Acute and chronic anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Mechanism of Action
The majority of research on Lavandula has focused on its essential oil, which is composed of linalool, linalyl acetate,1,8-cineole, b-ocimene, terpinen-4-ol, and camphor. Several studies have pointed to sedative, anti-anxiety, and anti-depressive effects, though their exact mechanisms of action are just beginning to be investigated. One study has shown that linalool can inhibit acetylcholine release, while another case-study author concluded that the oil of Lavandula has benzodiazepine-like effects and enhances the effects of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the amygdala.1
A prospective, randomized, single-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled study was conducted with 116 patients having a venous access catheter inserted, with 58 in the control group and 58 in the Lavandula group. Lavender oil (as aromatherapy) was hypothesized to decrease pain and anxiety and increase the satisfaction scores of patients undergoing surgery. The results showed that after cannulation the pain and anxiety scores of the patients in the Lavandula group were significantly decreased compared to the control group.2
Silexan is a German-developed oral Lavandula oil capsule preparation standardized to have high levels of linalool and linalyl acetate, which may be as effective as lorazepam (Ativan) for treating generalized anxiety disorder. In one double-blind, randomized study, Silexan and lorazepam were given for 6 weeks to 78 adult male and female subjects diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Anxiety levels at baseline and week 6 were rated using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A-total score), with the results suggesting that Silexan effectively decreases symptoms of GAD, and does so comparably to the benzodiazepine lorazepam. A high degree of safety was also demonstrated with Silexan. Anxiety decreased by 45% in the Silexan group and 46% in the lorazepam group. During the treatment period, other tests and questionnaires were administered, including the SAS (Self–rating Anxiety Scale), PSWQ-PW (Penn State Worry Questionnaire), SF 36 Health Survey Questionnaire and Clinical Global Impressions of severity of disorder. The results for all the tests showed similar efficacy for GAD for Silexan and the benzodiazepine. Additionally, the subjects kept a sleep journal, and generally reported positive effects on sleep latency and duration. In conclusion, it appears as if Silexan is as effective as lorazepam in adults with GAD, is well tolerated, and unlike benzodiazepines, does not cause drowsiness and lead to abuse.3
In regards to depression, studies have produced conflicting results. In one small study, 24 nursing students with anxiety and depression were evaluated for 1 week, during which they underwent treatment with a Lavandula scented necklace. The severity of depression and anxiety was evaluated by questionnaire before and after treatment. The treatment resulted in improvement in anxiety scores but no improvement for depression.4
A larger, controlled study of 42 female college students had more promising results. All the participants complained of insomnia and depression. They were studied during a 4-week protocol. All subjects were nursing students and the study was a single blind repeated measurements experiment. Week one was a control treatment week, a 60% strength lavender fragrance was administered during week two, week three was a washout period, and week four was a 100% strength lavender fragrance treatment week Severity of insomnia, sleep latency, self-satisfaction with sleep, and severity of depression were evaluated for the duration of the study. The results of the study indicated improvements in sleep latency, severity of insomnia, and self-satisfaction with sleep for the 60% and 100% lavender weeks. The severity of depression was improved only for the 100% lavender week.5
Safety in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
There is very little reliable information. Historically and anecdotally Lavandula essential oil is believed to be toxic in large doses. Avoid internal and/or excessive use.
Lavandula has Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in the USA. This means that there is a consensus of expert opinion regarding the safety of its use. In one clinical study, 80 mg of Lavandula angustifolia essential oil taken orally in capsule form, has safely been used for up to 10 weeks.6
Lavandula essential oil is typically taken orally at doses of 80–180 mg per day. As aromatherapy, 1–3 drops are inhaled at a time as needed.
Whole dried Lavandula herb (leaf and flower) can be taken in divided doses, up to 800 mg per day. Lavandula is commonly taken along with similar acting herbs in a formula.
Lavender’s potent aromatic qualities were considered to benefit both the mind and the body in myriad relaxing and rejuvenating ways. John Gerard (1545–1612), one of the most respected plant experts of his time, speaks of lavender’s culinary and mental uses to ease digestive upset, having “carminative and nervine properties,” and was used by him as a “restorative and tonic against faintness, palpitations of a nervous sort, spasms, and colic.” Other common historical uses include mental depression, headache, and as an antimicrobial in various cleaning products (the English word lavender is generally thought to be derived from the French lavandre, and ultimately from the Latin lavare, to wash).7 Contemporary uses include indigestion, depression, stress-related headaches, nervous debility and exhaustion, insomnia, and externally to treat arthritic pains.8
1 Phytother Res. 2002;16:301–8. Biological activities of lavender essential oil. Cavanagh HMA, Wilkinson JM.
2 Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016;23:64–8. Evaluating the efficacy of lavender aromatherapy on peripheral venous cannulation pain and anxiety: A prospective, randomized study. Karaman T, Karaman S.
3 Phytomedicine. 2010;17(2):94–9. A multi-center, double-blind, randomized study of the lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder. Woelk H, Schläfke S.
6 Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2010;25(5):277–87. Silexan, an orally administered Lavandula oil preparation, is effective in the treatment of ‘subsyndromal’ anxiety disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial. Kasper S, Gastpar M, Muller WE, Volz HP, Moller HJ, Dienel A, Schlafke S.
7 A Modern Herbal. Jonathan Cape; 1931. p. 471–2. Grieve M.
8 The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal. Element Books; 1996. p. 108. Hoffmann D.