PLUS for GAD but a NEGATIVE for breast cancer. For now, I think I take a pass on this therapy.




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  4. What’s a person with “GAD” to do? Gosh, how about utilizing a behavioral approach? Like good ole short term behavior therapy. What’s with the knee jerk we’ve-got-to-go-with-a-pill approach? For example, there’s a number of studies out there that show therapy to be superior to meds when dealing with depression.




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    1. Good ole’ exercise also seems to work for both depression and GAD:

      Ströhle, Andreas. “Physical activity, exercise, depression and anxiety disorders.” Journal of neural transmission 116.6 (2009): 777-784. http://www.robertwhitaker.org/robertwhitaker.org/Solutions_files/Physical%20activity,%20exercise,%20depression%20and%20anxiety%20disordrs.pdf

      One wonders how much mental disorder arises from simple lack of regular walks, sleep, and friendship.




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    2. Because behavioral therapy is expensive and usually not covered by insurance companies. I would love to go to therapy but the fact is I can’t afford it so I use bandaides instead of getting stitches. It may not be as effective but I have to get through the day somehow. I have been all over with therapies and medicines and NONE of them has worked for more than a few months, eventually the monster rears its ugly head and I’m right back to where I started. Plus it’s really hard to find a therapist that you jive with. I have gone through four and all of them but one, who simply retired, said or did something irredeemable like push religion or raise their fee out of the blue. The truth of the matter is that the most effective methods involve both therapy and medication whether they be herbal or not and if you can just be okay with therapy you probably don’t have full true GAD because GAD DOES affect (or is a result of) your neurological and chemical compositions.




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  5. According to “Herbs Demystified” by medicinal chemist Holly Phaneuf (highly recommended, browse at: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1569244081/qid=1118163253/ ), linalool (~30% of lavender oil, with another ~50% as its ester for extended release) appears to act through competitively blocking the exitatory neurotransmitter glutamate at NMDA receptors, indirectly potentiating the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, and reducing acetylcholine release. Other NMDA antagonists are commonly used as dissociative anesthetics, so its unsurprising lavender oil might be calming – its herbal ketamine.

    There’s a line about all medicines being toxins applied at low doses. While lavender oil appears safe in moderation, that observation may apply here. In addition to the estrogenic effects noted in the video, its anticholinergic effect can be an issue.

    Acikalin, Ayca, et al. “Anticholinergic Syndrome and Supraventricular Tachycardia Caused by Lavender Tea Toxicity.” http://www.kjm.keio.ac.jp/past/61/2/66.pdf

    Long-term use of other NMDA antagonists like ketamine is associated with brain damage, at least in lab animals in kept in a perpetual k-hole. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olney%27s_lesions ). As linalool also has that anticholinergic effect, it might itself neutralize that potential side effect ( http://www.lycaeum.org/drugs/Cyclohexamines/nmda-toxicity.html ).

    There’s nothing magical about herbal medications. Their active components differ from other drugs in being nonpatentable, and accompanied by hundreds of other chemicals of use to the plants. Fortunately herbal preparations with acute toxicity at therapeutic doses have been “off the market” for hundreds of years, but information on long-term effects after their chronic use is sparse, if available at all.

    By the way, linalool and its ester are not unique to lavender – its common to many plants that attract moth pollinators at night. Basil, hops, many thymes and mints, indian bay leaf; over 200 species.




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  6. So, why take the risk when both theanine and kava have excellent safety profiles and work well on generalized anxiety disorder. In 2002 and 2003, there were reports, mostly in Europe, of hepatoxic effects of Kava (liver). However, many of these cases were actually attributed to prescription drugs. In addition, many of the supplement manufacturers in an effort to get more profit included stems and leaves from kava instead of just the root. Stems and leaves contain alkaloids that are hepatoxic not found in the root. When prepared with just the root in the South Pacific, there has not been this effect of hepatoxicity. And kava has been shown clinically to be very effective against GAD vs. drugs. As with all substances, it’s not for every day but rather when you are going into an anxious situation. I like Gaia herbs though they are expensive. They have an excellent QA program and very high quality kava.

    Other herbs with some success (though less than kava) that are anoxylitic include: lemon balm, relora (magnolia bark), passionflower, skullcap




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    1. A reference for the curious regarding the hepatotoxin pipermethystine present in the aerial portion (but not roots) of the kava plant.

      Nerurkar, Pratibha V., et al. “In vitro toxicity of kava alkaloid, pipermethystine, in HepG2 cells compared to kavalactones.” Toxicological Sciences 79.1 (2004): 106-111.
      http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/content/79/1/106.short

      I’ve only taken kava on vacation in Fiji. Its an acquired taste.




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  7. Hi Dr. Greger, good stuff! a question:

    Assuming I want to consume lavender through dried lavender herbs as in tea with hot water, what would be the amount to match the same as the people in the study took? one cup a day?




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      1. To be fair, there is lavender in food items too. For example, I once bought a chocolate bar flavored with lavender. Also, I think there are teas with lavender in them. So, this video is not that far off your normal scope. :-)




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  8. Question – I’m male, just about 30, and have some gynecomastia from what I would call my teens/puberty. I’ve been eating a 99% plant based diet for 2.5 years now and my health has tremendously improved. Unfortunately, I seem to have tissue under each of my nipples. Have you ever come across anything that indicates that a plant-based diet can reverse this? Any specific foods? I worry about the increase in male breast cancer risk from having gynecomastia.




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  9. Hmm. I am now conflicted as to what to do. I occasionally sniff lavender oil for anxiety and I find it helpful but reading about the other side effects like breast cancer is not appealing ;-) How often can one sniff lavender oil and it be safe?




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  10. I’m more of a rosemary person:

    Analysis of performance revealed that lavender produced a significant decrement in performance of working memory, and impaired reaction times for both memory and attention based tasks compared to controls. In contrast, rosemary produced a significant enhancement of performance for overall quality of memory and secondary memory factors, but also produced an impairment of speed of memory compared to controls. With regard to mood, comparisons of the change in ratings from baseline to post-test revealed that following the completion of the cognitive assessment battery, both the control and lavender groups were significantly less alert than the rosemary condition; however, the control group was significantly less content than both rosemary and lavender conditions.

    From:

    Moss, Mark, et al. “Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults.” International Journal of Neuroscience 113.1 (2003): 15-38.




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  11. Hello Dr Gregor.I hope you can give me some insight on this issue…About a month ago,a friend gave me some culinary lavender,dried lavender flowers.Well,I almost immediately became completely addicted.I am eating about a cup{sometimes more} of cleaned,screened,organic lavender flowers every day! Previous to this,for 10 years,I was addicted to fresh Rosemary,eating as much as I could get my hands on,often buying the plant in a greenhouse and stripping it to eat on the way home.I craved Rosemary,and now Lavender like many folks crave chocolate or maybe even cigarettes.None of the local health practicioners know what to make of it.Can you give me some insight as to whether it is bad for me,or if I should be wary of anything about this bizarre compulsion? Why do you think my body would crave Fresh Rosemary,and now dried Lavender? I would dearly appreciate ANY ideas or recommendations that you might have,as no one in my area knows what to make of it..Thank you so much for your precious time!Sincerely,Kristina




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    1. I’m not a doctor, my interest is more general. It’s unlikely to be a nutritional need, more like the brain finds it chemically useful. The other explanation is you just like it a lot. Human variability of taste and desire may be wider than we give it credit, may not mean anything pathological. So maybe the craving is yours and not your body’s? Did you enjoy or not? You may have just discovered something you really like, that’s lucky.




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  12. Dr. Greger,

    This past summer I developed sleep issues to the point where my nerves were frayed. Then my father unexpectedly got ill and died within a week. Then a relationship I was in came to an abrupt end. I was waking up in the middle of the night with a racing heart several times a week, going to work on only 3-5 hours a sleep.

    Lavender oil capsules made a huge difference for me.

    I would have taken them sooner, but reports of that 7 year old study about the hormone thing scared me away.

    Instead I listened to my doctor and got on lorazapam for several weeks. Getting off of it was unpleasant.

    Fortunately I found some information that study was just one bad study. Lavender oil has been well studied since then, proven safe, and is even used for GAD in Germany.

    I’m not a doctor, but you are. Please consider reading and evaluating these links, possibly as a prelude to updating your videos on lavender.

    It has the potential to save a lot of people from the nasty effects of benzo drugs.

    Thanks either way

    http://naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2012-02/lavender-oil-anxiety-and-depression-0

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456909

    http://examine.com/supplements/Lavender/

    http://www.naturalhealthadvisory.com/daily/depression-and-anxiety/lavender-reduces-signs-of-anxiety-in-women/




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    1. Thank you thank you thank you for these links! I have a friend with terrible anxiety and consequently severe benzodiazepine addiction. I have a feeling these links may help provide some potential avenues for exploration to help find an alternative to the benzos and ultimately achieve a safe withdrawal. Here’s hoping!




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  13. Dear Dr. Greggor, this is the only video that i think may be relevant for my question on gynecomastia. I’m hoping you can help me with this bizarre health problem I’m having. I’m a 34year old man, 6’1”, 172lbs, I have been vegan for 3.5years and have been eating a high carb, low fat vegan diet for the last 12 months. I exercise and I’m in the best shape of my life and have cleared up a host of previous health problems! BUT, about 6 months ago I noticed a hard lump under my right nipple. It continued to grow and become sore. I’ve had an ultra sound and nothing sinister was found. The lump has continued to grow and it has pushed my nipple out, creating a “man boob” only on the right side. My doctor has no clue and said I may have this forever… which is not acceptable. So, I’m wondering what your opinion is and what you’d suggest I do. My guess is that the lump is a result of my change in diet… when I switched to a high carb vegan diet, I was probably eating more calories than I needed and I read that this might be taxing on the liver which could have affected my hormone balance. My triglycerides and cholesterol have both markedly increased as a result of my increased carbohydrate intake, so I’m guessing this might be linked to the lump. But I’m guessing! Would really appreciate your thoughts. Thank you in advance!




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  14. Dr. Greger, I’d be interested to hear more about the use of lavender to treat GAD, particularly the pros and cons in light of its estrogenic effects. Does lavender’s beneficial impact on female sufferers of GAD outweigh the risk of breast cancer? And could the risks be considered minimal, particularly if one subscribes to a vegan diet? As someone with GAD, I’m anxious to hear your thoughts/recommendations.




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  15. I can’t get this video to work with me but I read about it so I don’t know if the video answers my question at all, but about the hormone disruption that occurs in males using lavender containing products topically, could this be an issue for hormone balance in women? Just wondering if lavender would be a safe alternative to calm anxiety for someone with thyroid issues.




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  16. Hello,

    was told to comment on a video for any medical advice. I suffer from a disorder called Trichitillomania. (hair pulling) Following a plant based diet has helped me with depression and anxiety, however, my trich seems to get worse whenever I exercise… If I take a stress X herbal supplement, it causes me extreme fatigue and lack of motivation as well as barely relieving the hair pulling habit. PLEASE HELP :(




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  17. How much oil did they drip on the cells? .01℅ in a petri dish which is in orders of magnitude lower than what one would have recirculating in their body.

    The drip on the cells would have to be the same amount that one would put iv in their body and if that amount is a lot for it to become recirculating throughout the body then it wouldn’t be equivalent.

    Tl;dr version
    You need a lot of lavender oil to mimic the effects in your body however, I’ve noticed that just simply smelling lavender oil lowers my anxiety. Oh, and if you get bored of the smell, switch it up with mint oil.

    Side note:
    Another interesting thing to note about me is that the lavender oil lowers my anxiety to go and have sex with my girlfriend in various locations, being able to do presentations, and being able to go to the grocery store and wait in a line so… I think that counters the estrogen like effect that happens in a petri dish ( especially considering I’ve been using lavender for a year now). Works better than Xanax (without increasing risk of Alzheimer’s and side effects) , faster acting than burspirone ( 4 – 8 weeks to achieve anxiety reducing effects and some side effects), I could go on about how lavender allows me to go to family reunions but I believe you guys get the point lol

    Last note: My sex drive is crazy high in the first place so that may be an agitating factor.




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    1. Qube: Your link points to a person’s blog. That blog points to a single study done on immature female rats. That’s not really very strong evidence, is it? The evidence at the end of the video is not very strong either. But I’ll take the following over a study on female rats:

      “One cautionary note, however; there was a case series published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Prepuberty Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender.” Reports of young boys exposed to lavender-containing lotions, soaps, hair gel, and shampoo starting to develop breasts, which disappeared after these products were discontinued—suggesting that lavender oil may possess hormone-disrupting activity.”




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      1. That “a person” is arguably the most enlightened being regarding essential oils and aromatherapy.
        I see more than one study. Wait, hmm It could be that I am delusional, living in another dimension




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  18. I hate when Dr. Greger tells us about something then doesn’t indicate on much to use. I’ve been hearing that ingesting lavender oil may be harmful but how much?




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    1. Hi John, how much to use depends upon the indication and preparation as well as the brand. I’m sure he avoids advocating for any specific brands but if you look at the articles cited you can glean more information. In the case of anxiety the first study talks about using a lavender supplement in comparison to an anti-anxiety drug called Silexan. If you look up that particular brand on the internet you can see the dose and formulation. Likewise with the other methods of using lavender.




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      1. I couldn’t find the dosage for the supplements. Would one or two drops of pure lavender oil be too much or not enough. I just need a ball park figure to go by then I can experiment on my own but I don’t want to overdose on the stuff nor not take enough then think that it just doesn’t work




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        1. Hi John, the supplements would definitely be a different formulation than using straight lavender essential oil. Since botanicals are not regulated the pharmaceuticals are it is impossible to know how potent the ones you are using actually are. Some essential oils can be applied directly but due to their potency and ability to penetrate the skin it is usually recommended to dilute them with a carrier oil. Most people use coconut oil or almond oil. Adding a drop or two to the carrier oil will dilute it enough to not be irritating. The other common use is to put it in a diffuser. Health food stores usually carry these. Adding a few drops of oil to the water and having it mist into the air at bedtime should be very soothing. As you use the formulation that you have you will determine how potent it is and whether you can use it more directly and at a higher concentration.




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          1. Thanks Beccy, yes I bought a diffuser and I am trying all sorts of essential oils with it. Dr. Greger just posted a video on orange oil so now I’m going to get that.
            John




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