The human brain produces four different frequencies of waves. A quick run down goes like this:
Beta waves = an alert and attentive state
Alpha waves = a relaxed state
Theta waves = a drowsy and day dreaming state
Delta waves = a deep sleep state
There is no proven cause of ADHD, but the general theory from the many observations and studies available point to the differences in brainwaves of patients with and without ADHD. The brainwaves of the ADHD population are generally slower, with Theta waves being dominant over Beta waves.
Because it is in a constant state of drowsiness and fogginess due to the slower Theta waves, the ADHD brain tends to overcompensate with hyperactivity…to try and “wake-up” the brain so to speak. This overcompensation results in restlessness, anxiety, distraction, etc., and why ADHD is typically treated with stimulants such as Adderall. These conventional stimulants speed up brainwaves – but only temporarily and with undesirable side effects.
While Neurofeedback has become a popular and effective natural treatment for ADHD because it doesn’t just cover up the problem but actually trains the brain to produce faster Beta waves on its own, aromatherapy can play a powerful complimentary role in treatment.
Rosemary essential oil has been well known in the aromatherapy community as boosting focus and brain performance for decades – and even centuries, before the term aromatherapy was even coined. Now it seems like the rest of the population is waking up. Just google “rosemary brain” and rosemary’s connection with increased brain function is obvious, with perhaps this recent Huffington Post article going the most viral.
Other essential oils known to be focus aids and stimulating to the nervous system can also be helpful, but like with all aromatherapy treatments the individual person and their needs should be taken into account when blending. Some may find stimulating or spicy essential oils agitating while others find them warming and invigorating. A few of my top picks would be black pepper, sweet basil and lemon. Children often gravitate to the sweet & uplifting aromas of spearmint or mandarin, so it is of my opinion that they should not be left out when working with an ADHD child. Blending stimulating oils, like the ones mentioned, with a grounding/calming oil or two can help settle the unintentional anxiety and restlessness that ADHD can bring and a well rounded blend can result. Jasmine, lavender or roman chamomile are good contenders.
And speaking of grounding oils, perhaps one of the most well known studies on treating ADHD with aromatherapy was done by Dr. Terry S. Friedmann and highlights the success of vetiver. It took place over two years with children ages six to fourteen with ADHD. Essential oils of vetiver, cedarwood and lavender were given by inhalation 3 times per day for 30 days with vetiver showing the greatest increase in scholastic performance and behavioral patterns. I can see how this would be so as vetiver is grounding and has high content of sesquiterpenes which, as the study mentions, is a chemical constituent that increases oxygenation and activity in the brain.
The key to aromatherapy’s effectiveness is to incorporate it into everyday life and routine. Fortunately there are so many ways to do this from a few drops in the bath to room diffusers to simply taking the top off of an essential oil bottle and breathing in deeply. And because of the pleasing aromas, it is a treatment that is enjoyable. A favorite method of mine when using essential oils to address a physical issue is to combine it with foot reflexology. In the case of ADHD, applying an essential oil blend to the foot and stimulating the brain reflex would be the way to go.
To further understand how aromatherapy actually works, here is some recommended reading:
Benefits of Inhaling Essential Oils
Essential Oils and Skin Application