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Why Inhalation is the Most Effective Method of Consuming Essential Oils

By Jodi Cohen

A lavender flowers next to a small bottle.

Inhalation is the most effective method of consuming Essential Oils.

Our sense of smell, which is part of our olfactory system, is one of the most powerful channels into the body.   In fact, research shows that inhalation can be the most direct and effective method for using essential oils. The entire process from the initial inhalation of an essential oil to a corresponding response in the body can happen in a matter of seconds.


Inhalation is the Most Effective Method

Have you ever wondered why cocaine is snorted through the nose or why anesthesia is delivered via inhalation?

It might not surprise you to learn that the popularity of ways people use drugs usually depends on how quickly it allows the drug to reach the brain and how long it takes for effects to kick in. This is one reason that anesthesia is delivered via inhalation and cocaine is most commonly snorted through the nose. It is interesting to note that inhaling a substance is one of the more rapid ingestion routes since the drug bypasses the digestive tract and, later, the liver, where the drug would be subjected to digestive processing.


When drugs are inhaled, they go straight into the bloodstream via blood vessels in the nasal cavity.  Upon entering the bloodstream, the drugs travel quickly to the brain, thus eliciting a host of intense effects shortly after snorting.

Similarly, when inhaled through the nose, essential oils efficiently pass through the blood brain barrier in the area surrounding the olfactory nerve. A true blood-brain barrier is 8 cells in thickness. The number of cells which constitute the layer around the olfactory nerve is only 4 to 5 cells thick. Hence, it is very easy for the oils to pass straight through to the brain when breathed in through the nose.

The lipid solubility of essential oils makes them even more effective tools in the healing the brain.  In fact, research shows that “volatile anesthetics (or anesthesia with super small molecules), which are more soluble in lipids than in water, primarily affect the function of ion channel and neurotransmitter receptor proteins in the membranes of nerve cells, which are lipid environments.”  In other words, the brain is fat and fat likes fat, so fat soluble substances like essential oils are highly effective tools in healing the brain and the nervous system.


Essential oils also send energetic signals to the brain.  When we inhale essential oils through the nose, the odor molecules trigger receptor sites in our mucous membrane, which then sends the odor information on to the olfactory bulb at the base of the brain.  These fragrance messages are interpreted and transmitted to the limbic system of the brain, known as the “emotional brain” because it deals with emotional and psychological responses.

As you may know, the limbic system serves as the control center in the brain for emotions and feelings, along with hunger, thirst and sex drive.  This helps explain how scent can influence appetite and sexual attraction. It also impacts long-term memory through our hippocampus which stores our memories.  The hippocampus is the area of the brain at play during those powerful experiences of smell triggering emotions or memories.

This powerful emotional reaction in the limbic system is triggered by nerve impulses which in turn trigger other areas of the brain that are responsible for secreting hormones, neurotransmitters and regulating body functions.  For example, the pituitary gland releases endorphins, which can help alleviate pain and promote a sense of well-being.

The theory of how this works centers on the idea that essential oils can stimulate or sedate the brain to promote or inhibit the production and release of various neurotransmitters which then impact the nervous system or hormones that impact the endocrine system.


This makes essential oils especially powerful tools for dealing with emotional challenges, like anxiety, depression, fear, worry, grief, trauma, anger and self-abuse. As you may know, emotions and thought patterns can trigger an ongoing stress response in the body (since our stress response cannot differentiate between physical or emotional and thought driven stressors) which impedes our ability to heal. Smelling essential oils can be a powerful tool for moving through and releasing these thought patterns.


About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.