Incense and the Psychoactive Substances Bill

“The insertion of a single word will do it … and there you are, out of your difficulty at once”[1]

Last week, a report on the House of Lords debate on the report stage of the Psychoactive Substances Bill in the Church Times carried the headline “Incense could be a legal high, peers are warned,” indicating the possibility that “priests using incense could be criminalized under a new law being introduced by the Government to crack down on so-called “legal highs”. Lord Howarth of Newport [Labour] said

The expert committee also warned that closer thought needed to be given to possible unintended consequences of the loose and generalized term “psychoactive substances” used in the Bill. We do not want to criminalize priests. The more vigorously the priest swings the censer, the more incense is let loose into the body of the church … we have to be very careful that we do not unintentionally criminalize either priests or florists because flowers have psychoactive effects”.

HL Hansard 14 July 2015 Vol 764(31) Col 469

Given the antipathy to incense by some on account of its ritualistic use, and by others on aesthetic or alleged health grounds, it is timely to unpick some of the available facts in advance of the development of “urban myths” in this area. Continue reading