Burning Incense Is Psychoactive: How Frankincense and other Plants Work

Burning Incense Is Psychoactive: How Frankincense and other Plants Work

frankincense
Burning of Boswellia resin as incense has been part of religious and cultural ceremonies for millennia and is believed to contribute to the spiritual exaltation associated with such events.

Originating from the Middle East, the word frankincense is from the French word 'Franc' meaning 'luxuriant' or 'real incense' and together with Myrrh, it was the first gum to be used as incense. Also known as Olibanum, frankincense was used by the ancient Egyptians as an offering to the gods and as part of a rejuvenating face mask. It was also used to fumigate the sick, in order to banish evil spirits. The Hebrews valued Frankincense highly, it was one of the gifts offered to the baby Jesus.

The therapeutic properties of frankincense oil are:

  • antiseptic: “Tending to inhibit the growth and reproduction of microorganisms”.
  • astringent: “Causing the contraction of body tissues, typically of the skin”.
  • carminative: “An agent that prevents or relieves flatulence”.
  • cytophylactic: “the protection of cells against cytolysis”.
  • digestive: “Substance that contributes to the process of digestion”.
  • diuretic: “substance that promotes urination”.
  • mmenagogue: “An agent that induces or hastens menstrual flow”.
  • expectorant: “An agent that increases bronchial secretion and facilitates its expulsion.”
  • sedative: “Having a soothing, calming, or tranquilizing effect; reducing or relieving anxiety, stress, irritability, or excitement.”.
  • tonic: “ Producing or stimulating physical, mental, or emotional vigor”.
  • uterine: “Of, relating to, or in the region of the uterus”.
  • vulnerary: “Used in the healing or treating of wounds”.

Frankincense oil soothes and calms the mind, slowing down and deepening breathing and is excellent for use when meditating. It also helps to calm anxiety and obsessive states linked to the past. On the respiratory tract, it clears the lungs and helps with shortness of breath, asthma, bronchitis, laryngitis, coughs and colds. It can be useful to ease heavy periods, is a general tonic to the uterus and has a calming effect during labor. It is also most helpful for rheumatism and has a positive impact on the urinary tract. 

Frankincense oil is said to help rejuvenate an aging skin, is a skin tonic and is effective with sores, carbuncles, wounds, scars and skin inflammation.

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. In a new study appearing online in The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org), 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.

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.

"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!"

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