At a glance

  • Essential oils are plant extracts that have been distilled into concentrated forms.

  • Some people claim that using essential oils can help reduce symptoms of ADHD in children.

  • There’s no scientific evidence that essential oils directly help with ADHD symptoms.

You may have heard people talk about using essential oils to help with ADHD (also known as ADD). Lavender oil, vetiver oil, coconut oil and cedarwood oil are some of the ones often mentioned. (A common brand you may have heard of is doTerra.) But do these oils really work for ADHD and the problems with executive function that ADHD involves?

Learn about ADHD and essential oils, and whether they might help your child.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to try to improve physical and mental health. But they’ve only been popular in the United States since the 1980s.

Essential oils are extracts that are taken from the leaves, roots, stems and blossoms of plants. They’re distilled into concentrated forms, and people inhale them or apply them in diluted forms to their skin.

Each oil has a combination of active components that determines what type of benefit it might have. Some help with physical issues like scrapes, burns and swelling. Others seem to enhance emotional well-being. They’re said to help with anxiety and depression and to improve sleep, for instance.

It’s not clear how these oils work to improve a person’s sense of well-being, however. There’s some speculation that the oils send chemical messages to the parts of the brain that affect mood and emotion. But there’s very little research into how, or how much, they may actually help.

Parents sometimes share positive experiences their child has had with these oils. Without research, it’s hard to know if that might be a placebo effect. Sometimes just thinking a treatment will work actually makes them work.

Scientific research on ADHD and essential oils

There’s no significant evidence showing that essential oils directly help with ADHD symptoms. A small study done in 2001 suggested that vetiver oil improved symptoms, while lavender did not. But no other significant research has supported that.

Small studies have also suggested that lavender may improve sleep.

What essential oils for ADHD might help with

Even if they don’t directly help reduce ADHD symptoms, certain essential oils may help kids with ADHD in other ways. These oils have properties that many say are soothing, quieting and calming, and that reduce anxiety. They include:

  • Roman chamomile

  • Lavender

  • Mandarin

  • Ylang-ylang

  • Vetiver

Feeling stressed and anxious can make focusing even harder for kids with ADHD. And many kids with ADHD also have anxiety and depression.

If you think your child may benefit from essential oils, there’s usually no harm in trying. Most these oils are considered safe. If your child has severe asthma or allergies, however, you should talk to your child’s doctor first.

For the majority of kids with ADHD, medication is the most effective treatment. But it’s not the only approach that might help. If you’re considering ADHD medication, learn how it works in the brain.

If you’re interested in non-medication help, read about behavior therapy for ADHD. You can also get information on alternative treatment for ADHD, including ADHD supplements.

Understood is not affiliated with any pharmaceutical company.

Key takeaways

  • There’s very little research into how, or how much, essential oils can help children and adults.

  • Some parents have shared their kids’ positive experiences with essential oils for ADHD and general well-being.

  • There’s usually no harm in trying essential oils, but there’s no proof that they help with ADHD.


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