Lavender Oil and Anxiety: The Facts Behind Some Recent Claims
Updated: Mar 23
The Internet has been buzzing lately with news about lavender oil. This interest was generated by some recent studies and claims by some medical practitioners. One of these is Professor Hans-Peter Volz, medical director of the Hospital for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatic Medicine in Schloss, Germany.
In a recent health article from the Daily Mail, Prof. Volz warned that doctors are too quick to prescribe anti-anxiety drugs. He said, “Medicating too quickly can lead to unnecessary prescription of medication, and in some cases, can cause a dependency to the drug, especially when benzodiazepines are prescribed.” Benzodiazepines can cause dependence in as little as 2-4 weeks and withdrawal can be debilitating and last months or even years.
In my opinion, it makes sense to start with a much less severe intervention and that would be lavender oil. — PROFESSOR HANS-PETER VOLZ
Prof. Volz prefers lavender oil capsules for the treatment of mild anxiety. “In my opinion, it makes sense to start with a much less severe intervention and that would be lavender oil… In my professional life, I have never seen a pharmacological agent with such good results in randomised trials.”
According to journalist Bailey King in the Philly Voice, many individuals testify to the success of lavender capsules like those recommended by Volz. “The anxiety relief I’ve been getting feels more potent than Xanax (or Etizolam),” voiced one Reddit user.
Studies on Lavender Oil
Lavender is an herb which has long been favored for its calming effects on people suffering from stress and anxiety. Most are familiar with its use as aromatherapy via essential oils and candles, but some, like Prof. Volz, claim that taking lavender oil capsules orally also has benefits.
In 2010, a team of researchers published their findings on lavender oil in the journal Phytomedicine . They performed a double-blind, randomized study evaluating lorazepam (a benzodiazepine) as compared to the lavender compound, Silexan. Silexan is a standardized essential oil extract of Lavandula angustifolia (SLO) used for oral administration. It contains two primary constituents of lavender oil — linalool and linalyl acetate.
…our results demonstrate that Silexan is as effective as lorazepam in adults with GAD. — H. WOELK AND S. SCHLAFKE, PHYTOMEDICINE, FEBRUARY 2010
At the end of the six-week trial, the anxiety level of the adult participants was analyzed using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale. The mean of the HAM-A-total score (level of anxiety) decreased substantially by almost the same measure in both groups. In the lorazepam group, the mean score dropped by 46%. In the Silexan (lavender) group, it decreased by 45%. According to the authors of the study, “our results demonstrate that Silexan is as effective as lorazepam in adults with GAD.”
The journal, Mental Health Clinician, published a 2017 review of five controlled studies — including the one above — to analyze lavender’s efficacy and safety. In their conclusion, the authors stated, “The SLO product exhibits many desirable properties of an anxiolytic agent, including a calming effect without sedation, as well as a lack of dependence, tolerance, or withdrawal. SLO has a relatively benign side effect profile in short-term studies, and its onset of efficacy is more rapid than current first-line agents.”
Some studies, though, have demonstrated the efficacy of lavender on olfactory neurons, but debate its effectiveness when ingested.
A 2018 Japanese review published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience evaluated the fragrant effects of the vaporized lavender compound linalool in mice. The researchers attempted to determine if it was the smell of the lavender, and not the ingestion of it, that provides the anxiety-reducing effects. The review found that while normal mice exposed to the vapor experienced anxiolytic effects, those whose olfactory neurons had been destroyed did not. In addition, the effect in the normal mice disappeared when they were pretreated with flumazenil, which blocks benzodiazepine-responsive GABA(A) receptors.
Hiroki Kashiwadani, a co-author of the study, stated: “When combined, these results suggest that linalool does not act directly on GABAA receptors like benzodiazepines do — but must activate them via olfactory neurons in the nose in order to produce its relaxing effects.”
Some Advise Caution
While many readers might want to jump in their car and buy some lavender oil capsules, caution is advised. These studies are intriguing, but some concern has been raised. In the Daily Mail article regarding Prof. Volz’s claims, Dr. Heidi Miller, a GP in Hertfordshire, said she “definitely would not be prescribing lavender oil until there is ‘compelling’ evidence.”
…definitely would not be prescribing lavender oil until there is ‘compelling’ evidence.” — DR. HEIDI MILLER
Governmental agencies are also reluctant to jump on the bandwagon, including the NHS. In response to the Japanese study with lavender and mice, the NHS stated, “The study can only tell us about how mice react to linalool, however. The findings of animal studies don’t always translate for humans.”
The current research is also not convincing for The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which advises NHS, to make any recommendations. And some charity organizations are also cautious. The U.K. mental health charity Mind stated they welcome alternatives for treating anxiety, but that more research is warranted.
There is also a possibility that ingesting essential oils may be dangerous. According to an article in the Philly Voice, these compounds can be highly concentrated and while considered safe for aromatherapy, some concentrations can be poisonous if swallowed or absorbed through the skin. “Because the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate essential oils, it’s difficult to pinpoint their make-up.”
So, Where Does That Leave Us?
Lavender looks promising. But caution is advised.
Most studies have proven that the smell of lavender is beneficial and can help treat anxiety with very few side effects. Unfortunately, treatment by oral administration still has some unanswered questions. SLO capsules look promising, but further research is needed and long-term risks are still unknown.
Like all treatments for anxiety, please check with your medical provider before making any changes.
This article is for informational purposes only and is directed at the general audience. It should never be considered medical advice. Benzo Free does not recommend nor endorse the use of any specific supplements, herbal remedies, or alternative treatments, especially during benzodiazepine use and withdrawal. Please seek professional medical guidance if you choose to investigate this course of treatment.
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Cooley, Jami. “Lavender Reduces Signs of Anxiety in Women.” University Health News Daily. February 12, 2019. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/stress-anxiety/lavender-reduces-signs-of-anxiety-in-women.
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Harada, Hiroki, Hideki Kashiwadani, Kanmura Yuichi, and Tomoyuki Kuwaki. “Linalool Odor-Induced Anxiolytic Effects in Mice.” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience (October 23, 2018). Accessed on May 16, 2019. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00241/full.
King, Bailey. “Essential oils are great and all but you definitely should not ingest them — here’s why.” Philly Voice. December 21, 2018. Accessed May 16, 2019. https://www.phillyvoice.com/essential-oils-poisonous-ingested-swallowed.
King, Bailey. “Lavender is rising through the ranks of anti-anxiety medications.” Philly Voice. May 13, 2019. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.phillyvoice.com/lavender-oil-all-natural-anti-anxiety-medication.
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Moller, Hans-Jurgen, Hans-Peter Volz, Angelika Dienel, Sandra Schlafke, and Siegfried Kasper. “Efficacy of Silexan in subthreshold anxiety: meta-analysis of randomised, placebo-controlled trials.” European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience 269(2)(March 2019):183-93. doi:10.1007/s00406-017-0852-4.
National Health Service (NHS). “Lavender scent may help with anxiety in mice.” NHS Website. October 24, 2018. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/lavender-scent-may-help-anxiety-mice.
Woelk, H. and S. Schlafke. “A multi-center, double-blind, randomised study of the Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder.” Phytomedicine 17(2)(February 2010):94-9. Accessed May 16, 2019. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2009.10.006.
Young, Sarah. “Lavender Really Does Help You Relax and Could Even Treat Anxiety, Scientists Reveal.” Independent. October 23, 2018. Accessed May 16, 2019. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/lavender-scent-benefits-relax-anxiety-kagoshima-university-a8597421.html.