It seems the internet and social media forums have become the go-to place for “advice on demand”. Alarmingly, this includes medical advice. Everywhere you look, you’ll find people asking their peers with no medical training or licensing for a diagnosis, medical advice and/or treatment recommendations for everything from minor injuries or ailments to major medical concerns and diseases.  And everywhere you look, you’ll find people with “degrees” from Google University dishing out advice. There is so much “playing doctor” online, it can make your head spin if you were to pile it all up.  It’s harmless and actually being helpful, right? WRONG!

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We see it practically everyday in every group forum including EOCSA’s Facebook group. Dozens of times per week, you’ll find questions asking for advice.  Photos coupled with “What is this and what I can do about it?”, “What can I use for XYZ?” Or “I have ABC. What should I use to treat it?” are frequent. And every other question you can possibly think of asking for advice and recommendations for health issues. We see well-meaning folks offering up diagnosis, recommendations and advice for concerns others mention or ask about. In our Facebook group, we must give the same response to this over and over, even though it’s clearly stated in our group guidelines. We are NOT what is known as “a usage group” and we do not give recommendations or advice on what oils (or other) to use for specific needs. Specifically and especially medical and health care needs. Inevitably, we get some who are irate about that or question it citing to us that other groups do it so why don’t we.  Well, the why is very simple. It’s risky, unethical and against the law. The fact that others are doing it doesn’t make it any less risky or any more ethical or legal. It doesn’t make it a safe practice or a wise and informed one. And THAT is where the Essential Oil Consumer Safety Advocates group chooses to concentrate our time and attention…..in the safety of using essential oils and information to help guide and educate the consumer.

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First, let’s look at one area of the legal issues involved here.  Essential oils are not legally classified as or approved to be used or sold as drugs. They are actually classified as cosmetics, specifically “fragrance”. Some also have classification status as a food additive for use in the commercial food industry under strict guidelines. But that’s another article for another day. In the United States, per the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), a drug is defined as “articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease” and “articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals” [FD&C Act, sec. 201(g)(1)]Attaching any medicinal claims to essential oils, stating or implying they are intended to diagnose, heal, treat, cure, mitigate or prevent a disease or illness or otherwise alter the structure or function of the human body or the body of an animal is a direct violation of federal regulations if you sell essential oils or products containing essential oils. The repercussions of making medical use and drug claims on products not approved as drugs is multi-fold and expensive. Some of those includes warning letters with a time frame to get compliant, stiff fines, confiscation of products, closing down businesses and federal charges that may be filed. Then some states carry additional or amended regulations for these types of products and companies, such as requiring facilities be registered and inspected by the state, no in-home manufacturing allowed, additional labeling requirements, etc.

Guess what? We have many members in EOCSA who do sell essential oils or products containing essential oils.  Some of our admins are business owners offering products that fall under the cosmetics heading. No matter where it’s said or how, for them to state or imply anything they sell is intended for use as described above is a violation of federal regulations. For others to give feedback, stating or implying the products that any of these business owners sell is intended to for use as described above is a violation of federal regulations.   For us to allow any of the above through our venue is irresponsible, contributes to violations and endorses/supports non-compliance and illegal claims. Even if the claims are true, we nor they can say they are true, if there are product sales involved anywhere down the line.  We choose not to put people and their business at risk of federal (or state) intervention and reprimand.

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Moving on. To give someone a medical diagnosis for a health concern, injury or illness is “practicing medicine without a license”. Giving advice and recommending a substance (such as essential oils) to use for the treatment of medical needs, concerns and conditions, both minor and major, is considered “giving medical advice”. This can be determined to be practicing medicine without a license. The laws regarding unauthorized practice of medicine are set by each state’s medical boards and are generally quite clear. However, giving medical advice often gets into a more gray area. One website defines and explains what constitutes practicing medicine without a license as follows:

“Since states are responsible for providing medical licenses, each state has a slightly different legal definition for the practice of medicine. In general, a person practices medicine when he or she tries to diagnose or cure an illness or injury, prescribes drugs, performs surgery, or claims he or she is a doctor.” ( FindLaw.com – What Is The Unauthorized Practice of Medicine? – Paragraph 2 )
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They expand on giving medical advice as follows:

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“The practice of medicine becomes trickier to define when you look at medical advice. There are a few guidelines, however, that can help define when “medical advice” is “the practice of medicine.” In general, advice as the practice of medicine has several of the following qualities: First, advice might be considered “the practice of medicine” when the person giving it claims he or she is a doctor. This is because the title of “doctor” indicates that the person giving advice has gone through the rigorous process of medical school and succeeded in obtaining a medical license.” ( FindLaw.com – What Is The Unlawful Practice of Medicine, Paragraph 3a )
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“Second, advice may be the practice of medicine when the advice is specific to a particular person’s illness or injury. ” ( FindLaw.com – What Is The Unlawful Practice Of Medicine? – Paragraph 3b )

“Giving medical advice” is an area with several shades of gray. On the internet, because you are involved with interstate and international global communications, the lines are even more muddled. At the same time, you are dealing with virtual strangers where you don’t really know who someone is, their qualifications, education or credentials. You only what they tell you and claim. We’ve seen more than a few times, someone claiming to be a licensed physician online and in social media groups when they aren’t. Likewise, you do not know how others are perceiving you or your qualifications, education or professional status. All this means it can get very dicey really quickly.  It’s not uncommon for someone to perceive another to be a licensed professional health care provider or to have credentials and education in a profession or modality when that is not the case at all.  On the internet, nothing is truly as it seems and it’s very easy to get wrong impressions, intended or not.  The world wide web is a stage and the majority of those on that stage are performers playing a role. Social media venues such as Facebook are no exception.  In fact, I would venture to say it’s akin to a virtual Hollywood where almost everyone is vying for an Academy Award.

As if it couldn’t get any more complicated, even licensed medical professionals have to stay within their scope of practice and follow specific mandates to give medical advice to individuals online. Even with their licensed professional status, it involves other governmental agencies and laws which go far beyond their city or state that, if they go outside of, they could lose their license and/or face prosecution, fines or jail time. That’s definitely not something anyone who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and 8+ years of their life getting education in for their life’s chosen profession wants to contend with.

Now, let’s factor in that we have many certified practitioners in our group, including among the administrative team, who are bound by what is known as “scope of practice” and their state or countries legal mandates. They are not legally deemed as “health care professionals” in the United States. I am not certain how that plays out in other countries around the world. Overstepping their position and scope of practice  could cost them everything. It’s also unwise, unethical and unprofessional for a qualified aromatherapist to offer advice and guidance to individuals without a complete personal consultation that includes a medical history intake and other to determine individualized needs, safety and protocols.

Let’s get down to some nitty gritty facts here. Honestly, why would you want to crowd-source a diagnosis or medical advice online or through social media for something as important as your health anyway?  You don’t really know the people you are asking when you ask for medical advice and recommendations online or in a social media group forum. You don’t know their level of knowledge and expertise. You don’t know their qualifications, the training they have in aromatherapy (or other health modality) nor who they studied under or where. You don’t know if they are qualified to give advice on how to make coffee, much less give advice on physical, emotional and psychological health conditions. You know what they tell you. But would you know if what they are telling you is truthful? Are you in a place yourself where you can confidently determine for yourself if they are qualified and well-educated, if they are actually a professional and expert in the field? Are you that well informed? People can say anything at any time with little incentive or requirement to give or show proof. It’s easy for people to “fake it” online and especially on Facebook. They do it every day of the week. And they get away with it….sometimes for a very long time. They could be someone other than who they say they are. They could be a self-proclaimed expert with no actual knowledge or expertise beyond a short class with someone who was and is not educated. They could even be mentally unstable. They could be blowing more smoke your way than a wildfire on a windy day.  Are your reasons for avoiding and deciding against seeking a personal consultation with a qualified aromatherapist or herbalist or seeing a licensed health care professional worth that risk?  We have to start getting real and being wise here.  “Free” is worth as much as you pay for it, more often than not. And in the end, it costs someone something. Don’t let that someone be you and that something be your short-term or long-term health. You’re too precious.

When you factor in all these points and consider them rationally, hopefully you will better understand why we cannot and will not give specific usage advice and recommendations for health needs or concerns in our Facebook group forum or on this website. And why we discourage seeking or giving such advice across the board. We are actually attempting to protect you as well as ourselves. We are advocating for the consumer and your safety. Because it really is a major safety concern and risk to seek medical advice from non-professionals. End of story.