Burning Incense Is Psychoactive: New Class Of Antidepressants Might Be Right Under Our Noses
ScienceDaily (May 20, 2008)
leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for
the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains
too. An international team of scientists, including researchers from
Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem,
describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant)
activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate
anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of
depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.
"In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of
Bosweilla had not been investigated for psychoactivity," said Raphael
Mechoulam, one of the research study's co-authors. "We found that
incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most
present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic
To determine incense's psychoactive effects, the researchers
administered incensole acetate to mice. They found that the compound
significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in
emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current
anxiety and depression drugs. Specifically, incensole acetate activated a
protein called TRPV3, which is present in mammalian brains and also
known to play a role in the perception of warmth of the skin.
"Perhaps Marx wasn't too wrong when he called religion the opium of
the people: morphine comes from poppies, cannabinoids from marijuana,
and LSD from mushrooms; each of these has been used in one or another
religious ceremony." said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The
FASEB Journal. "Studies of how those psychoactive drugs work have
helped us understand modern neurobiology. The discovery of how incensole
acetate, purified from frankincense, works on specific targets in the
brain should also help us understand diseases of the nervous system.
This study also provides a biological explanation for millennia-old
spiritual practices that have persisted across time, distance, culture,
language, and religion--burning incense really does make you feel warm
and tingly all over!"
According to the National Institutes of Health, major depressive
disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for
people ages 15--44, affecting approximately 14.8 million American
adults. A less severe form of depression, dysthymic disorder, affects
approximately 3.3 million American adults. Anxiety disorders affect 40
million American adults, and frequently co-occur with depressive
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.
- 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:
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New Class Of Antidepressants Might Be Right Under Our Noses.
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