A new study has presented compelling evidence that smelling lavender can ease stress and anxiety. Scientists from Japan confirmed that linalool can relax the brain.
Lavender's Relaxing Smell
The study looked into linalool, a sweet-smelling alcohol that is present in essential oils based in fragrant plants, including lavender.
The pretty purple flower has long been a fixture of traditional folk medicine. It has also been co-opted and added to wellness products such as candles and bath bombs.
While there have been numerous previous study backing the effectivity of lavender for stress relief, there has not been a lot of research done to figure out how exactly it affects the body. This new study by scientists from the Kagoshima University in Japan explains how the linalool in lavender relaxes the brain.
During the study, the researchers exposed laboratory mice to the smell of linalool to confirm whether the extract has relaxation effects. They found that, even in mice, linalool has anxiolytic effects.
In contrast, when anosmic mice (olfactory neurons have been destroyed) were exposed to linalool vapor, the animals did not experience the same anxiolytic effect.
The researchers also reported that the chemical does not impair the movement of mice during the duration of the experiment. Instead, the mice behaved similarly to when they were administered anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax.
Moreover, the linalool did not exhibit anxiolytic effects on mice whose GABAA receptors (the neurotransmitter receptors targeted by anti-anxiety drugs) were blocked. This means that the relaxing effects of linalool is triggered by smell and the chemical does not activate the GABAA receptors the way medications do.
"When combined, these results suggest that linalool does not act directly on GABAA receptors like benzodiazepines do — but must activate them via olfactory neurons in the nose in order to produce its relaxing effects," stated study coauthor Hideki Kashiwadani.
New Anti-Anxiety Treatment
The researchers hope that the findings of their study will lead to the use of lavender, specifically linalool, in anti-anxiety treatment. However, Kashidawani admits that further studies are needed for this to happen.
"These findings nonetheless bring us closer to clinical use of linalool to relieve anxiety — in surgery for example, where pretreatment with anxiolytics can alleviate preoperative stress and thus help to place patients under general anesthesia more smoothly," he added.
The findings were published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.