Y: It smells great in here! I love lavender.
D: It’s been a stressful day, so I broke out the essential oil diffuser.
Y: What is it about lavender that’s so relaxing? Do we just feel calmer because we’re imagining ourselves wandering around a lavender field?
D: It’s more than just our imaginations. We can thank the compound linalool for lavender’s calming effects. At first, some scientists thought that linalool reached certain brain cell receptors—the same ones that some anxiety medications target— when we inhale linalool and it gets absorbed into our bloodstream. But a team of researchers found that the actual smelling part is crucial. They released linalool vapor to both regular mice and mice with experimentally induced anosmia, which meant they couldn’t smell anything. The regular mice became more relaxed, but the mice that couldn’t smell showed no change. That led the scientists to conclude that the feeling of relaxation resulted from the linalool vapor inducing olfactory signals. Then, they did another test where they gave mice a drug that blocks the same brain cell receptors that anxiety medications target before releasing the linalool vapor. Now, when the regular mice inhaled the vapor, they showed no signs of getting calmer.
Y: So the linalool activates brain cell neurons by first activating olfactory neurons in the nose.
D: But I’m sure imagining yourself in a lavender field doesn’t hurt. Purple flowers, fresh air, a vacation—though vacations take planning, so now I’m thinking about how I must have found a flight, rented a car to drive out to the countryside, got directions…
Y: Okay, this is starting to sound kind of stressful.