Nutmeg: Kitchen High

This is a story that circulates anew every few years, concerning nutmeg used as a recreational drug. Yes, I’m talking about nutmeg the common kitchen spice. Originally from Indonesia, nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is widely cultivated in the tropics, notably in the Caribbean, the island of Grenada, Indonesia, and India’s Kerala Province on the Arabian sea. I have seen nutmeg growing in the South Pacific and on the exotic island of Penang, and it is a beautiful tree that yields nuts. Inside each nut is a large oval seed covered with a reddish rubbery material. The rubbery material is the highly fragrant spice mace- not to be confused with mace from a spray can to ward off attackers. The seed itself is nutmeg, an even more popular spice.

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Nutmeg, ground finely, has a delightful pungent aroma that makes the spice a welcome addition to eggnog, cakes, cookies, pies, apple preserves and other dessert items. Nutmeg winds up as a seasoning in pumpkin pies, and enjoys a reputation as a holiday spice. But nutmeg is also a kitchen high, a recreational drug. About one heaping tablespoon of nutmeg will produce a high, but it takes a very long time for the effects to manifest, as much as five hours. As a result of this long wait, people who try to get high on nutmeg often consume more after an hour or two, assuming they haven’t eaten enough. As a result of excess consumption, they really get hammered down the road. Some people describe the nutmeg high as a pleasant experience, but more people describe it as feeling very much like a case of the flu.

Nutmeg has been commonly used by prison inmates as a high, and inevitably shows up on the school yard every few years or so. Nutmeg contains a variety of aromatic compounds, including one called myristicin, which is presumed to be responsible for the high engendered by this holiday spice. This compound is known as an MAO inhibitor. It makes people more receptive to other psychoactive compounds, and often causes nausea. Myristicin is known as a deliriant. That is, it produces a delirious state of mind. This is not one of the most enjoyable states you can induce, and many users of nutmeg have reported feeling confused, disoriented and paranoid while under the influence. Myristicin, is toxic in large doses, and can cause dehydration, general body pain and palpitations.

Author William Burroughs, most famous for his scandalous book “The Naked Lunch,” claimed that using nutmeg as a high made him nauseous. I have done much browsing on the Erowid Vaults, surely the best online source for information on the use of various psychoactive agents, and have found many cautionary or negative reports on the nutmeg high experience. Overall, it does indeed sound like getting high on nutmeg is similar to a case of the flu.

I settle out on nutmeg as a drug by advising against its use. You are more likely to vomit than giggle with glee, and you are more likely to wish it were over than to hope the effects last longer. It is basic human nature to tinker with mind and mood by various means, from the use of psychoactive plats to engaging in trials by ordeal. In my estimation, the nutmeg high is one you can definitely afford to miss.

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide.  His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com

August 2010