For centuries people all across the globe have used lavender for many a purpose. Some used it in cooking, others for treating minor ailments and nowadays if you google “lavender” you’ll no doubt be presented with dozens of articles claiming lavender has nearly unlimited uses in modern medicine. From treating anxiety and insomnia to headaches and minor cuts and scrapes, does lavender really offer all these benefits to us? Or is it simply a trend that will be soon replaced by some other natural remedy? Because we’re always on the lookout for ways to bolster the success of those under our care at Searidge, we’ve decided to take a closer look at what lavender is and how it might help our clients during their stay with us.
The backstory on lavender or “Lavandula” is quite interesting, as it is in fact part of the “mint” family. It’s found in Europe across to northern and eastern Africa, the Mediterranean, southwest Asia, China (Plectranthus mona lavender) and southeast India, according to Wikipedia. Whew, now that we have some of the biology and history out of the way, we can see if lavender is more than just nature’s version of Febreeze, and if it has anything beyond looking and smelling nice to offer us humans.
[alt text] The sun shines on a lavender field symbolizing hope in addiction recovery
[QUOTE]People like lavender. We’ve been using this violet-capped herb since at least medieval times. It smells nice. But Google “lavender” and results hint at perhaps the real fuel for our obsession: “tranquillity,” “calm,” “relaxation,” “soothing,” and “serenity.”[END QUOTE] Lavender has purported healing powers for reducing stress and anxiety. But are these effects more than just folk medicine? Asks New York Times writer JoAnna Klein. She’s exactly right, and poses a very interesting question, too. Surprisingly, new research is pointing to yes. While proper scientific inquiry into the various beneficial properties of lavender are in their infancy, it seems like it could serve a useful purpose for people suffering from anxiety and insomnia, perhaps reducing the need for strong and addictive medicine.
It turns out the Japanese are studying the effects of lavender on mice. (Scientists are awesome, aren’t they?) Preliminary findings are indicating that the way mice (and potentially humans) process odors may be more complex and useful to us than we first thought, and powerful smells, like lavender, may have more of an effect on us than we previously thought.
[alt text] a lavender farmer has just brought in a haul of the minty plant, a metaphor for hard work paying off both in the everyday lives of addicts and during addiction treatment.
[QUOTE]In a study published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, he and his colleagues found that sniffing linalool, an alcohol component of lavender odor, was kind of like popping a Valium. It worked on the same parts of a mouse’s brain, but without all the dizzying side effects. And it didn’t target parts of the brain directly from the bloodstream, as was thought. Relief from anxiety could be triggered just by inhaling through a healthy nose.[END QUOTE]
It remains to be proven that similar effects would occur on human brains, but the research is pointing in that direction. So what implications does this have exactly? Well, truly fascinating ones, actually. Given in the United States and Canada, one in five people are afflicted by an anxiety disorder of some kind, the desire to find an alternative to anti-anxiety medication has never been higher. The nasty side effects of these drugs are, unfortunately, part of treatment at the moment and have to be tolerated by those already suffering. It really isn’t a nice experience to go through, and I have had to take medications for anxiety in the past, primarily Ativan. The “loopiness” and drowsiness are annoying when you’re trying to work or study, and these medicines sure do make you want to take more. Do they work? Yes, for me they did, I can’t sit here and tell you they’re all bad. It’s a rather frustrating task to sift through natural remedy articles and read the opinions of some truly condescending folk who rag on modern medicine as if it were the worst thing afflicting our society. The disease is bad, the medicine treats it but also has some side effects that affect those who take it, sometimes quite significantly.
[alt text] a bottle of lavender essential oil sits on a table for use in drug addiction treatment and anxiety relief during rehab.
There’s no denying that there is room for improvement when it comes to how we treat mental health issues. I for one, will be keeping an eye on studies like this one out of Japan, and hope for the best. The staff at Searidge have also been doing their homework on lavender, as they always have their ear to the ground for new and exciting ways to make the stays of our clients more peaceful and productive. There’s even an initiative at Searidge to have lavender in the bedrooms of our clients to help them relax at the end of the day. Maybe in a few years time, we’ll know even more and be able to use it in an even more beneficial way.