For centuries the burning of incense has been a part of religious practices and customs. The use of this incense is only with a symbolic meaning, not to attain any psychoactive effects from the incense. A team of scientists from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem believe that incense burning can have psychoactive results. A study has been done on frankincense which has had a lot of religious symbolic meaning, and turns out that the inhalation of the smoke can have anxiety relieving and antidepressant qualities. The research team singled out a constituent of the frankincense, incensole acetate, which seems to be producing the effects.
The team administered incensole acetate to a group of mice. The results were that the constituent affected the brain in the centers that control emotion, and used similar pathways in the brain as current antidepressant drugs. Depressive and anxiety disorders are more prevalent within our society today more than ever before, and the rates are only going up. This discovery may lead to new treatments of these mental disorders.
The discovery of these effects from frankincense may possibly lead to new things in the future. This could possibly unlocked the door to a whole new class of depression and anxiety drugs for clinical use. The benefit from this discovery is not only the constituent itself but the way the drug works can help us. The compound activates channels in the brain that were previously poorly understood which may lead to new discoveries that can provide insight into diseases of the nervous system. It also gives an explanation for the origin of the materials use as an incense in religious rituals. This leads to the possibility that there may be biological reasons for many of practices that are carried on throughout religion today.
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “Burning Incense Is Psychoactive: New Class Of Antidepressants Might Be Right Under Our Noses.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 May 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080520110415.htm>.
Incensole acetate, an incense component, elicits psychoactivity by activating TRPV3 channels in the brain. Arieh Moussaieff, Neta Rimmerman, Tatiana Bregman, Alex Straiker, Christian C. Felder, Shai Shoham, Yoel Kashman, Susan M. Huang, Hyosang Lee, Esther Shohami, Ken Mackie, Michael J. Caterina, J. Michael Walker, Ester Fride, and Raphael Mechoulam. Published online before print May 20, 2008 as doi: 10.1096/fj.07-101865.