Here is clinical evidence that essential oils can potentiate the effects of sedative drugs, so by using both together the same effect can be achieved with a lower dose.5
The neurodepressive effects of lavender oil have been backed up by experimental research tests in the laboratory. In one study, lavender oil was diluted to 1 part in 60 with olive oil and then given orally to mice. The mice were then required to perform a number of tests; sedative effects were observed. It was also found that a significant interaction existed with pentabarbital, in that sleeping time was increased and wakefulness reduced.6
Lavender oil has also exhibited CNS-depressive activities on experimental animals (e.g. mice). Such activities include anticonvulsive effects, inhibition of the spontaneous motor activity, and the initiation of the narcotic effects of chloral hydrate.
In another study carried out at the Old Manor Hospital in Salisbury, England, Mark Hardy RMN conducted an experiment to assess the effects of lavender oil on the sleeping patterns of elderly mentally ill patients, in place of their usual medication. In these initial tests he used a vortex air freshener to vaporize the lavender oil into the wards at night, with excellent results:
Residents exhibited less restlessness during the night, their sleep was deeper and so they were not being awakened while staff made their rounds, there were fewer periods of simple insomnia and the mood of residents on waking was more pleasant There was even a slight increase in the hours of sleep obtained using lavender oil as opposed to night medication. Further evidence of the sedative effects of lavender oil after inhalation was demonstrated by a test carried out under standardized experimental conditions, in which mice were subjected to the scent of lavender oil. Results showed a significant decrease in motility, and hyperactivity induced by a caffeine injection was also reduced almost to normal.9
It was concluded that the aromatherapeutical use of lavender was proven, in that the oil (by its sedative effect caused by pharmacological efficacy on the brain) could facilitate sleep and minimize stressful situations.10
In a study carried out at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, patients in intensive and coronary care were given a 20-minute foot massage using lavender oil (in an almond oil base) after receiving physiotherapy. Pain levels, wakefulness, heart rate and systolic blood-pressure were measured before and after treatment, then compared with two control groups – one group which received a massage using just almond oil, and another which simply had a ‘rest period’. Results showed that the ‘aromatherapy group’ enjoyed the greatest reduction in pain, wakefulness and blood-pressure – with 91 per cent of patients experiencing a reduction in heart rate of between 11 and 15 beats per minute.11
A trial conducted with the support of the Bristol Royal Infirmary involved the topical application of two different types of lavender oil – Lavendula burnatii (also known as ‘lavandin’, Sample A) and L. angustifolia (Sample B) – to postcardiotomy patients.12 The emotional and behavioural stress levels of 28 patients were then evaluated before and after treatment on two consecutive days. The results of this randomized, double-blind study showed that it was possible to move a patient’s anxiety level from ‘very tense’ to ‘very relaxed’ within 20 minutes by giving the patient a gentle massage using a 5 per cent blend of L. burnatii.This method was shown to have a significant relaxant effect and provided a possible alternative to orthodox drug treatment. Key findings were as follows:13