Can essential oils help ADD and ADHD sufferers? It could if we’re going to base it on anecdotal evidence and results of small studies. These essential oils are known for their ability to improve mood, concentration, brain function, and overall emotional wellness. This article will discuss six popular essential oils for ADD and ADHD and tips on how to use them.
- 1 What Exactly is ADD and ADHD?
- 2 Signs and Symptoms of ADD and ADHD
- 3 How Are ADD and ADHD Managed?
- 4 The Best Essential Oils for ADD and ADHD Symptoms
What Exactly is ADD and ADHD?
ADHD is an acronym for attention deficit hypersensitivity disorder. Adults can have this condition, but it’s more common among male children and teens.
This condition is generally diagnosed during the early school years (6 to 12 years old), which are the usual ages children start to have attention problems. Children with ADHD are easily distracted, hyperactive, and impulsive.
How common is this condition? It’s hard to say; because researchers have different ways to determine its prevalence. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimated that 11% of children (4-17 years old) have been diagnosed with ADHD in 2011 to 2012. 1
Unlike what most people think, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not a problem of self-control. It’s a disorder that causes changes in the brain, particularly in the regions that are responsible for controlling impulsive behavior, inhibition, concentration, and motor skills.
Children with severe ADHD usually have smaller frontal lobe (located at the front of the brain), temporal lobe grey matter, cerebellum (located at the back of the brain), and caudate nucleus (located at the front, base portion of the brain). 2
ADHD is different from ADD, which stands for attention deficit disorder. With attention deficit disorder, there’s an absence of hyperactive behavior.
In fact, most people with ADD are calm and well-behaved. And if ADHD is common in men and boys, ADD is more common in women and girls. 3
Signs and Symptoms of ADD and ADHD
There are three classifications of ADHD symptoms in children, namely 4:
- Gets distracted easily
- Doesn’t listen and pay attention
- Has trouble following instructions or completing tasks
- Being forgetful
- Makes careless mistakes
- Hates doing tasks that require them to sit still
- Low productivity due to poor organization skills
- Moves slowly and daydream too much
- Often loses common items
- Is usually fidgety and easily gets bored
- Can’t play quietly or calmly perform hobbies
- Talks too much
- Always moving (walking, running, or climbing on things) and can’t stay seated
- Always on the go, thus it’s hard to keep up with them
- Displays a disruptive behavior, such as pushing other children during games
- Finds it difficult to wait for their turn
- Blurts out an answer before hearing the end of a question
- Finishes other people’s sentences
- Intrudes on others
- Inappropriate intense emotional reactions
- Takes stuff that is not his or hers
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) symptoms in adults are quite different from those in children and usually vary for each person. Adults with this condition might have these symptoms:
- Inability to stand unpleasant emotions
- Have mood swings and difficulty in controlling their temper
- Are impulsive
- Have low self-esteem
- May experience anxiety, depression, and addiction or substance abuse
- Disorganized and may turn into hoarders
- Have problems with work and relationships
- Easily get bored and tend to procrastinate
- Unable to concentrate
- Are forgetful
- Have poor time management skills and are usually late
How Are ADD and ADHD Managed?
The goal of treatment for ADHD is to control the symptoms, so they don’t interfere with the daily life of the person. Pediatricians or psychiatrists usually prescribe medications or behavioral therapies to do this.
However, a combination of these two often produces the most favorable result.
Standard medications for ADHD work either by:
- Stimulating the regions of the brain that control behavior and attention
- Or, increase the levels of noradrenaline, also called norepinephrine, which plays a role in a person’s concentration and impulsiveness.
So, how do essential oils for ADD and ADHD help?
The best way to use these essential oils is through inhalation. When inhaled, the vaporized fragrance of the essential oil dissolves in the mucus that lines the roof of each of your nostril.
The specialized receptors beneath the mucus detect the fragrance and send messages to the region of the brain responsible for your sense of smell—the limbic system structures—and influences your emotions, memory, motivation, and automatic behaviors (overeating, nail-biting, and human reflexes).
Most essential oils that help with ADD or ADHD contain a wide range of chemical compounds that may improve brain activity, promote relaxation and sleep, increase concentration, ease depression and anxiety, and improve overall mental health.
There are currently no solid scientific studies that prove essential oils are harmful to children and adults with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hypersensitivity disorder (ADHD). 5
And on that note, here are some of the essential oils that might be helpful in managing the symptoms of ADD and ADHD.
The Best Essential Oils for ADD and ADHD Symptoms
Vetiver Essential Oil
Botanical name: Vetiveria zizanoides or Chrysopogon zizanoides
Vetiver is known in India and Sri Lanka as the “Oil of Tranquility” for a good reason. The herb and its essential oil have comforting, uplifting, and healing qualities. Thus, the essential oil is widely used in aromatherapy.
Vetiver essential oil has an amber-brown color. Its initial fragrance, which improves with aging, can be described as sweet, earthy, spicy, herb-like, and smoky with a hint of lemon.
Vetiver essential oil is probably the best essential oil for ADD and ADHD. According to a two-year case study by Dr. Terry Friedman, the vetiver essential oil could help treat the symptoms of ADHD in children. 6
The study used forty children (6 to 14 years old). Out of the forty children, twenty were diagnosed with ADHD and the other twenty didn’t have the condition (control group).
The researchers used the essential oils vetiver, cedarwood, lavender, and Brain Power (which consists of sandalwood, cedarwood, frankincense, melissa, helichrysum, lavender, and blue cypress essential oils).
The children inhaled each essential oil one at a time, thrice daily for thirty days.
What’s the result?
Three essential oils increased the performance of the children: lavender essential oil by 53%, cedarwood essential oil by 83%, and vetiver essential oil by 100%.
Researchers discovered that the relaxing properties were responsible in helping the children control the symptoms of their ADHD and ADD, which include poor concentration and focus, easily get distracted, disorganized, impatience, fidgeting, and difficulty following directions.
There are also other reasons vetiver essential oil is a must-have ADD and ADHD remedy:
For one, it relieves anxiety. In fact, a recent study has shown that the essential oil has the same effect as diazepam, an anti-anxiety medication that usually produces a sedative and calming effect. 7
People with ADHD are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, such as anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression. 8
Vetiver essential oil is also helpful whenever you can’t sleep or have trouble staying asleep because of its sedative properties.
There are four common types of sleep disturbances that are linked with ADHD: sleep onset insomnia (difficulty falling asleep), restless sleep, excessive difficulty waking up, and intrusive sleep (an abrupt and irresistible feeling of drowsiness). 9
Tips and Uses
- To use as a massage oil, combine 3 to 5 drops of vetiver essential oil with 2 teaspoons of carrier oil (almond oil and jojoba oil). You can add other calming essential oils to the blend, such as lavender essential oil, to boost its positive effects.
- Put 3 to 4 drops of vetiver essential oil to your diffuser or vaporizer. If you don’t have one, simply apply 1 or 2 drops of diluted vetiver essential oil on your neck, chest, and wrists.
- Vetiver essential oil combines well with cedarwood, bergamot, ginger, geranium, lavender, jasmine, lemongrass, orange, lemon, rose, sandalwood, and patchouli essential oils.
Considerations and Side Effects
Vetiver essential oil’s side effects are not yet known, but it’s generally considered safe. Before using it on children and pregnant women, however, consult a doctor first. Always dilute it with a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil and coconut oil.
Cedarwood Essential Oil
Botanical name: Juniperus virginiana, Cedrus atlantica, and Juniperus ashei.
Cedarwood essential oil, also known as cedar oil, is useful for numerous applications for everyday life. With its warm, woody, and balsamic scent, it can help dispel anxiety and promote feelings of vitality and wellness. That’s why it’s a great oil for meditation.
Cedarwood essential oil contains high amounts of sesquiterpenes. This chemical group is responsible for its ability to create a soothing and grounding effect on your emotions and senses. 10
Cedarwood essential oil is also a natural “sleeping pill.” So, if your child is having sleeping problems, just diffuse this essential oil to help him or her have a decent, uninterrupted sleep every day.
Based on the same study done by Dr. Terry Friedman 11, cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) essential can greatly help children diagnosed with ADHD to improve their concentration and increase their performance by up to 83%.
The sesquiterpenes in cedarwood essential oil is the reason it was used in the study. This chemical group helped improve the oxygenation of the test subjects’ brain cells. Adults and children with ADD or ADHD often have poor blood flow to the brain.
As a result, there’s less oxygen and glucose (sugar) delivered to their brain, making it hard for them to focus and complete the task at hand.
Note: The cedarwood essential oil sold in the market comes from different species of the tree. The commonly used cedarwood species are Juniperus virginiana (red cedar), Cedrus atlantica (Atlas cedar), and Juniperus ashei (mountain cedar).
They usually have a similar fragrance, but their composition and medicinal properties could slightly vary from each other.
Tips and Uses
- Because of its calming and grounding qualities, you can use cedarwood essential oil every time your child feels uneasy, depressed, or stressed. One way of doing this is by diffusing it inside your home to create a relaxing environment. Just add 3 to 4 drops of the essential oil in the diffuser of your choice.
- You could also dilute 2 to 5 drops of cedarwood essential oil with 2 teaspoons of carrier oil, and then use it as a massage oil.
- Cedarwood essential oil combines well with cinnamon, jasmine, lemon, patchouli, neroli, rose, pine, sandalwood, vetiver, and thyme essential oils.
Considerations and Side Effects
Cedarwood essential oil can be irritating to the skin if you use it in large doses. This is not meant to be taken internally because it could cause serious side effects, such as damaged digestive organs.
Pregnant women, especially if they’re on their first trimester, are discouraged from using this essential oil. Consult a GP or pediatrician before using this on children.
Lavender Essential Oil
Botanical name: Lavandula angustifolia
With its countless benefits, lavender essential oil is a must-have for any aromatherapy enthusiast. Lavender essential oil is distilled from the flowers of the plant. It has a light yellow to a yellow-green color, with a fresh, sweet, herb-like, and floral scent.
It’s best known for its relaxing and sedative properties, but surprisingly, it can also increase stamina and energy.
It’s an ideal choice for controlling hyperactivity in children and adults with ADHD. (Hyperactivity usually decreases during adulthood.) A child who’s hyperactive often finds it hard to feel calm enough to fall or stay asleep.
According to one study, lavender essential oil may be good for people with sleep problems because it helps them sleep better and enhances their overall well-being as time goes by. 12
It’s common for children with this condition to perform poorly in school because of their impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity. 13
In the same study done by Dr. Friedmann 14, lavender essential oil has shown positive results in children and teens with ADHD.
The children in the study took three deep inhalations of each essential oil (lavender, vetiver, and cedarwood) directly out of the bottle thrice daily.
At the end of thirty days, results showed that it helped the test subjects to improve their learning capacity, focus, and behavior in the school and at home.
It worked by causing sedation while stimulating the brain’s limbic system, which is responsible for controlling emotions and memories.
Tips and Uses
- For relaxation and better night’s sleep, put a few drops of lavender essential oil to your bedding and/or bed pillow cases. In this way, you can continuously inhale its relaxing aroma as you fall asleep gradually. Or, you can apply a small amount of diluted lavender essential oil on the soles of your feet or your child’s feet before bedtime.
- Put 3 drops of lavender essential oil and 3 drops of rosemary essential oil into your diffuser. Inhale deeply its therapeutic aroma for 5 to 30 minutes to help you deal with stress, restlessness, and lack of sleep.
- Lavender essential oil combines well with most essential oils, such as cedarwood, clary sage, chamomile, cypress, bergamot, clove, geranium, eucalyptus, grapefruit, lemon, juniper, mandarin, lemongrass, marjoram, patchouli, palmarosa, peppermint, rosemary, rose, thyme, vetiver, and tea tree essential oils.
Considerations and Side Effects
Lavender essential oil is one of the safest essential oils. However, like with most essential oils, some people may be allergic to it. It’s best not to use this if you or your child is taking sedatives and antidepressants because it can enhance their effects.
Rosemary Essential Oil
Botanical name: Rosmarinus officinalis
Rosemary essential oil comes from the fresh leaves of the rosemary bush. It’s normally colorless, but it can also have a light-yellow tinge. The smell of this essential oil is often described as woody, camphorous, and balsamic.
Rosemary essential oil has a wide array of health benefits, including its ability to improve mental function. For centuries, it has been used in folk medicine for good memory. This benefit of rosemary essential oil has been the focus of a few clinical studies.
In a small study published in the Alexandria Journal of Medicine, researchers got 79 Ukrainian secondary school students (aged 13 to 17 years). 15
They divided the students into three groups: the lavender group, the rosemary group, and the control group. After inhalation of each essential oil, results showed that rosemary essential oil had a positive effect on their short-term memory, while lavender essential oil weakened this process.
People with ADHD often have problems with their short-term memory (the brain’s “scratch pad”). That’s why they find it hard to perform tasks that require concentration and memorization.
One of the chemical compounds in rosemary essential oil that’s responsible for its effect on memory is 1,8 cineole. 16
This compound may work similarly to dementia medications, which increases the amount of acetylcholine. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine plays a crucial role in encoding a person’s new memories.
It’s also a good remedy for depression. If you’re feeling depressed, or just need to prepare for a big test or work presentation, just inhale this essential oil through diffusion or out of the bottle to boost your energy and become more alert and focused.
Tips and Uses
- Combine 4 drops of rosemary essential oil with 2 teaspoons of carrier oil, such as almond oil and olive oil, and then rub on your upper neck.
- Put 3 to 4 drops of rosemary essential oil in your diffuser, and then diffuse inside your home for better memory. You can also add a few drops of essential oils for good memory, such as bergamot, peppermint, ylang-ylang, and lemon balm, if you like.
- Rosemary essential oil combines well with sage, frankincense, basil, chamomile, lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, lemongrass, thyme, and citronella essential oils.
Considerations and Side Effects
Rosemary essential oil is normally safe. Before using it on children and pregnant women, however, consult a doctor first since it might cause allergic reactions and a miscarriage. Again, don’t forget to dilute it in a carrier oil and do a skin patch test first.
Peppermint Essential Oil
Botanical name: Mentha piperita
Peppermint essential oil is distilled from the leaves of the Mentha piperita plant. Refreshing, minty, grassy, and camphorous are some of the words that best describe the smell of this uplifting and invigorating essential oil.
There are different reasons peppermint essential oil is beneficial for adults and children suffering from ADHD:
- For one, studies show that it promotes alertness and concentration. In a study published in the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, researchers discovered that inhaling peppermint essential oil could help improve concentration, focus, and alertness. 17 However, taking the essential oil by mouth didn’t produce the same results, as proven by later studies.
- Peppermint essential oil inhalation could also boost a person’s memory accuracy, a study shows. 18 As I mentioned, it’s common for adults and children with ADHD to be forgetful.
Aside from aromatherapy, there are other ways to overcome forgetfulness in ADHD, such as the following:
- Use computer software or phone apps (like an electronic calendar) to take note of tasks or appointments.
- Practice self-talk.
- Make visually appealing reminders.
- Create checklists and post them on specific areas of your home, like your front door, where you can easily see them.
- Ask others to remind you.
Tips and Uses
- Dilute a few drops of peppermint essential oil, and then apply it to the back of your neck and to your temples to relax the mind and body.
- Peppermint essential oil is effective on its own, but combining it with the right essential oils at the right ratio could offer a wider variety of health benefits. Try mixing 2 drops of peppermint essential oil, 2 drops of lemon essential oil, and 2 drops of lavender essential oil. Add them to your diffuser, vaporizer, or handkerchief, and then inhale deeply. This basic aromatherapy recipe will help improve concentration while improving mood and behavior.
- Peppermint essential oil combines well with eucalyptus, cypress, marjoram, oregano, grapefruit, geranium, lavender, juniper berry, rosemary, lemon, and tea tree essential oils.
Considerations and Side Effects
Small amounts of peppermint essential oil can be safe in most adults. This is not, however, recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, diabetics, children younger than 7 years old, people taking antacids and have medical problems (inflamed gallbladders and gastroesophageal reflux disease).
Ylang-ylang Essential Oil
Botanical name: Cananga odorata
Ylang-ylang essential oil is distilled from the flowers of the Cananga odorata tree. There are different grades of ylang-ylang essential oil available in the market: Extra, Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3. Among the four varieties, it’s Ylang Extra that’s considered the best for promoting emotional wellness.
Ylang-ylang essential oil is widely used in perfumes because of its strongly sweet, floral, and mildly spicy fragrance. In aromatherapy, people use it to relieve stress and tension and to get rid of negative emotions.
Sesquiterpenes, particularly germacrene, are the main chemical components of ylang-ylang essential oil that’s responsible for its positive effects on our emotions and body. 19
Adults with ADHD are at risk for different psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and depression. In fact, around 50% of adults with ADHD also experience an anxiety disorder. 20
One of the oldest known benefits of ylang-ylang essential oil is its antidepressant effects. 21 That’s why it’s a good essential oil to use on yourself or your child with ADHD to help change a dreary mood to a happy mood.
A small study published in the Phytotherapy Research provided some evidence for the use of ylang-ylang essential oil as a natural remedy for depression and stress. 22
The researchers studied forty healthy volunteers and divided them into two groups. Those who belonged in the ylang-ylang essential oil group reported feeling more relaxed and calmer after transdermal absorption (an adhesive patch that transports specific doses of the oil through the skin and into the blood) of the essential oil than those who belonged in the control group.
Ylang-ylang essential oil can also help those who have trouble falling or staying asleep because it’s a mild sedative.
Try combining it with other calming essential oils, such as lavender, bergamot, and vetiver, to enhance its relaxing and sedating effects.
Tips and Uses
- To help your child become less squirmy and depressed, you can use ylang-ylang essential oil as a soothing massage oil. Simply mix 2 to 3 drops of the essential oil and 2 teaspoons of carrier oil, such as jojoba oil, almond oil, coconut oil, or olive oil. Then, use it for massaging your child.
- You could also apply a few drops of the diluted ylang-ylang essential oil to the back of his or her neck for a soothing and uplifting effect.
- Diffuse ylang-ylang essential oil’s powerful and flowery fragrance inside your home to get rid of emotional and physical stress and lift everyone’s mood. Just add 3 to 4 drops of the essential oil in the diffuser of your choice.
- Ylang-ylang essential oil combines well with geranium, bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, vetiver, sandalwood, and marjoram essential oils.
Considerations and Side Effects
There are currently no severe side effects associated with ylang-ylang essential oil use. However, this essential oil might still produce certain negative effects if you use it in large amounts, such as headaches, nausea, and allergic reactions.
Always do a skin patch test prior to use to know if you’re allergic to it. Just apply a thin layer on your inner forearm then wait for at least 30 minutes for an allergic reaction.
What’s the Best Way to Use Essential Oils for ADD and ADHD?
There are three ways you could use essential oils: topical, by mouth, and inhalation. Generally, inhalation is more efficient because it enters your bloodstream and reach your brain with relative ease.
Using essential oil through inhalation is especially effective when treating insomnia, hyperactivity, depression, anxiety, and misery. 23
A topical application could be more effective if you combine it with massage therapy. Studies have shown that massage therapy is an effective non-medication treatment for ADHD.
In one study, teenagers with ADHD underwent ten sessions of massage. After two weeks, they assessed themselves as more content than those who did recreation therapy. 24
Spectators said they were fidgeting less after the sessions. Their teachers also noticed that those in the massage therapy group were more focused on the task than those in the recreation therapy group. And based on their behavior in the classroom, the same teachers gave them lower hyperactivity scores.
In another study, researchers randomly assigned thirty children diagnosed with ADHD into two groups: the wait-list control group and the massage group. 25 (A wait-list control group includes participants that are put in a waiting list and will receive intervention after the treatment group.)
The massage group received a 20-minute-long massage therapy twice every week for a month. Results showed that the participants in the massage group improved in their classroom behavior, when it comes to their hyperactivity, daydreaming, and anxiety.
Are Essential Oils Better Than Medical Treatments for ADD and ADHD?
Essential oils could help control the symptoms, but they are not meant to replace medications or therapies your doctor prescribed.
Medical researchers still need to perform further research to confirm their efficacy and safeness in controlling ADD and ADHD symptoms.
Always consult your doctor (GP, pediatrician, or psychiatrist) first before using essential oils as treatments for these conditions.
Do you know anyone who has attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? What natural remedies do they use to manage their symptoms? Don’t forget to share your thoughts. I’d love to hear them!