Sunday, July 21, 2013

Can Vetiver Essential Oil Help ADHD & Autism? - Parsing Research from Experience

aromatherapy photo: aromatherapy aromatherapy.jpg

My Autistic son is fascinated with spices. He methodically removes the lid from each bottle and inhales deeply. Then he returns the top and moves on to the next spice. One day as I watched this ritual unfold for the thousandth time it hit me - he was seeking something that he needed.

It was time to look into aromatherapy.

All my research roads led to Vetiver. I kept finding references to a study on ADHD and Vetiver by Dr. Terry Friedman, M.D., which many bloggers claim was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, but they never provide a link. Hours spent trying to locate this study in JAMA turned up nothing. What I did find, however, is an unpublished scientific paper on Dr. Friedman's website  sold for $11.95. Not exactly the same thing.

Mainstream medicine considers an intervention evidence based when multiple peer-reviewed studies across various researchers yield similar positive results. In recent years Aromatherapy has garnered the attention of The Mayo Clinic and The University of Maryland Medical Center because some oils pass this test. For example, Lavender is considered evidence based for anxiety and depression (here, here, and here). But Vetiver has been neither proven or disproven since it remains largely un-researched.

Even so, there are many compelling testimonials from ADHD & Autism moms on how Vetiver helped their children to focus and calm down.

ADHD moms reporting benefit (a small sample of what's out there)

Common Scents Mom 

Every Day in Every Way

Jennifer Accomando

Autism moms reporting benefit:

Tiffany Rowan

Healing with Essential Oils 

DoTerra Chick

I balance my esteem for peer-reviewed research with a healthy respect for those cherished, time honored traditional healing modalities that may never be subjected to scientific scrutiny. I don't want to miss potentially beneficial treatments just because pharmaceutical companies have no interest in studying them. So, I've established three criteria when deciding whether to try non-evidence based treatments:

1.) It is generally recognized as safe. (The essential oil safety standard, "Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals" lists no safety concerns for Vetiver)

2.) It is not expensive. (Organic Vetiver costs less than $20)

3.) There is strong anecdotal support that it might help. (See above)

Since Vertiver meets all three criteria I decided to try it.

I'm so glad I did!

I bought Aura Cacia Organic Vetiver, a pure enough brand readily available at any health food store, put some on a material swatch and had him sniff it periodically throughout the day. His stims that day went down by about 85%! For those not as familiar with Autism, stims are arm flapping, making loud sounds, and repetitive or jerky body movements. We have used Vetiver for a month now and his stims still have not returned to their previous level. Not even close.

I also tried Vetiver. My life gets stressful. Like everyone, my attention is often pulled in several directions at once. Yet, since starting this essential oil I feel much calmer and more focused. Could this be placebo? Possibly. But that doesn't explain my son. I've learned over the years that if I pay attention, if I watch him closely, he leads me to what heals him. I now count Vetiver among the top ten most helpful interventions we've tried.

My friend also bought a bottle of Vetiver for her Autistic son. Same response. Starting the first day he stopped stimming and was much calmer overall. Coincidence? Perhaps. But maybe not. From a scientific standpoint it's hard to prove until Vetiver is actually studied for Autism. I hope that happens one day.

Update: 9/23/13

After a few months of sniffing Vetiver from the bottle I began getting sinus headaches. I've since learned that essential oils can be a sinus irritant for some people.  I'm concerned that if my son were to also get headaches he wouldn't be able to tell me, so I'm putting this mostly on hold until I get a diffuser. They produce a vaporized stream versus smelling the concentrated form straight from the bottle. His stims have increased since stopping and I miss the relaxing effects of Vetiver myself. Yesterday I tried putting some on a material swatch again, which is much less intense than smelling straight from the bottle. It worked well enough and produced no headache. I imagine putting it on a tissue might do the trick, too.

My friend said for a week Vetiver was like a miracle for her autistic son, then she didn't see much after that. It's hard to say why. I've read for some people ADHD medications are great for a while then stop working altogether. Could this be a similar phenomenon?

"For there is no greater influence in a physical body than the effect of odors upon the olfactory nerves." Edgar Cayce - Reading #274-7

Vetiver references:

Vetiver Essential Oil for ADHD -Live Strong

Dr. Terry Friedman

Information on Vertiver on Aroma Web

Mainstream Medicine Aromatherapy links:

Is Aromatherapy Worthwhile? Mayo Clinic

University of Maryland Medical Center on Aromatherapy


Related Post:

Rosemary Essential Oil Improves Memory - Emerging Scientific Evidence

Some Essential Oils Inhibit MRSA, Strep, & Influenza: Scientific Studies


A Bit of House Keeping:

**This is not a sponsored post. This blog is an affiliate, though. One hundred percent of affiliate profits earned from links on this site will be donated to Kiva, a not-for-profit micro-lending organization that makes no-interest business loans to low income entrepreneurs in the developing world.

This article shares our experience with Vetiver, but it is not intended as medical advice.

This post is linked to Natural Living Momma,

From The Farm Blog Hop


Tags: Aromatherapy, Essential Oils, Vetiver and ADHD, Vetiver and Autism.


  1. I don't know if you are familiar with Heritage Essential Oils dot com. But, you can go to her site and do a search on Autism and see what comes up. I personally use Vetiver to help 'turn off' my brain at bedtime or I just lay there with my thoughts racing. I am wondering if the Peaceful blend from Heritage might be very beneficial for your son.

  2. The link!

  3. Hi momma-lana. I hadn't heard of Heritage so thank you for the link. I'm in the process of looking at additional brands to explore.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Mountain rose herbs is another site to look into especially if you are looking for all organic oils

  4. I don't doubt your claim, not at all. I just was wondering how you decided that his stims went down by 85%? How did you measure his stims before and after? I have 3 ADHD children and I am also ADHD and I'm looking for some relief of symptoms.

  5. Hi Jeanette. I like your question. That's exactly what I would ask if someone said that. That is just a rough estimate, though. I started having him smell it and he got drastically quieter that day. It was stunning. I wouldn't say it is as drastic as that first week now, but still much better. Have you looked into Rosemary essential oil? That has been studied for concentration and focus, but not specifically on ADHD. Maybe that's coming down the pike, I hope. I have gathered much of the research on Rosemary into a different post. You can find it under the labels section on my sidebar or the posts by topic section under my banner. I'm big into research because without it all we have is personal stories, which can be helpful, but that's not science.

  6. I realize it has been a while but I found this article while researching spikenard for autism. I found bible code that points to "nard" oil. I looked into it further and found that nard which I believe was used on a child for some disfunction (I may be wrong about that part) was kin to vetiver and ALSO lavendar. Maybe you were close to the correct oil but nard may be better? This article excites me bc my child has stems and I just thought it was hyperness!! I have told his doctors and NONE said it was related to autism!! If vetiver helps so much, I am excited to find some nard if I can!. I LOVE the smell of vetiver and being from Louisiana I know the smell because ppl used it in their closets to keep away mold and moths before moth balls. What if the anointing with oil in biblical times was not limited to olive? Not that cold pressed organic oil isn't healing. Your comment about him leading you to what he needs also resonates with me because my son asks for his b vitamins and his gaba. Thank you for this!

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  8. Using essential oils for Autism is a growing new alternative that many people are willing to explore to assist where therapies and modern medicine fall short. To know more benefits for essential oils just visit for skin and body.

  9. I have a question. I have done some research on Vetiver EO. I have been using it on my almost 3 year old adopted son for hyperactivity and focus. He has terrible tantrums and is very stubborn and has an extremely bad temper. My question is.....Can too much Vetiver cause the opposite effect on a child. The reason I say this is I mix my Vetiver with Lavendar EO and Almond Oil. I apply it to his feet morning and night, and behind both ears and the spine on the neck. Some days I think I see a difference but mostly not. Please help!!!

    1. I saw a video that said lavender can be stimulating to children with autism. I don't understand the reasoning behind it, but perhaps try just the vetiver without added lavender with your carrier oil and see if that makes a difference.

    2. you are probably doing too much, on the feet just under the big toe should do the trick. i also read on a different site that you should just do vetiver or do vetiver, cedarwood and lavender but that you need the cedarwood in there if you mix them for some reason that is what seems to work

    3. Hi. I imagine too much could have an opposite effect. I am very very conservative with essential oils. I never put them on the body or take them internally. Putting them in a diffuser or on a tissue is all I'll do. My son and I have sensitive systems and I must respect that and be conservative. Some people mix with a carrier oil and put directly to the skin and do fine. However, I don't think it is a good idea for anyone to take them internally. Aromaweb is a great resource for essential oil safety. I can't recommend it enough.

  10. I have heard that you can apply the oil under the big toe for a calming effect, you can either do a little coconut oil then vetiver oil or mix it up in a roller and apply that way. I have also read that for calming children to use these 3 oils in this order
    just wipe a little of each under the big toe use a small amt of a carrier oil first to avoid the oils going directly on the skin.

    1. I have seen that information, too. I personally don't put essential oils on the skin but some do.

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  12. I wonder if you've heard of Améo oils? They just launched in September of last year. They're the only company to have clinical grade oils (not a trademarked phrase - a scientific distinction that describes oils pure enough to be used in scienitific research). They also provide all the sourcing data, the MS/GC chart, top constituents and purification testing data for each batch of oils.

    1. I typically use Florecopia and Nature's Gift. I have avoided the two big MLMs because I am concerned about some of the claims made, the recommendations people take this stuff internally, and encouraging people to use some of these without a carrier. Improperly used essential oils can cause sensitization reactions or worse. I tend do use EOs conservatively. I'm always on the lookout for good companies, so I'll check into the one you mentioned.

  13. The world's leading aroma-medicine therapists believe the treatment and prevention of infectious illness to be the most important and efficacious use of essential oils. Lemon essential oil benefits

    1. I know EOs are doing amazing things in petri dishes, killing MRSA, etc. I would like to see those studies extend into the environment, etc.


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