A study conducted by the University of Sydney and published in the Medical Journal of Australia this year found that calls to the NSW Poisons Information Centre (NSWPIC) regarding incidents involving essential oils had increased by 5% every year since 2014 to 2018.
The study found that of the 1177 calls placed in 2017 to 2018, 63% involved a child under 15 being poisoned, and of these calls, 80% were accidental poisoning and 13% were the result of mistaking the oil for a medication. Unfortunately, 105 of those calls were a case of misinformed misuse, that is, deliberately ingesting the oil thinking it will have a therapeutic effect.
Essential oils are aromatic, volatile liquids extracted from plant material by steam distillation, and are often used topically or added to vaporisers. Unfortunately, some essential oils can cause severe toxicity when ingested, and symptoms include vomiting, central nervous system depression or excitation, and aspiration pneumonitis.
Dr Rose Cairns, from University of Sydney’s School of Pharmacy, led the study, and explains that while most essential oils are used in aromatherapy, there are concerns that a growing number of people are ingesting toxic oils after being led to believe they are harmless – or even beneficial - by wellness bloggers online.
The best way to use essential oils is by applying them topically or via an aromatherapy vaporiser, and never ingest a pure essential oil.