If you’ve ever heard the Biblical Christmas story, you already know that three Magi – or Wise Men – saw a vivid star on Jesus’ birth, followed it to the manger where he laid in swaddling clothes, and prostrated themselves before the newborn King of Kings. For gifts they brought some of the most precious of their day; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Today we’re concerned with that middle one, which many people might be unfamiliar with outside of the biblical tale. What does this have to do with Cannabis? It turns out, frankincense and cannabis share more history than you might expect. What is Frankincense? Thousands of years after the tale of the Magi, gold remains a symbol and demonstration of wealth. Myrrh, a sap-like substance from trees is still around today and used to make medicine.
Frankincense was ritually used alongside cannabis as a perfume or incense. Photo credit: Shutterstock
But it’s frankincense that seems to have the most mystical, ritual connotations. The aromatic spice begins as a hardened resin from the trunk of the Boswellia tree to be made into a perfume and incense. In Biblical times – and at direct instruction from God to the Israelites – frankincense was used in the most holy place in the tabernacle. Native to Oman, Yemen, and Somalia in Africa, frankincense today is frequently used for aromatherapy
, a practice that utilizes essential oils like lavender or lemon, for example, that are either inhaled or used on the skin for potential therapeutic benefits. In aromatherapy, frankincense
has been loosely associated with therapeutic benefits for cancer, asthma, arthritis, inflammation, and oral health. Frankincense and Cannabis Connection While cannabis is not specifically used for aromatherapy (unless the smell of a joint makes you really happy), frankincense and cannabis have a lot in common dating back thousands of years. In at least one instance, in fact, the two of them showed up together
. According to the journal Tel Aviv, analysis of material found on two Iron Age altars at the entrance to a shrine at Tel Arad in Israel found both cannabis and frankincense laying at the shrine’s entrance, or the “holy of holies.” Lead author of the study Eran Arie said, “This is the first time that cannabis has been identified in the Ancient Near East; its use in the shrine must have played a central role in the cultic rituals performed there.”
Evidence shows that some of the effects of frankincense has are very similar to cannabis and thus used for sacred applications. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Study researchers suggest that cannabis was used at shrine ceremonies as a deliberate psychoactive. Arie went on to say that the discovery of frankincense at a second altar provided the earliest evidence of ritual, cultic use of the aromatic spice. The father of cannabis research, Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, is most famously known for the identification of the cannabinoid THC. But a study
he conducted on frankincense suggested that an ingredient in the spice may ease anxiety, elevate mood, and alleviate symptoms of depression, just as cannabis does for some consumers. Separately, cannabis and frankincense have been used by humans for literally millennia. Frankincense for its aromatic and sacred applications, and cannabis for its use in ritual
and as food, fiber, and medicine. Frankincense has its star turn in the Bible in the story of the birth of Jesus, and is otherwise mentioned 22 times. In Exodus 30:34-38, it is written:
Both frankincense and cannabis have spent time as outlaws. At the birth of Jesus, frankincense was worth more than its weight in gold, but as Christianity rose and the Roman Empire fell, trading routes that frankincense traveled became impassable and incense forbidden because of its affiliation with pagan worship rituals.
Cannabis and frankincense both have a long history being used together. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Cannabis, of course, has been under direct attack since the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
, and the War on Drugs
that made cannabis a Schedule I substance
since 1971 has inflicted horrendous damage – particularly on medical cannabis patients and communities of color - that has yet to be undone. Conclusion So next time you uncap that bottle of frankincense essential oil or spark up that joint, remember that you are but one participant in eons-old rituals that connect our current moment to a shared past.