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Is it Safe to Take Essential Oils With Prescription Drugs?

Over the last decade, essential oils have become significantly more popular as treatments for a variety of health conditions and disorders, ranging from insomnia and stress to depression and social anxiety.

For most people, essential oils are completely safe to use. However, the many people who take prescription drugs on an ongoing basis to treat health conditions have an important question: Is it safe to use essential oils at the same time, or can they potentially cause drug interactions?

Essential oils are highly effective at treating everything from colds to headaches for a reason -- they cause a real, biochemical reaction within your body. If you take prescription medicine, we recommend reading on to learn more about how it could affect your ability to use essential oils.

Essential oils can potentially cause drug interactions

The fact that essential oils are naturally occurring substances doesn’t mean they’re always safe to take with prescription drugs. For example, grapefruit juice -- another natural substance -- can cause serious interactions with several common prescription drugs due to its effect on the liver.

For this reason, some prescription drugs are often labeled with warnings about the effects that can stem from consumption of grapefruit juice.

The interactions between grapefruit juice and certain drugs are caused by furanocoumarins -- a type of chemical compounds found in certain citrus fruits. In particular, 6,7-dihydroxybergamottin (DHB) and bergamottin are thought to cause interactions between grapefruit and certain drugs.

One of these furanocoumarins, bergamottin, is also present in several essential oils. Relatively small amounts of bergamottin can be found in grapefruit oil, lemon oil and other essential oils derived from citrus fruits.

The specific classes of drugs affected by bergamottin and 6,7-dihydroxybergamottin include the following:

  • Statins
  • Antihistamines
  • Cough suppressants
  • Benzodiazepines and hypnotics
  • Erectile dysfunction drugs
  • HIV protease inhibitors
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Hormones, including hormonal birth control pills

It’s worth mentioning that the amount of furanocoumarins in most citrus-based essential oils is extremely small. However, it’s important to be aware of the risk of furanocoumarins if you take specific prescription drugs on an ongoing basis.

Essential oils can also compound the effects of other drugs

Because essential oils have specific health properties -- for example, lavender oil and neroli oil both have mild sedative properties -- it’s important not to combine them with drugs that produce similar reactions.

Used on their own, lavender and neroli oil can reduce anxiety and make sleeping easier. Used in combination with medication designed for the same purpose, the effect can be strong and, in some cases, potentially dangerous.

It’s best to use essential oils on their own, and not to use them in combination with medicines that produce the same or similar effects. Even a relatively small dose of a similar medicine can cause a significant synergistic effect with some essential oils.

Consult your doctor before you use any essential oils

If you take any prescription medicine on an ongoing basis, you should talk to your doctor before using any essential oils. You should do this even if your prescription drugs are not part of the list above, as there could still be a potential interaction between the drug and a certain essential oil.

When you talk to your doctor, mention the specific essential oils you plan to use and the amount and frequency at which you plan to use them. This will help your doctor give specific, actionable advice about which essential oils are safe to use and which should be avoided.

Finally, it’s important to seek advice from your doctor about drug interactions even if you take a prescription drug on an irregular or infrequent schedule. Many drugs have a long half-life, which means they might remain in your bloodstream for days or weeks after their active effects end.

It only takes trace amounts of some prescription drugs to cause a powerful interaction that can have serious negative health effects. While essential oils are extremely safe to use, you should always seek advice from your physician if you plan to use them while on prescription medicine.

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