By Sherry Baker
If you think burning incense is just for certain religions or old hippies, it might be time to take a new look. Myriad religious traditions have held to the notion that burning frankincense incense (made out of resin from the Boswellia plant) is good for the soul and now a new study says it apparently is good for the brain.
The research, published on-line in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal (http://www.fasebj.org), by an international team of scientists, including Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem researchers, concludes that burning frankincense activates specific ion channels in the brain. The result? Something right under our noses, incense, appears to quell anxiety and depression.
Another non-drug way to help these afflictions could be good news for millions. According to the National Institutes of Health, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for people ages 15 to 44 and affects about 14.8 million American adults. Anxiety disorders, which often go along with depression, affect 40 million Americans.
In a prepared statement for the press, one of the researchers, Raphael Mechoulam, stated that most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning. However, there is much more going on when frankincense wafts into your nostrils.
"In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Boswellia had not been investigated for psycho-activity. We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior," Dr. Mechoulam said.
To study frankincense's psychoactive impact, the researchers administered incensole acetate to mice and discovered the compound significantly impacted areas in the brain intricately involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are targeted by modern-day drugs currently used to treat anxiety and depression.
"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, in a press release. "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!"