Effects of essential oils on central nervous system: Focus on mental health

Phytother Res. 2021 Feb;35(2):657-679. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6854. Epub 2020 Aug 29.


Essential oils have been used as remedies since ancient times for the treatment of numerous illnesses on account of their wide range of biological activities. Recent preclinical and clinical studies have shown varying pharmacological responses in the nervous system leading to anxiolytic, antidepressant, sedative, and anticonvulsant effects. Experimentation in animal models has evidenced the involvement of multiple neurotransmitter systems in the mode of action of essential oils, resulting in measurable physiological effects in the brain. Additionally, clinical trials have demonstrated the influence of essential oils in physiological parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, brain waves composition, and cortisol serum levels with concomitant psychological effects. Although there is growing evidence of measurable effects of essential oils in animal brains, more clinical research is required to validate their influence in the human central nervous system. This will enable the development of essential oil-based drugs for the treatment of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and dementia.

Keywords: clinical trials; essential oils; molecular pathways; nervous system; neuropharmacology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Oils, Volatile / chemistry
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Phytochemicals / analysis
  • Phytochemicals / pharmacology*
  • Phytotherapy


  • Oils, Volatile
  • Phytochemicals