4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Are there any side effects to burning incense? What is Nag Champa?

Image by Rick Geary

Hey, Matt:

I burn quite a bit of incense in my apartment, and I'm wondering just what sort of toxic chemicals I am inhaling. Has incense ever been linked to lung cancer or other serious illness? And what exactly is "Nag Champa," and why am I so addicted to it?

-- Matt Cardwell, Hillcrest

In the grand toxic scheme of things, incense hardly registers on the meter. A stick of Nag Champa vs. the tailpipe of an old diesel truck climbing a hill? Hah. Of course, if the air is so thick in your house you need fog lights to find the bathroom, well, common sense has to tell you your lungs, sinuses, et al., are taking a beating. We'll assume you're maybe a two-, three-stick-a-day guy living in something bigger than a refrigerator carton. You're not helping your lungs much, but there are more cancer risks in the larger environment. Do Buddhist monks, Deadheads have lots of lung cancer? Medical science is strangely silent.

Incense -- at least the good stuff -- is just ground up spices or wood bark or herbs, flowers, whatever the fragrance is, stuck together with tree sap. So snorting incense smoke is like sticking your head in the fireplace or loitering around a brush fire. If you burn that Midnight Musk or Strawberry Delight stuff, well, there are artificial fragrance chemicals in most of them, which is why they smell like a cheap hooker in flames.

If the smoke doesn't irritate your nose or eyes, well, perhaps the spiritual value will offset any small health risk. And by the way, when people say they're "allergic" to smoke -- incense, tobacco, whatever -- well, they're not. At least not by the strict medical definition of an allergy. There is no protein component in smoke, and protein is necessary to cause an allergic reaction. Smoke is just an irritant, not an allergen.

As for your favorite irritant, Nag Champa, the name is Hindi, though I'm told by my experts that it has a Sanskrit origin. "Champa" is the local name for a flower that grows about ten feet tall in the tropics, Alpinia nutans, shell ginger. "Nag" is more of a problem. It literally means "cobra," but has other layers of meaning in different contexts. Here it probably means "breath" or "spirit." So the fragrance of the ginger flower is the principal scent in Nag Champa, though I'm told by those who've smelled the plant, the fragrance is very delicate, and of course when it burns in incense, it smells like smoldering compost.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Ideal round of golf: “any Wednesday evening at Mission Bay with three friends and 12 Stellas”

Lowest score wins
Next Article

The dine-in ghost kitchens of Barrio Food Hub

Dozens of virtual brands operate in a single building, and it has a parklet
Image by Rick Geary

Hey, Matt:

I burn quite a bit of incense in my apartment, and I'm wondering just what sort of toxic chemicals I am inhaling. Has incense ever been linked to lung cancer or other serious illness? And what exactly is "Nag Champa," and why am I so addicted to it?

-- Matt Cardwell, Hillcrest

In the grand toxic scheme of things, incense hardly registers on the meter. A stick of Nag Champa vs. the tailpipe of an old diesel truck climbing a hill? Hah. Of course, if the air is so thick in your house you need fog lights to find the bathroom, well, common sense has to tell you your lungs, sinuses, et al., are taking a beating. We'll assume you're maybe a two-, three-stick-a-day guy living in something bigger than a refrigerator carton. You're not helping your lungs much, but there are more cancer risks in the larger environment. Do Buddhist monks, Deadheads have lots of lung cancer? Medical science is strangely silent.

Incense -- at least the good stuff -- is just ground up spices or wood bark or herbs, flowers, whatever the fragrance is, stuck together with tree sap. So snorting incense smoke is like sticking your head in the fireplace or loitering around a brush fire. If you burn that Midnight Musk or Strawberry Delight stuff, well, there are artificial fragrance chemicals in most of them, which is why they smell like a cheap hooker in flames.

If the smoke doesn't irritate your nose or eyes, well, perhaps the spiritual value will offset any small health risk. And by the way, when people say they're "allergic" to smoke -- incense, tobacco, whatever -- well, they're not. At least not by the strict medical definition of an allergy. There is no protein component in smoke, and protein is necessary to cause an allergic reaction. Smoke is just an irritant, not an allergen.

As for your favorite irritant, Nag Champa, the name is Hindi, though I'm told by my experts that it has a Sanskrit origin. "Champa" is the local name for a flower that grows about ten feet tall in the tropics, Alpinia nutans, shell ginger. "Nag" is more of a problem. It literally means "cobra," but has other layers of meaning in different contexts. Here it probably means "breath" or "spirit." So the fragrance of the ginger flower is the principal scent in Nag Champa, though I'm told by those who've smelled the plant, the fragrance is very delicate, and of course when it burns in incense, it smells like smoldering compost.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Here’s what vegans were lining up for in Encinitas

The new game in plant-based meats is pork… and imitation spiced ham
Next Article

Gloria’s claims of tackling homelessness seen as cringey

Lou Correa wanted to study China at Kona Kai
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close