This is a long version of what is Aromatherapy is. If you’re looking simple answer version, you can read here.
Aromatherapy involves using concentrated essences of a plant to bring about change.
The word aromatherapy is somewhat misleading because it implies a patient gets better just because he/she smells an essential oil. (source)
This is only half the story. Sniffing an oil will alter mood, and in some ways that is medicine.
If you’re feeling tense and you relax, then this is most certainly therapeutic, but essential oils are capable of so much more.
They are made up of miniscule chemical molecules. It is believed each single drop of oil contains 40 million trillion molecules (that’s 19 zeros!) That equates to 40,000 molecules for every single cell in your human body.
These tiny molecules give essential oils their aroma.
There are so many of them, that when you open the lid, they literally explode from the bottle dispersing into a room and filling it with their fragrance.
This evaporation quality is what we call volatility.
These molecules are small enough to squeeze through the pores of your skin and enter your blood stream through the capillaries in the base of the dermal layers.
From there, they circulate around the body to work in an incomprehensible number of different ways.
The molecules are also able to enter the body via your nose.
Blood Brain Barrier
Here the oils encounter nerves that send messages to an extraordinary mechanism called the limbic system.
This part of the brain controls memories, moods, emotions, recognition and even learning.
Inside the head, the brain has many structures protecting it from injury and contamination.
The obvious one is the skull, but there are many more including what is called the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB).
The BBB does exactly what it says on the tin, it protects the brain from any germs or bacteria circulating in the blood.
Scientists now believe, rather than being like a wall, stopping everything going through, the barrier acts like a sieve or a filter, if you like.
Very few things are able to pass this barrier. The molecules must be extremely tiny to permeate it.
Meningitis bacteria are able to pass through, making it an extremely frightening condition.
This tiny window of opportunity is exasperating for scientists, because it makes treating disease in the brain extremely difficult.
Smaller molecules of chemotherapy, for instance, are able to permeate the barrier, but some of its larger molecules become blocked, making treating brain cancers with chemo impossible.
They must be treated with smaller radiation, proton or cobalt therapies, amongst others.
To pass through the BBB, a molecule must be inordinately small, which of course those contained in essential oils are!
Research shows that certain parts of essential oils are capable of passing through this barrier, opening up a new exciting arena for my friends in their lab coats.
These magical oils come from a group called Terpenes, and we will look at them more closely in the chemistry section of the book.
For now, it is enough to know aromatherapy uses essential oils to make people better. It does this by administering oils in two ways, by inhalation and absorption through the skin.
This term refers to two facets of what we study in aromatherapy.
We look at the whole of a person, that is not just the skin condition on their arm, but emotional factors that could trigger it, their diet and possible allergens causing it, how they feel about their situation in life, their work, their home etc.
All of this will contribute to how their skin may flare up.
The skin is never red for no reason; something in the patient’s life in the preceding days has caused it to happen.
It has been irritated, maybe externally by washing powder and the like or internally by a factor we cannot see.
For this reason complementary medicine works on the principle:
A person is made up of a Mind, a Body and a Spirit, rather than these being separate they are always influencing the others.
When you use an essential oil, it has many benefits.
It can work on the physical problem, but it also has emotional and spiritual aspects too.
Sometimes this can be wonderful, other times it can be less so.
Rosemary, for instance is fantastic for improving memory, it is wonderful for easing nerve pain, it can reduce cholesterol, but if you suffer from epilepsy, it may cause you to fit.
Ginger, the most deliciously warming oil is without compare in the bitter cold of winter. It stimulates the digestive system, kick starts circulation and encourages all of the other systems to work harder and faster too.
Next morning though, you should also expect your bowels to be a lot looser, because digestion has been improved as a bi-product of the process!
Now to me this is where it becomes interesting. Traditional medicine, or as I call it allopathic medicine has always known plant medicine was useful; after all it predates their tablets and pills by many thousands of years.
They have created many extraordinary drugs from components that started off their lives as plants.
Valium for instance comes from a beautiful tall weed I have growing in my faery garden. It originally came from the valerian plant whose bright pink flowers shade all of the ferns below it as they greet the sun in June.
Interspersed between the valerian I also have fox gloves, the donor of the component of the heart medicine digitalis.
Dotted around the garden, taking more and more hold every year are the poppies that first became opium, then morphed into morphine and less usefully also became heroin.
When the plant medicine is placed under a microscope it is easy to isolate exactly which part is having the desired effect (when you understand the chemistry it is even easier).
Chemists separate off the active ingredient and synthesize it to make a chemical copy.
This is where we part ways because the moment you take the rest of the plant away, it becomes unstable.
All of the other supporting ingredients keeping the constituent in check are gone.
Remember I said an essential oil has many main effects? What do these synthetic copies have? Not main effects, rather side effects. Can you see the difference?
Of course, the main outcome we can expect with the likes of valium and morphine (and to a lesser extent, digitalis) is addiction.
This is a common side effect of plant created drugs when the active component is no longer regulated by other constituents.