What makes frankincense spiritual

Frankincense is a psychoactive drug

The incensol contained in the resin reduces anxiety and depression by influencing ion channels in brain cells

Not everyone can tolerate incense. It has long been suspected that the fragrance from the resin of Boswellia trees has a psychoactive effect. In a study, American and Israeli scientists have now confirmed that the smoke stimulates the brain and has a calming effect. That may have been one reason why the believers present in religious ceremonies since ancient Egypt were put into the right, receptive mood not only through words, singing, rituals, art and spectacular architecture, but also through drugs.

Although the pharmacological effects of frankincense, such as anti-inflammatory effects, are just as well known as its effects via smell on the brain, the individual components have not yet been investigated in terms of their emotional and psychological effects. Pedanios Dioskurides, a Greek doctor and pharmacologist of antiquity, wrote about frankincense resin in his work Materia Medica, but warns that it can lead to madness in healthy people:

It has the power to warm up, to astringent, to drive away the darkenings on the pupils, to fill in the hollow areas of the wounds and to scar them, to glue up bloody wounds, to hold back all blood flow, including that from the brain. Rubbed and spread on charpie with milk, it soothes the malignant ulcers around the anus and the rest of the parts; In the beginning, spreading it with vinegar and pitch, it drives away the warts and lichen. He also uses pork or goose lard to heal burned-out ulcers and frost damage. He cures bad grind together with nitrum (soda), paronychia (side nails) with honey, bruised ears spread with pitch, against the other ear ailments he helps poured sweet wine. He cures inflammation of the breasts from birth as an ointment with cimolean earth and rose oil. It is also added with benefit to the medicines for the windpipe and the noble parts of the intestines. Comrades, he helps those suffering from blood spitting; on the other hand, it is maddening when taken by healthy people, drunk copiously with wine, and even has a deadly effect.

The scientists tested the effects of the boswellic acid Incensol, which is contained in frankincense, on mice produced to evaluate antidepressant and anxiety-reducing psychotropic drugs, as they write in their article, which appeared in the journal FASEB. After that, inhaling the smoke reduces anxiety and depression. This was checked with behavioral tests, for example the Porsol swim test or the observation of the cataleptic effect. Electrophysiological analyzes were also carried out and the brains examined to demonstrate the effect on c-Fos. The transcription factor c-Fos is commonly used to check the effects of psychotropic drugs in the brain. It is believed that c-Fos is primarily generated in the amygdala and has to do with triggering anxiety and depression.

TRPV3 receptors seem to play a role in this. They serve as heat sensors in skin cells, but are also found in the brain, although their function is unknown. At least in mice, frankincense activates the protein TRPV3, the receptors open an ion channel in the cell membrane, which also activates the c-Fos gene in the amygdala and other areas associated with emotions, which was demonstrated by the dissected brains. In genetically modified mice in which the receptor is switched off, Incensol did not show any psychoactive effects; their behavior remained unchanged. Incensol appears to have little or no effect on other receptors and ion channels such as TRPV1, TRPV2 and TRPV4.

The scientists conclude that the TRPV3 channels play a role in emotional control and that new psychotropic drugs could be developed on the basis of Incensol. It is pointed out that anxiety disorders and depression are the most common mental disorders in the United States. So far, no effective substance has been found in the search for natural remedies for the TRP channels. Since Incensol belongs to the naturally occurring cembranoid diterpenes, other psychoactive agents that can also be pharmacologically important could possibly be discovered in this group.

In any case, the scientists assume that Incensol in frankincense could intensify the euphoric feeling that occurs in religious ceremonies because it stimulates mild feelings and light warmth. Gerald Weissman, editor-in-chief of FASEB magazine, emphasizes the religious significance of incense: "Perhaps Marx was not so far off when he called religion the opium for the people: morphine comes from poppy seeds, cannabis from marijuana and LSD from mushrooms. All substances were used in religious ceremonies. Research into the effects of these psychoactive drugs has helped us understand modern neurobiology. The discovery of how incensol acetate, extracted from the frankincense tree, affects certain areas of the brain should also help us to Understand diseases of the nervous system. (Florian Rötzer)

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