Is Nutmeg Really a Mind-Altering Substance?

“It’s common knowledge among spice merchants that nutmeg is supposed to be a hallucinogen,” says Tom Erd, owner of The Spice House in Chicago. “But I’ve tried eating it, smoking it, and drinking it, and nothing’s happened to me.”

Probably because he didn’t eat, smoke, or drink enough.

Nutmeg and its sister spice, mace—the seed and the membrane that covers it, respectively, from the Myristica fragrans tree—both contain a substance called myristicin. A potent narcotic compound, it can cause hallucinations when eaten in large amounts. However, it also causes serious dry mouth, nausea, and vomiting, which makes nutmeg an unlikely candidate for recreational drug use.

The key word here is large. A sprinkling of nutmeg on your eggnog latte is not going to turn the barista into a lizard. According to several medical reports, it would take somewhere between 5 and 15 grams of grated spice (about one to two whole nutmeg seeds) to induce any sort of narcotic reaction. Fatal nutmeg poisonings are rare—the last reported case was in 2001—and most occur from eating copious amounts of the spice in an attempt to get high. (The drug requires several hours to take effect, during which time people sometimes ingest more, thinking they have not eaten enough.)

To add a certain je ne sais quoi to baked goods, you can’t go wrong with nutmeg. To trip out, you’d probably have better luck smoking banana peels.

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