Problems with using essential oils like drugs

The rise in “makeover your medicine cabinet” approaches to using essential oils presents three key problems:

  1. It is the least effective way to therapeutically use essential oils.
  2. It does not address the root problem.
  3. It is illegal in the United States.

To best understand the problems we must first look at how this all got started…

A Brief History of Botanical Medicine

img-44Humans have been employing the use of botanicals, or plants, to support and restore health for some 50,000 years. Or, you could probably say botanicals have been used as long as humans have been on the planet.  Botanical medicine has a 5,000 year written history based on the energetics of the person and the plant. You see, humans have been treating the individual long before they fully understood anatomy, physiology, and states of disease.

When the shift began in the last century to do away with this model of healing and instead treat disease and illness, the lay-person lost a valuable resource for wellness care. Prevention was tossed to the wind and we lost sight of taking care of ourselves based on our energetic makeup. And if you look around, we’re really rather suffering from the lack of wellness based medicine in our lives and our communities aren’t we? I certainly think so.

Botanical Medicine is Holistic at its Core

img-30If you had an appointment today with an Ayurvedic practitioner, a Chinese medicine practitioner, an herbalist, or myself, you wouldn’t be treated for your high blood pressure, your osteoarthritis, or your migraines. While all of these symptoms are important and will be considered by the practitioner as part of a whole you’ll really be treated based on your energetic constitution and the symptoms will be viewed as clues to what’s really going on.

How do you experience the world? Are you a fire constitution expressing too much heat through chronically inflammed joints? Are you an air constitution expressing too much wind that leaves you mentally spacey during the day and with troubling insomnia at night? Has damp or dry energy patterns tipped the scales for your constitution?

Any constitution can experience similar symptoms but getting at the root of the cause takes some asking, listening, and observing (hence my 5 pages of questions on my intake form!). A fire type and an air type can both have knee pain but their origins are very different and their treatment plans should be different as well.

Replacing Drugs with Essential Oils

img-19So you want a natural solution for [insert health complain here]. After being steeped in treating disease states instead of the person for the past hundred years your first thought isn’t going to be: “I’ll use this essential oil because it has this energetic aspect that my body needs for balance.” Nope. You’re going to look at what western medicine would classify the essential oil for.

Let’s say you’ve got a sinus headache. It’s allergy-season here in Central Texas and between the mold and the plant pollens a lot of folks are really suffering. What would be your first choice for that sinus headache from your essential oil kit? If you looked just at the chemistry you might choose, say, Peppermint. It’s rich in terpenic alcohols (aka monoterpenols) and right there on the monograph it says “decongestant,” that’d be just the thing!

But wait, that’s only part of the story of peppermint essential oil. Peppermint’s energetics give us deeper clues as to who should be utilizing this essential oil. It’s in the pungent family (TCM, Ayurveda, AGM) and likes to move and circulate energy in the body. It’s also classified as a Yin botanical with cooling properties. So, who needs these properties? Someone with a hot and Yang temperament, yes? Aha! What if your constitution tends toward cold though? What if your dominant dosha is Vata? What if it’s a Yin and cold season and the last thing you want is to amplify that temperature in yourself? Oh, then this isn’t the right essential oil for you at all. In fact, it might exacerbate your constitution and you’ll only feel worse. Well, that’s not the relief you were looking for.

img-43If you choose an essential oil like a drug: this essential oil for this acute health problem; the worse that happens is you feel worse, or it doesn’t work. While unpleasant, or disappointing, it isn’t necessarily life-threatening if you’re working within safe dosing guidelines. What is potentially life-threatening is when essential oils are bought and sold for advanced disease states like cancer, high blood pressure, or an autoimmune condition. There aren’t any essential oils that will replace chemotherapy, blood pressure medication, or treat multiple sclerosis. Not that these disease states cannot be improved by treating the individual, it’s just that essential oils aren’t drugs. What happens if you follow the bad advice of taking Frankincense essential oil for cancer? If you take enough to wipe out the cancer it will be too poisonous a dose for your eliminatory organs to handle and you’ll go into organ failure and die. If you don’t take enough, it will likely protect the cancer cells giving them the opportunity to continue to grow and spread, and if you’re in chemo-therapy at the same time it will make the chemo harder to do its job. 🙁

Essential Oils Cannot Legally be Sold or Recommended as Drugs

So, if death or worsening of a condition isn’t an indication enough that essential oils aren’t drugs and shouldn’t be used to treat from a western medicine perspective there’s the fact that it is completely illegal for essential oils to be recommended and sold as drugs in the United States. The branches of U.S. government, designed to protect consumers and the field of medicine, have created specific laws around this.

In the United States a sales representative (product rep/consultant), employee at Whole Foods, your aromatherapist, your herbalist, or your aromatic therapies practitioner, cannot:

  • treat medical conditions – headaches, cancer, cold/flu
  • prescribe, recommend or suggest essential oils, herbs, or nutritional supplements for medical conditions
  • diagnose medical conditions

…unless they are licensed in their State to practice and prescribe medicine.

Why this is Great for You and Me

Making it illegal to use essential oils as drugs is a rather good thing for both you and me. Firstly, it protects you, the consumer, from snake oil sales folks that want to sell you a product for your medical condition. There’s no reason an untrained, unlicensed person should be practicing or prescribing medicine. Okay, we could probably argue the benefits of emergency medicine in the event of the zombie apocalypse.

It’s also great for me, as an aromatherapist, that I don’t have to practice medicine. Or prescribe medicine. I didn’t go to medical school and I have zero interest in practicing western medicine. My CPR training card doesn’t give me any authority to treat your medical condition any more than your neighbor licensed in plumbing does.

I can treat you as the wonderfully holistic person that you are – with your unique way of absorbing and expressing this beautiful life. And that’s why I’ve spent 19 years studying  holistic medicine! I love tapping into the body’s own innate healing abilities by gently nudging it towards homeostasis, that balanced state it thrives in and strives for.

Eastern and Western Medicine Synergy

mauryIn closing, I want to talk about the benefits of combining modern and ancient medicine models in the practice of aromatherapy.

Eastern aromatherapy looks at the energetics of the person and the essential oil and prepares a treatment plan based on supporting the constitution of the individual. Be it grounded in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, Ancient Greek Medicine, or another system, it always supports the person, not the allopathic disease state.

Western aromatherapy closely analyzes and studies the chemistry of the essential oil. This information gives us the biophysical action of the essential oil, dosing parameters, and safety information like contraindications and cautions. Then it looks at the scientific study of the human body: anatomy and physiology (A&P). A&P gives us guidance on routes of absorption, how the chemistry of the essential oil travels in the body when we smell it, when we apply it to the skin, when we use it internally, and the best methods to accomplish each of these routes for the highest therapeutic effect.

Each area gives us one half of the story, and when combined we have a holistic, modern, wellness tool that is powerful, safe, and very effective. Toss in a healthy diet, loving movement of your body, and we could quite possibly change the world with aromatherapy!

Wanna’ give it a try? Let’s start with finding out about your constitution and see what aromatic treatment plan we can map out, together! Consultations by appointment, in person here in Austin, Texas and by phone all over the globe.

You may also enjoy reading part two: Problems with selling essential oils like drugs.

By |2016-12-02T18:48:07+00:00November 18th, 2015|Aromatherapy, Education, Wellness, What We Offer|10 Comments

About the Author:

Amy holds her board certificate in Reflexology (ARCB), is a clinically-trained Aromatherapist (CCAP), and an Aromatic Medicine Practitioner. She launched her private practice, The Barefoot Dragonfly, in June 2004 with a special focus on women's health, pediatrics, and pain management. Amy sees clients and teaches a 200-hour aromatherapy certificate program and a 300-hour reflexology certificate program at her studio in Northwest Austin. She offers phone consults for private and commercial aromatherapy consultations.


  1. Ana November 19, 2015 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    This is incredibly informative! Thank you for sharing all this information.. I can’t tell you how many times I read blogs or downloaded ebooks that suggested essential oils for treating tumors! I always knew it wasn’t that simple, but I didn’t realize those claims were actually illegal. Anyways, thanks for the great post!

    • Amy Kreydin November 23, 2015 at 1:26 pm - Reply

      Thanks for reading, Ana! Yes, I think a lot of people don’t understand that the practice of medicine is limited to who has a license to do so in this country.

  2. Laura February 3, 2016 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    Can ALL essential oils be used safely as long as they’re diluted and used properly? Or are there some that shouldn’t be used at all? I own several that I’ve purchased from Young Living and I just want to make sure I shouldn’t run home and throw them away! Thank you for the helpful information!

    • Amy Kreydin February 4, 2016 at 8:32 am - Reply

      Every single essential oil has specific dosing guidelines based on its chemistry. For some aromatics, this may mean a 0 exposure level due to toxicity, for others the margin of safety is a lot wider. I wouldn’t recommend disposing of your essential oils but I would recommend you find out the dosing parameters of each one of them and what their contraindications and cautions are. For example, the cinnamon bark found in the popular blend of Thieves would be contraindicated in young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, before and after surgery, and those with blood clotting disorders, as well as requiring a very high dilution prior to skin contact as it is a serious skin irritant.

      • Laura February 4, 2016 at 2:44 pm - Reply

        Thanks so much! Where would I go to find reliable dosing parameters and contraindications/cautions? I’m assuming not from the Young Living website. I recently purchased the RC and Digize blends so I am particularly interested in learning about these so I can use them properly! I use peppermint a lot too but now I want to make sure I do it the safe way!

        • Amy Kreydin February 4, 2016 at 3:37 pm - Reply

          Yeah, I’d avoid any resources that are grounded in marketing, the information is usually skewed towards sales and rarely touches on actual safety and dosing.

          Education resources worth researching:
          – aromatherapist-led community classes/workshops
          – private tutoring/consultation session with an aromatherapist
          – books written by experts in the field (I have lists and reviews here:
          – various pharmacopeia collections with actual data on essential oils

          It’s usually cheaper and more time efficient to sit down with an aromatherapist and cover your goals, health history, and a list of aromatics you’ve got in wine cooler at home. But that’s not always an option for everyone if they don’t have an aromatherapist in their community or don’t want to do a phone consult with a non-local practitioner. Hope this helps!

  3. Laura February 8, 2016 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Thanks so much!

  4. Matt February 14, 2016 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    Hi Amy. I read your article about using essential oils in water. People tend to go crazy with anything they think is good. If a little is good then a lot must be better. I did a lot of research into different essential oil companies and found a new one that says their oils are clinical grade and they can prove it by posting the test results from each batch. Assuming the oils are indeed clinical grade what would be the harm in ingesting them if used in proper dosages? After all we use them topically and our skin is our biggest organ so wether we drink oils with our water or apply topically what’s the difference?



    • Amy Kreydin February 16, 2016 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      Good questions, Matt! What makes an essential oil clinical grade? Consumers should have the right to see a complete, batch-specific GC/MS report with any essential oil they purchase and that data alone doesn’t actually mean anything from a grading perspective. Since a number of companies have invented grading terminology, to the point that they have become service and trade marks, how does the consumer know these essential oils would be appropriate for clinical usage? Is this marketed to medical clinics and hospitals? Do they meet basic ISO standards for chemistry and purity? Clinical grade sounds a lot like another marketing term that is useless to the consumers and attempts to elevate a product line without any relevance to real world usage.

      The pharmacology of an essential oil guides the dosing in every application (direct inhalation, indirect inhalation, dermal, oral, rectal, and vaginal). Dermal absorption pathways are not the same as oral absorption pathways so dosing would be of utmost importance. Excipient and transport in an oral dose form are just as important – a drop or two in a gelatin capsule wouldn’t begin to count as “proper dosages” but it is heavily marketed as “safe.” 🙁

  5. […] Do not replace drugs in your medicine cabinet – while this is a trendy way to market essential oils right now it is very deceptive and the FDA is threatening federal imprisonment and fines because of these illegal marketing tactics. Essential oils are ethically and safely used in holistic treatment plans across the country by aromatherapists with specific training in aromatic chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and the science-art of aromatherapy. When essential oils are used to treat symptoms and not address root imbalances things can go quite awry at home. Take the mother that used peppermint essential oil on her young child to bring down a fever which instead contributed to an upsetting seizure incident which landed the young child in the intensive care unit for days. Would this baby have been spared such a horrific incident if the mother had known the herb is child-safe while the essential oil is a powerful neurotoxin to developing nervous systems under the age of ten? […]

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