Frankincense is psychoactive: new antidepressants might be right under our noses

By Paracelsus · May 21, 2008 · Updated Jan 14, 2010 · ·
  1. Paracelsus
    Burning Incense Is Psychoactive: New Class Of Antidepressants Might Be Right Under Our Noses

    Religious 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 in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning."

    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. When mice bred without this protein were exposed to incensole acetate, the compound had no effect on their brains.

    "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 disorders.

    Story Source:
    Adapted from materials provided by Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

    Journal reference:

    • 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. [link]

    may 20th 2008

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  1. Hyperspaceblastoff
  2. Swimmortal
    Indeed, I stopped reading the second I saw that. :laugh:
  3. Paracelsus
    Go check what regnum the genus Claviceps is part of, and what compounds these species are known to contain.

    How difficult is it to realize that an excusable mistake of the editor of the journal does not affect the credibility of the actual paper?
  4. cosmicruler
    very interesting very keen to hear and see more on this subject.
  5. yosepi
    just my two cents on the article regarding the "false sentence." As far as i know, morphine is an opiate (poppies), marijuana does contain cannabis and Alexander Shulgin classified LSD as a tryptamine due to ergot being derived from a tryptamine fungus similar to magic mushrooms.

    go ahead and berate me with why I'm wrong because I don't think I'm wrong or this article is wrong, peace kids.
  6. gmeziscool2354
    mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi, and not all fungi produce mushrooms. as far as i know, the ergot fungus does not produce mushrooms in any form
  7. yosepi
    I said tryptamine fungus similar to magic mushrooms. But I guess the article said mushrooms, and not LSD from "fungus similar to magic mushroom."

    I guess that would be an accurate amendment to the article and restore it's credibility?
  8. Coconut
    Ergot (Claviceps purpurea) is a fungus which grows on grain, predominantly rye. It contains ergotamine, which is a precursor to lysergic acid, which is then in turn used to synthesise lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

    Ergot and magic mushrooms (of the genera Psilocybe, Copelandia et cetera) do not have much in common besides being fungi and should not be confused.

    This does not discredit the entire article, but it is a careless mistake.
  9. gmeziscool2354
    yeah, coconut that was what i was saying. This article implies, atleast to a drug user that a doctor was quoted saying that LSD comes from psychoactive mushrooms, which is the biggest load of crap i have ever heard. but for all we know, he could have been a well informed non-user who knows about lysergic acid Diethylamide sythesis who was just slightly confused
  10. JarvyJarvison
    The article might be poorly written but that's no reason to write off the conclusion of the research in the journal. I don't have journal access at the moment. Can anybody upload the journal article to the file archive?
  11. podge
    Editing mistakes aside..... fascinating article, it should be interesting to see how research in this area develops.
  12. Euphoric
  13. Eratosthenese
    Does anyone know someone who may have tried to ingest frankincense? I would be interested to know there experience.
  14. tripolar
    Frankincense is very easy to chew. Mixing the hard resin with saliva produces a white gum (after about 2 minutes chewing). It has a pleasant taste and maintains consistency for a long time.

    SWIM hasn't noticed any psychoactive properties while chewing, however he realises that this might not produce same effects as ingesting.


    I have recently read that the above study was funded by a company which produces frankincense extract. This doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bogus one, but until the independent study is conducted, the bias should be taken into account.
  15. Charenton
    "Perhaps Marx wasn't too wrong when he called religion the opium of the people"

    This is also not correct and therefore means that the article should be summarily dismissed.;)

    "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opiate of the people"

    Opium was a painkiller in Marx's day.

    Levity aside, a fascinating article, thanks.
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