From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Jasmine extract as powerful as sleeping pills

The scent alone can be a powerful sedative

Oils extracted from the jasmine plant have long been used in aromatherapy with many claims made about the effect of the scent. But now a new study has found that certain chemicals extracted from the plant can act as powerful sedatives with effects as strong as sleeping pills and barbiturates.

Sedatives, sleeping pills and relaxants are the most frequently prescribed psychotropic drugs - if the dose is increased enough they will cause hallucinations. These drugs are used for their calming effect in treating mental anxiety and also as sedatives.

But these chemicals can also cause serious side effects such as depression, dizziness, hypotension, muscle weakness and impaired coordination.

So German scientists have been investigating the calming effects of various fragrancies that could be used in place of these drugs. They have now found that a chemical called Vertacetal-coeur (VC) and another variation of it derived from the jasmine plant act in the same way as these sedatives and that even just breathing in the scents can be enough to activate their effects.

How sedatives work

Sedatives such as valium act on particular sites in the brain, increasing the effects of the brain's own neurotransmitter called GABA. In fact the sedatives can even act in the same way as GABA in high enough doses. This GABA is an inhibitor - it serves to reduce brain function, thus leading to calmness, drowsiness and sleep.

Testing the fragrance

The jasmine extracts were administered to mice, both as injections and by inhalation. In both cases the mice responded by becoming calm, ceasing activity and sitting quietly in the corner. Mice that had been genetically modified such that their brain receptors no longer respond to sedatives were not affected by the chemicals, showing that the action of the jasmine extract is the same as other sedatives.

Commenting on the results, study leader Hanns Hatt said: "We have discovered a new class of GABA receptor modulator which can be administered through the air - applications in sedation, anxiety, excitement and aggression relieving treatment and sleep induction therapy are all imaginable."

The study is published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

This article was published on Fri 9 July 2010