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Q
Getting High on Nutmeg?

Can you really get high on nutmeg? I heard about this recently and think it sounds unlikely. 

A
Answer (Published 2/7/2011)

Yes, you can get high on nutmeg, but I doubt that you would enjoy it very much and am willing to predict that you wouldn’t try it twice. Nutmeg contains small amounts of a drug called myristicin, which is chemically similar to mescaline, the active compound in peyote, and may be converted in the body to one of the related amphetamine-like psychedelics. I’ve read that nutmeg is coming back into vogue (this happens periodically), thanks to information about its hallucinogenic possibilities being spread via the Internet and other media.

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The first thing you need to know is that you have to consume an awful lot of nutmeg to get high – from a tablespoon up to a whole container. Remember, in cooking and baking nutmeg is used only in very small quantities – a quarter-teaspoon in a recipe, perhaps, for its flavor in cakes or pies or eggnog. But ground nutmeg straight from the can tastes pretty awful.

If you manage to swallow enough, the effects can be variable, ranging from mild feelings of floating to full-blown delirium. These don’t occur immediately – you may have to wait up to four hours for the effects, which can be long-lasting (up to 48 hours if you swallow enough. The after-effects are memorable and pretty miserable: a heavy hangover and nasty gastrointestinal upset including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, your heart can race uncomfortably. The toxic effects are so unpleasant that few people who try nutmeg out of curiosity come back for more.

I understand that the poison control centers have reported a spike in phone calls from people who have eaten, smoked or snorted nutmeg, but the numbers aren’t huge: all told, only about 70 such phone calls were received by poison control centers throughout the United States in 2010 (compared to nearly 5,000 for marijuana). Teenagers are apparently those most likely to experiment with nutmeg because it is more easily obtained, less expensive than street drugs, and legal. But the experience is so negative that maybe those who have tried it will spread the word that it’s not worth the trouble.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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