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Essential Oil Ingestion: Documented Side Effects, Injuries, and Deaths

The technology-driven infancy of the 21st century spawned a virtual wild west of sorts—a vast and uncharted expanse first staked out by curious individuals seeking the simple comforts of connection through communication.

“Hello?”

That old familiar greeting with a new twist, the visual component of instantaneous text, echoed off of digital walls and bounced around down invisible halls leading to the common folks’ first sparsely populated chat rooms.

“Hi! :)”

And just like that our first personal cyberspace connections were made. Seemed innocent enough. As the days went by more and more people came, chat rooms were abandoned like old school houses for expanded groups, then networks of groups, where crowded halls no longer efficiently funneled the traffic between them and, seemingly overnight, burst open onto faster paced highways. Super highways.

Information super highways.

Information no longer made up of timid requests like, “Is anybody here?” The people were here, the chatter was clear. Some spoke on impulse. But others—an ever growing population of others—spoke from rehearsed script. As casually as the rest, they chime in a friendly message, off-the-cuff message with a goal in mind and precision rhetoric.

The sales reps had come. Their territory now a new vitural one, the fascinating infrastructure of personalized channels of communication enchanted an untapped market leaving us all like sitting ducks, playfully splashing in the waters of an information flood.

We felt refreshed. We felt special again! We felt alive! And, we weren’t going anywhere.

When profit-driven motives like multi-level marketing met the rise of personalized technology in the first part of the 21st century, the volatile design of freshly fascinating communication channels flooded with unrestricted, unverified information, cutting through a sea of aimless anybodies with dollar signs for heads, whose collective desire was to rebel against an institutionalized regimen they had convinced each other was concocted solely to destroy them, these conditions combined to create the perfect storm.

Case in point: the volatile liquids sold in little dark bottles that can replace our poisoned medicine and cure whatever ails us. I’m referring of course to essential oils…

…perhaps you’ve heard of them?

Like most successful ventures, essential oils owe due credit to their parents. Part of these oils’ natural appeal comes straight from their source. Essential oils, or rather the easily evaporated aromatic liquid that can be extracted from some plants, are created naturally by some of our favorite fruits, flowers, and herbs. Relatively speaking, there are very low amounts of naturally occurring essential oils in a serving of fresh, whole food. Dried botanicals often contain a concentrated amount of essential oil, which is why you generally use half as much dried basil in your pot of spaghetti sauce compared to what you use fresh. These variations in concentrations are also why eating fresh fruit or drinking herbal teas does not pose the same risks as eating the potent, extracted essential oils straight from the bottle. Whole food preparations have the added benefit of offering parts from the rest of the plant—phytonutients, fibers, even water—that can act as synergists and buffers to help the body to gently and effectively process the active ingredients found in a plant’s essential oil, and to help handle toxicities that may be inherently present.

Of course, that’s not to say all plants are safe to eat or make into a tea. Some plants and their parts like nightshade, oleander, yew, jasmine berries and daffodil bulbs are poisonous and should not be consumed at all. But in regards to food we can comfortably eat, the essential oil content within a single serving is much lower in concentration than the essential oil extracted from literally pounds of a particular plant.

For over 40 years, Robert Tisserand’s research and writing have turned a scientific eye to the properties of essential oils and their individual constituents. In 2007 he presented his report, “Challenges Facing Essential Oil Therapy: Proof of Safety,” to the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) at their Denver, Colorado, conference. The article documents recorded injuries sustained by adults and children through varying degrees of essential oil use, in contrast to a commonly held belief by a prominent portion general public that the effects of essential oils can only be beneficial or benign by nature, and the practice of whole-heartedly defending this notion against those who propose otherwise. He reports:

“…in the context of foods … [essential oil] is not regarded as dangerous, because of (a) the very small amount present, and (b) the co-presence of antioxidants and antimutagens. Our bodies have evolved to deal with small quantities of “toxins,” which is why we have an immune system, antioxidant enzymes, base repair enzymes, etc.”

On deaths caused by essential oil ingestion Tisserand cites, “eucalyptus and pennyroyal oil, for example, have been fatal in 1 oz doses,” and mentions the accepted traditional dosage for wormseed essential oil “was sometimes fatal to the child” as well.

Tisserand delves further to reveal constituents, components of an essential oil identified, named, and classified through the science of chemistry, noted to be responsible for seizures when essential oils containing them had been ingested in moderate doses. Some of the essential oils noted in his report to cause seizures include:

  • Hyssop (2 doses of 10 drops)
  • Sage (1 dose of 12 drops)
  • Thuja (5 doses of 20 drops)

The National Capital Poison Center educates the public on the risks of essential oil ingestion. Poison Control warns that tea tree oil can be dangerously poisonous in less than 30 minutes if swallowed and advises one to contact the Poison Center (at 1-800-222-1222) right away if ingestion occurs. They back their information citing reported instances, like this one in which the ingestion of

In an ongoing effort to raise awareness of the risks and responsibilities of using essential oils, certain organizations specializing in their use like the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy (AIA) have launched campaigns to collect individual accounts from consumers that experienced negative effects from their use. In 2014 the AIA documented 34 cases from volunteered reports involving adverse essential oil interactions. Of those reporting, 100% were female, mostly adults using the oils undiluted by mouth. Unwanted side effects occurred mostly from oral and/or topical use and included migraines and headaches, dizziness, throat and mouth irritation, gastrointestinal upset including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, itching, hives, and cognitive dysfunction (delusions). The AIA released its most recent annual report in April, 2015.