Dear Dr. Feder: I’ve heard that Silexan/CalmAid lavender oil has been recommended for adults as a natural anxiolytic. Is it safe for kids?
Dr. Feder: Lavender oil includes linalool and linalyl acetate. Together these have several central nervous system effects, including anticonvulsant, antianxiety, antidepressant, and others (Koulivand PH et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013;2013:681304). The few studies we have do show that in adults, lavender oil can be helpful for generalized anxiety disorder. See “Silexan: A Novel Anxiolytic” in The Carlat Psychiatry Report, August 2020 for more about Silexan use in adults.
There aren’t much data on the use or safety of lavender in children and teens. Lavender aromatherapy lowers dental anxiety in children, reducing pulse and respiratory rate, although the precise dosage is not clear (Gandhi H et al, Intl J Curr Res 2018;10(2):64956–64959). Lavender aromatherapy also reduces pulse and respiratory rate during dressing changes in child burn victims (Akgül EA et al, Complement Ther Med 2021;60:102758).
The most commonly reported side effect of taking lavender oil capsules is having lavender-smelling burps. Lavender oil also has both estrogenic and antiandrogenic properties, which have been associated with three reports of gynecomastia in prepubertal boys, all three of which resolved with discontinuation of lavender oil. Lavender can also interfere with arithmetic cognition and cause gastrointestinal upset. It does not seem to have abuse potential (Perry R et al, Phytomedicine 2012;19(8-9):825–835).
So is lavender safe to use in kids? Like all supplements, we hope for standardized regulated capsules and more robust research. In the meantime, we think that if you are careful with dosing, starting with 80 mg at night at most, and watch for the development of gynecomastia, you can safely try lavender oil to see if it helps anxiety in children and teens.
Josh Feder, MD
PO Box 626, Newburyport MA 01950
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