Hippies might have something going with that incense crap

i-75fa6f7cebb4145668724f37f5a52b36-steve_icon_medium.jpg Actually, I'll let you read the press release first and then we'll decide if 'religious leaders' and the damn hippies know something we don't ;)

i-e2b9abd97498b7b9355606e3a2d76c68-old_hippie_bilder_allerlei_hippiebus.jpgReligious 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. 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.

i-3bd2b28eb1fc53a7bfea68a8e98579d9-incensedisplay.jpgOk... now that you've read it what do you think? I think they might be onto something but I do have one major complaint, how the hell do we assume that burning something and releasing some smells into the air will get this incensole acetate through the blood brain barrier? And even if the chemical could be taken in well by the body through smoke how much do you need? You might have to smoke the shit like a joint to get enough! Oooooh that's right... hippies - makes sense now.

I'm actually thinking the authors of this paper should study the effects of group hugs. Let me show you why (From the paper):

Transient receptor potential vanilloid (TRPV) 3 is an ion channel implicated in the perception of warmth in the skin. TRPV3 mRNA has also been found in neurons throughout the brain; however, the role of TRPV3 channels there remains unknown.

I'd like the hypothesize that this receptor is responsible for the good feelings of a group hug and it should thus be renamed the happy feel good group hug ion channel or hfggh channel.

Peace out!



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"and LSD from mushrooms" say what? They must have meant psilocybin.

There is a lot of interesting research that has been done regarding TRPV1 and their ability to evoke catecholamine release (which is the reason why hot peppers clear your nose, etc.)

The amount of volatiles remaining in the air will be minute compared to the amount of soot. We know the damage from soot.

My guess is that incense peddlers are behind this.

hah, I see some people already commented on the LSD in mushrooms thing. Geez, and an MD at that :)

Quote: how the hell do we assume that burning something and releasing some smells into the air will get this incensole acetate through the blood brain barrier?

Well, a lot of chemicals pass the BBB. Doesn't the in vivo test on mice prove that it passes the BBB? Or are human and mouse BBB different?

And if you're thinking: but those are really small amounts, well, you can always smoke up the entire room. Another possibility is that the active principle is very potent (and /or is very concentrated in the resin).

love, m

By marjan benedetic (not verified) on 20 May 2008 #permalink

Correlation-causation confusion here?

Isn't it more plausible to think that the apparent antidepressant effects stem not from the incense itself, but from the meditative/introspective practices generally associated with use of incense? To the best of my recollection, meditation practice is recognized for its calming and possibly antidepressant effects; anecdotally, that's what it does for me and others who practice it.

But it doesn't have anything to do with incense, which I use at home, but not in practice with others.

personally I think there is a correlation - I have PTSD along with a couple neurological issues. I've also tried doing the meditation thing under the guidance of a couple different therapists in past years. Have never been able to slow the thought processes/problems down at night, but
burning incense helps, but not all scents, only a few work for me. Inhaling the smoke is an issue in the winter when the house is closed, so I've made sachets for those little cone incense things and sleep with that in my hand or under my pillow. It doesn't cure insomnia, but for me, it makes a difference. (And no, I'm not a hippie, I'm a bookkeeper with my own company.)

LSD did indeed come to us through a fungus. The specific fungus is ergot, which is a parasite fungus that lives on rye, barley, and wheat. Ergot can be used to provide ergotamine tartrate, of which LSD is a structural derivative. A few organic chemistry references detail the procedure for producing LSD from ergotamine tartrate.

Check the wikipedia article on Ergot for more info.

I hope I can retire before we have to start burning incense in the ICU setting. Incense AND neuro breath. That, my friend, is gonna be one long damn shift.

I was looking for an opportunity to comment on "aromatherapy", and this was the closest thing to it. As a nurse, I am regularly exposed to the "integrative medicine" trend that nursing seems espeically susceptable to. After hearing aromatherapy talked about on Skeptics Guide to the Universe, I just wanted to say that the research that I've seen involved behavoral conditioning to get a benefit from aromatherapy (as opposed to random subjects being studied for physiological effects).
While I admit that the integrative medicine fans don't limit their belief to patients who have been conditioned to have a response to aromatherapy, it has been my understanding (from reading research some years ago) that the benefits of smelling specific aromas came from intentionally conditioning yourself to associate the smell with the practiced state of relaxation. Then, when the s*** hits the fan and you're getting stressed out - simply take a whiff of your practiced scent - and your brain kicks in to the mental state it has learned to associate that scent with.
Presumably this could apply to incense - if your brain can overcome the urge to refrain from breathing smoke and opening the windows - years of associating incense with lofty, godly feelings could have a similar effect as that aromatherapy conditioning research described.
As for smoking incense for a physiological effect (which I'm thinking you'd have to do to get a "therapeutic level" in your blood to cross that B/B barrier), I think I'd choose the group hug first!

By sciencebabe (not verified) on 23 May 2008 #permalink

Neuroscience PhD candidate, but yet so narrow-minded. Maybe you should try something a bit more fitting for you, like a coke abusing tramp working for Trump.

I've been using Ethiopian Frankincense in my practice since January 2010 and have had great success with people in pain for no reason they could think of. Usually the physical pain has an emotional source. When they inhale the Frankincense oil and contact the pain areas the pain and inflammation subside very quickly.