The Internal use of essential oils

Some thoughts on the controversy over the
internal use of essential oils

By Martin Watt

An advisory document first written for the New Zealand therapists association.
This issue of taking essential oils as medicines is a minefield, and I think it best
to give an overview of the arguments for and against.


1a) The vast majority of pure essential oils are permitted food flavourings.
Therefore, their internal use in the appropriate amount should not cause
problems. Some have been used since the middle 1700s, by the medical
profession in Britain the USA and other countries. This use Includes listing in
various National pharmacopoeias.

Despite the hype emanating from the follower's of one or two French doctors,
essential oils are not widely prescribed internally by their medical profession.
However, clearly that method of use does have benefits, provided adequate
medical diagnosis has been undertaken, and provided Internationally
acceptable safety levels are complied with. Regretfully also not the situation
with the followers the French style of internal medication with
essential oils.

The big problem comes with the term "pure". The fact is that despite the
marketing hype from aromatherapy suppliers, huge amounts of essential oil
adulteration do occur. This can involve adding solvents like diethyl phthalate
(possibly carcinogenic) and other solvents - natural and man made.

1b) So, even if a therapist is competently trained (another issue in itself), how
do they know that the oil they are going to give someone is definitely the
genuine article. The fact is in 99.9% of cases they do not know with
absolute certainty.

1c) I don't know about all aromatherapy insurance policies, but I do know that
in Britain, the I.F.A. policy has a 'get out' clause for the insurers. This says the
therapist must only use "pure essential oils". So if a therapist was sued by a
client, and the insurers found the oil used was not completely genuine, then
the therapist would be on their own with absolutely no legal assistance.

What represents 'acceptable qualifications'
to permit the internal prescription of essential oils?

I do not feel that any courses I have heard of provide adequate training on all
of the peripheral issues surrounding internal medication using essential oils.
Most doctors or pharmacists are not trained on how to use essential oils
internally. Even the best trained Medical Herbalists are not adequately trained
to use most essential oils as medicines - mainly because they can be misled by
trade hype about sources of genuine oils.

With my knowledge of essential oils and the trade, I would personally only ever
use maybe 4 to 5 oils internally. Those I would only use if I knew the exact
origin of those oils and could be certain they were genuine. Even with full
chemical analysis, I would still not use the rest. I would not want to have
anyone I advised, ingesting unknown contaminants which occur in fragrance
chemicals commonly added to essential oils.
Aromatherapists competence to prescribe for internal use

I can say with a fair amount of knowledge on this subject, that few
aromatherapists are what I would consider adequately trained in pathology and
diagnosis. Those subjects are critically important, because if do not know how
to differentiate between someone having a simple stomach upset, or a major
gastrointestinal tract disease, then giving oils internally is playing with fire.
Even on those courses that teach the internal use of oils, the subject of clinical
diagnosis is appallingly inadequate.

In addition, on most such courses, the use of essential oils is taught on which
there is no known safety data and on which there is weak evidence of
therapeutic efficacy. I have here evidence on such matters from so called
'leaders in the field'. For example, a leading member of the British
Aromatherapy Organisations Council (A.O.C.) said in her course notes, "Niaouli
oil is good for rectal cancer, tuberculosis, breast cancer and genital herpes", no
reference, no safety data, not even any unverified anecdotal information!!!

Aromatherapists are constantly being fed hyped-up trash during their
training and afterwards. Therefore, one has to consider very seriously the
implications of allowing them (via their codes of conduct) to experiment on
people. If you can't prove that a particular essential oil has well documented
clinical effects, then patients are being used as Guinea pigs. That is illegal in
most countries unless the patient is given adequate warning that they are to
be experimented on.

Certainly, the 'experience' of aromatherapy teachers is not an adequate
method of ascertaining the usefulness or dangers of 'untested' essential oils.
Aromatherapy has no central system for monitoring either therapeutic effects
or adverse effects.
Therefore, 'experience' is a most unreliable method to rely
on. It must always be remembered that aromatherapy as a profession is only
about 40 years old. Therefore, with many essential oils, there is absolutely no
traditional information that can be drawn on as a guideline on uses and side

So on balance, my opinion is that aromatherapists do not have anything like
sufficient knowledge on essential oils or medicine, to be trusted to safely and
effectively use essential oils as medicines.

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