Nutmeg Treated as Drug for Hallucinogenic High
Poison centers see an upswing in teens taking nutmeg for a hallucinogenic high.
K-2 Herb Pulled Off Store Shelves
Dec. 9, 2010 — A sprinkle of nutmeg in eggnog or a pinch in apple pie can add the perfect punch to a holiday dessert. But winter’s favorite spice has also made headlines as an unconventional way of getting high — it’s called a nutmeg high.
Nutmeg contains myristicin, a natural compound that has mind-altering effects if ingested in large doses. The buzz can last one to two days and can be hallucinogenic, much like LSD.
According to reports this week from the ABC affiliate WPLG in Miami, the Florida Poison Information Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital has recently seen a small spike in phone calls reporting people who snorted, smoked or ate the spice.
“It’s the flavor of the month,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, medical director at the center. “But most people only try it once because they have such nasty side effects. The rewards are not worth the risks.”
Nasty Side Effects
About 30 minutes to an hour after taking large doses of nutmeg, people usually have severe gastrointestinal reactions, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. But that’s just the beginning. Hours into the high, people can suffer from heart and nerve problems as well.
“This is where people have to be really alert,” said Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center in Atlanta. “A person who has an unrecognized heart ailment could have problems that could lead to irregular rhythms. One plus one can add up to nine really quickly.”
Visual, auditory or sensory hallucinations do not set in until hours after ingesting the spice, so there is also the worry that someone could overdose, thinking they haven’t taken enough to feel anything.
Dr. Marcel Casavant, medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said that it is fairly common for teenagers to experiment with household products to get high. And the results can be devastating.
Danger Drugs in the Home
Household goods, including nutmeg, magic markers and whipped cream cans can cause seizures, cardiac damage and even something called sudden sniffing death syndrome.
Casavant described the syndrome: “One minute, they’re alive and abusing the product and in the next, they’ve dropped dead.”
“The most common story I hear in these cases is that the person gets scared or spooked [while on the drug],” said Casavant. “For most people, there is a small increase in the heart beat, but for these folks on these drugs, their heart beats uncontrollably fast and they die.”
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, so far there have been 67 cases of nutmeg exposure in 2010.
To put the numbers in perspective, there have been nearly 5,000 marijuana phone calls counted by the AAPCC this year.
The AAPCC said the most common drugs treated by poison center are legal and illegal pharmaceuticals, including opioids and analgesic drugs.
Bernard Sangalli, director of the Connecticut Poison Control Centers, said that, though fairly uncommon, nutmeg abuse is periodically rediscovered.
“We’ll see cases like clusters with nutmeg,” said Sangalli. “As people share their experiences on the Internet, we see more and more clustering of those events.”
Nutmeg intoxication epidemics were seen in the early 1900s, and a small resurgence was seen in the mid-1960s.
Now, many doctors say the Internet has played a large role in its most recent, albeit small, upswing.
“Now, people are tweeting and YouTubing, and the information travels faster than the speed of light,” said Lopez. “These are the kind of stories that get out quicker than you blink twice.”
Bernstein noted the spice’s recent publicity, and said the media can play a part in bringing attention to these experimental drugs.
“Like most drugs of abuse, they all have a cycle and all go in and out of being popular,” said Bernstein. “Primarily this is a young person’s drug of abuse because it’s cheap and accessible and, for the most part, legal.”
Nutmeg and the DEA
Currently, the FDA has no plans to regulate the spice.
For a substance to be controlled or illegal, the Drug Enforcement Administration considers certain factors, including impact, pattern of use, and potency of the drug.
Among the factors, the DEA writes: In evaluating existing abuse, the DEA Administrator must know not only the pattern of abuse, but whether the abuse is widespread. In reaching a decision, the Administrator considers the economics of regulation and enforcement attendant to such a decision.
Because the side effects are so wretched, and because one has to ingest so much of the spice to get a high, doctors said that those who try the spice usually do not try it again. Because of this, controlling the spice would not see great benefits.
A Parental Heads-Up
But doctors said parents should be aware of household items that can be used to get high, including nutmeg, aerosol cans, magic markers and computer dusting products.
“It’s difficult for us to monitor our teenagers in the few hours that we see them,” said Lopez. “We don’t know what they’re doing all the time, so it’s important to watch for the kind of behaviors that raise red flags.”
If a child suddenly becomes withdrawn or segregates himself from the group, Lopez said these behavioral problems deserve attention.
“It’s important for parents to be aware to put this stuff away and keep an eye on their kids,” said Lopez. “Because really, who’s going to expect that little Mary or Johnnie saw something like this on YouTube and think, ‘oh nutmeg can make me high, I should try that.'”
If you or someone you know has poison or drug concerns, call the Poison Control Center telephone number at 1-800-222-1222 to connect to your local poison center. People can remain anonymous when walking into the center, calling or doing a live chat.
Poison control centers have recently received a handful of phone calls reporting abuse by snorting, smoking, or eating nutmeg, which, in large doses, causes a hallucinogenic high.
Can You Get High on Nutmeg? Why This Isn’t a Good Idea
Nutmeg, also known as Myristica fragrans, is a common cooking spice known for its warm flavor and sweet taste.
Indonesia is home to the nutmeg tree. This tree grows a fruit that holds the nutmeg seed. After harvesting the fruit, the seed can be dried for a period of weeks. This dried nut can then be used to create the spice we know so well.
The most popular culinary uses of nutmeg include:
- baked goods such as puddings and pies
- savory dishes and sauces
- classic drinks like eggnog
You may also have come across rumors that nutmeg can get you high. While this may be true, there’s more to the story.
Let’s explore the science behind the cause of the “nutmeg high,” as well as the risks associated with using this spice recreationally.
The chemical responsible for the “high” caused by nutmeg is known as myristicin. Myristicin is a compound found naturally in the essential oils of certain plants, such as parsley, dill, and nutmeg.
Myristicin is also found in different spices. It comprises most of the chemical makeup of nutmeg oil and is found in the largest amounts in this spice. In the human body, the breakdown of myristicin produces a compound that affects the sympathetic nervous system.
Peyote is another well-known plant whose compound, mescaline, acts in a similar way to the myristicin in nutmeg. Both mescaline and myristicin affect the central nervous system (CNS) by enhancing the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.
This effect on the CNS is what eventually leads to side effects such as hallucinations, dizziness, nausea, and more.
Research on nutmeg intoxication is sparse. But there are a handful of studies and case reports on some of the dangerous side effects of consuming too much myristicin.
The first claims of nutmeg “intoxication” date back to the 1500s, after a pregnant woman had eaten more than 10 nutmeg nuts. It wasn’t until the 19th century that research began to investigate the effects of myristicin from nutmeg on the CNS.
In one case report, an 18-year-old female complained of nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, and dry mouth, among other symptoms. Although she didn’t report any hallucinations, she did mention feeling as if she was in a trance-like state.
It was later revealed that she had consumed almost 50 grams (g) of nutmeg in the form of a milkshake roughly 30 minutes before her symptoms began.
In a much more recent case study, a 37-year-old female found herself experiencing the symptoms of myristicin intoxication after consuming only two teaspoons (roughly 10 grams) of nutmeg. Her symptoms also included dizziness, confusion, grogginess, and an extremely dry mouth.
In both case studies, the symptoms occurred within hours and lingered for roughly 10 hours. Both individuals were released after observation and made a full recovery.
Although these cases seem rare, a review of the literature from the Illinois Poison Center over a 10-year period revealed over 30 documented cases of nutmeg poisoning. An analysis of the data investigated both intentional and unintentional exposures, as well as drug interactions leading to toxicity.
The investigation revealed that almost 50 percent of the cases were intentional, with only 17 being unintentional exposures. The largest group of people who were unintentionally exposed to nutmeg intoxication were minors under the age of 13.
The most common symptoms in the 10-year review included:
- dry mouth
- seizure (in two cases)
Some of the other notable side effects were respiratory, cardiovascular, and gastric distress.
While nutmeg may seem like an easy way to experiment with getting high, myristicin is an incredibly potent and dangerous compound when taken in large amounts.
In addition to the short-term effects of nutmeg intoxication, there are much more dangerous risks of consuming too much of this spice. In some cases, toxic doses of myristicin have caused organ failure. In other cases, nutmeg overdose has been linked to death when used in combination with other drugs.
Small amounts of nutmeg can be used safely in cooking. Most recipes only call for roughly 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg per recipe. These recipes are often split into multiple portions, leaving the actual exposure to nutmeg very insignificant.
According to the case studies from the Illinois Poison Center, even 10 grams (approximately 2 teaspoons) of nutmeg is enough to cause symptoms of toxicity. At doses of 50 grams or more, those symptoms become more severe.
Like any other drugs, the dangers of nutmeg overdose can occur no matter the method of delivery. According to the University of Utah’s drug delivery resource, the different methods of ingestion can affect how quickly it takes for the active compounds to reach the brain.
Inhalation, or smoking, is one of the fastest methods of delivery. Injecting a drug directly into a vein is the second fastest. The slowest method of delivery for a drug or compound is through ingesting the substance orally.
Because of this, the dangers of myristicin consumption become that much more likely for those who choose to use alternate methods of delivery, such as inhaling or injecting.
Nutmeg is used to enhance delicious fall dishes like holiday pies and stews. However, there’s been a recent trend spreading on the internet that you can also get high on nutmeg. While this may be true, ingesting more nutmeg than is found in your typical eggnog has definite risks. We’ll tell you what you need to know.