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Are Essential Oils Potentially Toxic?
Susan L. and Danny T. Siegenthaler
Essential oils and the associated practice of Aromatherapy are growing in popularity. The use of essential oils is not new and in fact dates back to Egyptian times, possibly even earlier.
Essential oils, particularly in western cultures, are used in the beauty industry for their aromas and in the practice of massage for their mood altering properties. Lavender, Chamomile, and other essential oils are known for their relaxing and calming properties, while Jasmine, Rose and Geranium have beautiful aromatic properties.
The Dangers of Essential Oils
Essential oils also have therapeutic properties which can have a dramatic effect on the physiology of the body. Peppermint Oil for example has a refreshing and uplifting aroma, however, according to Robert Tisserand, it may also be used in the treatment of Asthma, Bronchitis, Colds, Nausea, Migraine, Gall stones, etc.
Unfortunately, with the increasing interest in the therapeutic uses of essential oils people are beginning to self-diagnose and self-prescribe essential oils, based on articles they read in the general media. This has potentially serious consequences and has led to discussions as to whether or not essential oils should be treated like herbal medicines and be placed under some sort of control, similar to that of herbal medicine.
The argument whether essential oils are toxic, or more precisely, which essential oils are potentially toxic if used incorrectly, is gaining momentum and has created some debate over which, if any, of the essential oils should be restricted in some form for sale to the general public.
At the end of the day - everything is potentially toxic; it depends on the quantity and/or frequency at which a substance is administered. And the sensitivity of the individual who is having the substance administered.
Robert Tisserand (an eminent author and publisher of several books on topics related to Essential oils and Aromatherapy) published a series of articles in the International Journal of Aromatherapy, where he presents three articles dealing with the Safety of Essential Oils.
In one of these articles, he writes about the potential toxicity of Hyssop oil. "Hyssop oil is a powerfully neurotoxic, and there are several cases of ingestion of the oil by humans resulting in seizures." He continues: "Hyssop is convulsant because of its pinocamphone (40%) and iso-piocamphone (30%) content. The convulsant effects of hyssop oil were first researched in 1891. Doses of 2.5 mg/kg were injected into dogs, producing almost immediate epileptiform seizures." When used correctly, hyssop oil can be beneficial in the treatment of hypertension, hypotension, dermatitis, eczema, and other health conditions.
In Part I of this series of articles, Tisserand outlined the importance of understanding essential oil composition; how the chemical degradation of essential oils could have safety implications, and compared data on human and animal toxicity.
The problem is not the essential oils, but the concept that if something is natural it does not cause any harm. This is of course completely wrong, as the most powerful toxins/drugs are natural; Morphine, Arsenic, and the list goes on.
Similarly, if 2 drops will be good for my cold, or what ever, than 10 drops must be better... This type of thinking and resulting over-dose of herbs, essential oils and even prescription drugs is the dangerous component.
Personally I wouldn’t like to see herbs, essential oils, etc., become totally restricted and placed under government control, however, with growing interest in and use of essential oils, I do think some sort of protection should be put in place which is similar to that currently applicable to herbal medicine in Australia.
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