So what is nutmeg? Well, Nutmeg is a spice with psychoactive properties. Nutmeg refers to the seed inside of the fruit of the Myristica fragrans tree. And the red aril that surrounds the seed is known as “mace”.
The Myristica fragrans tree is native to the Spice Islands inside of Indonesia, and is also cultivated in other parts of Indonesia, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Grenada, Kerala of India, South America, and Sri Lanka.
Nutmeg is used in many culinary preparations to imbue a spicy-sweet, warm, sensual flavor that reminds me of how coca-cola tastes. The essential oil of nutmeg contains most of the nut’s flavor, as well as most of the psychoactive compounds that act on the brain to change a person’s mood and thinking pattern.
Now let me tell you a little bit about the history of the nutmeg spice.
Table of Contents
A Brief History of Nutmeg
Although nutmeg can brighten up the flavor of a culinary dish, this spice has quite a dark history. Before the mid-19th century, a small group of islands known as the “spice islands” in Indonesia was the only source of nutmeg & mace. In medieval Europe, nutmeg was a prized and costly spice used for food flavoring, medicine, and as a preserving agent because of antibacterial properties. Nutmeg was believed to ward off the plague.
In the beginning, Europeans were exposed to nutmeg as a spice through Muslim traders who were the only ones to know where to find it. The first Europeans to discover the source of nutmeg were the Portuguese. They found nutmeg on the Banda Islands in Indonesias in 1512. The Portuguese did not control the trade on these islands, but they remained as participants without having a foothold on the Banda Islands.
Later on, the Dutch East India Company invaded the Banda Islands and killed off 94% of the native population in order to obtain a monopoly over nutmeg as a trade good. Which should give you a glimpse of what colonialism is really like.
The British had control of one of the Banda Islands called “Rhun”. In 1667 the British traded Rhun to the Dutch in exchange for the Island of Manhattan and its city New Amsterdam in North America, which is now known as New York.
When the Dutch couldn’t pay attention and govern the islands during Napoleonic Wars, the British temporarily took control of the Banda Islands from the Dutch and transplanted nutmeg trees to Sri Lanka, Penang, Bencoolen, and Singapore. From there, the nutmeg tree was further spread to further colonies like Zanzibar and Grenada. You’ll notice that Grenada now is a major producer of nutmeg, so much so that their flag even has an image of a nutmeg showing its importance to the economy of the country.
Finally, the Dutch lost control of the Banda Spice Islands in World War II.
Let me now tell you about the psychoactive & physical effects of nutmeg consumption, at least according to my experience.
My Experience with Nutmeg
When nutmeg is used in the right way (small dose), I observe that it is a potent anti-depressant and creativity enhancer. When used in the wrong way (extremely big dose), you may become feverishly delirious and psychotic.
Negative Effects of Nutmeg Consumption
You should first consider that nutmeg is a seed. And why is that important? Well in nature, seeds are usually designed to survive pest attacks. That’s why you’ll find that many seeds in nature have insecticidal and poisonous properties. For example coffee beans, which are actually the seeds of the coffee fruit, contain caffeine. Caffeine is a chemical with insecticidal properties, meaning that it prevents insects from consuming the coffee bean (or seed ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) by poisoning them. But if a human being consumes the caffeine, it doesn’t act as a poison in the amount found in nature. Instead, caffeine acts as a stimulant.
Similarly, nutmeg is a seed that contains insecticidal and poisonous compounds that prevents pests from consuming it. The psychoactive and psychedelic qualities of this nut exist due to those seed-protecting compounds. And it is because of these compounds that both negative and positive effects exist within the nutmeg seed. I will first talk about the negatives.
When you consume the whole nutmeg nut, it can put a significant toll on the body. You would feel like your limbs are heavier, your eyes may become bloodshot, you become thirstier (dry mouth) and hungrier (munchies). You should also know that too much nutmeg consumption taxes your liver, given that the liver is the body’s main detoxification center. A study indicated that high chronic consumption of nutmeg may cause fatty-liver, much like the high chronic consumption of alcohol does. Also if the dose of nutmeg is too high, the user may experience anxiety, psychosis, delusions, hallucinations, and a feeling of impending doom.
Yea, that sounds pretty bad. And that’s pretty much why people stay away from using nutmeg recreationally. But through my research & experimentation, I have figured out a way to improve the psychoactive experience with nutmeg administration.
Improving the Nutmeg Experience
So in order to reduce the negative effects of the nutmeg nut, I don’t directly consume the whole nutmeg nut. Instead, I grind up no-more than 1 teaspoon of the whole nutmeg and make a hot-water extraction of the nutmeg. I then drink this “tea” while it is still hot. The heat insures that the nutmeg oil doesn’t coagulate onto the inner surface of the container (cup), and stays in a liquid form to be consumed. The heat also improves sublingual absorption of the nutmeg essential oil, which has the active compounds.
To further reduce the negative effects of nutmeg, while at the same time enhancing the positive effects, I combined nutmeg with a bunch of spices to make a spice tea. The most important two spices are cinnamon and cloves for bringing out a positive psychoactive experience with nutmeg administration. The spices function to knock out (inhibit) certain enzymes that breaks down the active compounds of the nutmeg. Thus the addition of certain spices allows a person to consume less nutmeg in order to achieve a significant psychoactive effect. And consuming less nutmeg means that the body experiences less of a toll from it.
The Positive Nutmeg Experience
With the addition of spices and prepared as a tea, nutmeg is actually quite nice. Colors become more vibrant, thoughts flow more freely, and my mood experiences a positive lift. Nutmeg on its own is usually sedating with some stimulation. But adding spices influence the way that nutmeg affects the person. In my experience, I found that adding spices enhanced the speedy-stimulant quality of the nutmeg.
I also find that lateral thinking (a.k.a. creative thinking) is improved significantly, and I find that imagination is enhanced. Nutmeg reminds me of how I passively paint a picture in my mind while reading a story book. Actually, I bet nutmeg would enhance the immersion that a reader has while reading a book- meaning that the reader is better able to paint a picture in his mind of what a book narrates.
I find that nutmeg is a potent anti-depressant, which in turn makes me more productive.
The anti-depressant quality of nutmeg comes from the fact that it contains Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI). MAO Inhibitors stop the enzymes that break down neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. That means that MAO Inhibitors boost the level of these neurotransmitters in the body & in the brain.
Generally speaking, increasing brain serotonin levels improves neurogenesis and positive mood. Increasing brain dopamine levels improves focus, drive, and concentration. And increasing norepinephrine levels improves wakefulness and arousal.
Composition of Nutmeg
In this section, I will be analyzing the various different active compounds within the nutmeg spice to help determine how nutmeg affects the human being biologically and cognitively.
So nutmeg is composed of 45-60% cellulose & solids, 24-40% non-volatile oil, and 5-15% volatile oil. Nutmeg butter (the non-volatile oil fraction) has an orange color with waxy consistency. Nutmeg butter contains about 75-85% of trimyristin, which has a sedating property. And nutmeg butter also contains myristic acid, which is a common saturated fatty acid.
Note that most of the psychoactive components of nutmeg are concentrated in the essential oil. Let’s analyze its composition.
Nutmeg Essential Oil Composition & Psychoactivity
The essential oil of nutmeg is produced by the steam distillation of the ground nutmeg. Nutmeg essential oil is used is perfumery, pharmaceutical industries, and to imbue the flavor of nutmeg in baking.
Also, the essential oil of nutmeg contains most (if not all) of the psychoactive constituents. The essential oil of nutmeg is composed of:
To some degree, all of these compounds may affect the body & brain. The most notable ones that give nutmeg its psychedelic qualities are elemicin, myristicin, and safrole. In fact, a researcher by the name of Alexander Shulgin theorized that the active components inside of the nutmeg spice may metabolize into other psychoactive amphetamines when ingested. For example, he believed that myristicin metabolized into MMDA, elemicin to TMA, and safrole into MDA.
But studies that inspected the urine of nutmeg abusers found no trace of amphetamine derivatives. Instead, it was observed that myristicin, elemicin, and safrole:
…were once and twice hydroxylated at the side chain. In addition, [Elemicin] was O-demethylated at 2 positions followed by side chain hydroxylation. [myristicin] and [safrole] were demethylenated and subsequently methylated.
In the human urine sample, the following metabolites could be identified: O-demethyl elemicin, O-demethyl dihydroxy elemicin, demethylenyl myristicin, dihydroxy myristicin, and demethylenyl safrole.
Understand that hydroxylation is when a hydroxyl group (-OH) is added by hydroxylase enzymes to an organic compound in order to make a lipophilic (fat-loving) substance more water-soluble. Thereby hydroxylation is an extremely important biological process for the detoxification of substances that are normally not soluble in water, allowing lipophilic substances to be more readily eliminated through the kidneys or liver.
So the hydroxylation of myristicin, elemicin, and safrole indicates that these 3 compounds are lipophilic substances that the body must metabolize in order to eliminate them through the urine like a drug.
Although myristicin, elemicin, and safrole don’t become amphetamines in the body, the truth remains that nutmeg has significant psychoactive effects. To figure out how exactly nutmeg affects the brain in order to achieve a psychoactive effect, it is imperative to investigate each active constituent of nutmeg thoroughly. Let’s start with myristicin.
Myristicin (a.k.a. methoxysafrole) is a benzodioxole with many properties that are possibly therapeutic. They include mild MAO inhibition, thereby dopaminergic, serotonergic, noradrenergic, and antidepressant properties. They also include anticholinergic, and enzyme inhibiting properties. In small doses, myristicin shows anticancer, chemoprotective, hepatoprotective properties. In huge doses, myristicin shows cancerous, and organ damaging properties (in lab animals). Note that a substance administered to humans may have a different effect compared to different animals. A good example is with caffeine in coffee and theobromine in chocolate, which are poisonous to insects and dogs respectively, but relatively benign to human beings.
Myristicin also has a density of 1.1416 g/cu cm at 20 degree Celsius. Water has a density of 1 g/cu cm. So because myristicin is denser that water, it sinks to the bottom. So when I use nutmeg as a tea ingredient, the heavier density is probably why I noticed that the taste of nutmeg is usually stronger near the end of the tea-drink.
Properties & Uses for Nutmeg
In the past, Nutmeg has been used in traditional medicine as a drug to treat various illnesses. In this section, I will cover that various different properties that may have made nutmeg attractive as a spice, and attractive to traditional physicians for treating their patients.
Imbues a dish with a sweet-musky & savory taste
In the past, many people used nutmeg mainly as a way to spice up a dish with a nice sensual, warm, and inviting flavor. But nutmeg has also seen use as a medicine as well as abused.
Narcotic Pain-killing Antidepressant
One study uses a chloroform extract of nutmeg to isolate the active ingredients of the nutmeg seed. The researchers found the nutmeg extract to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects, (topical) pain-killing effects, and that it also protects against thrombosis. Thrombosis refers to when blood starts coagulating in the wrong place in the body, such that it may break off and eventually block a part of the blood circulatory system.
But in traditional medicine the oil of nutmeg has been used as an analgesic, and used to treat rheumatism pain, pain in the limbs, general aches, and to treat inflammation. Nutmeg was also used as a sedative, added to milk or some other drink to act as a sleeping aid.
And as I have alluded to earlier in this article, nutmeg can be used to lift up a person’s mood. But it is important to combine nutmeg with cinnamon and cloves for proper effect. And too much nutmeg can backfire, causing stress & anxiety.
Nutmeg not only helps a person fall asleep, but also has a dream-like quality to it. Nutmeg improves the vividness of daydreams, puts a person’s mind into a dream-like quality of thinking, and also improves the recall & lucidity of dreams while asleep.
An Ineffective Abortifacient
For example, some women have abusively consumed ludicrously high quantities of nutmeg as an abortifacient (a substance used to purposefully cause miscarriage). While this was mostly ineffective at causing an abortion, the high doses of nutmeg did harm the fetus with hypotonia. It was also observed that these women became delirious after consuming such large amounts of nutmeg.
An Effective Aphrodisiac
Nutmeg is also a very potent aphrodisiac, both in my experience and according to scientific studies.
Topically applying nutmeg oil to the genitals produces sexual excitation. Consuming nutmeg also increases libido.
A scientific study orally administered nutmeg extract to rats, finding that it increased erection frequency, mounting frequency, decreased the rest time between sexual events, and delayed ejaculation in the test animals.
Nutmeg & Memory
So how does nutmeg interact with a person’s memory? Well, you first have to consider that the myristicin in nutmeg is an anti-cholinergic. That means it decreases the level of acetylcholine neurotransmitters in the brain. Honestly speaking, that is (usually) bad speaking from a nootropics or brain-enhancement standpoint. That’s because our brain needs acetylcholine for the encoding (learning, acquisition) of new memories.
For example, acetylcholine is produced in the basal forebrain of a human being. And during Alzheimer’s disease, the basal forebrain’s acetylcholine producing cells are damaged. The result is that the afflicted person suffers early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, which is memory impairment.
And in fact, substances that raise brain acetylcholine levels, called cholinesterase inhibitors, are marketed to Alzheimer’s disease patients to help treat their symptoms. There is also anecdotal evidence on erowid where a user reported that nutmeg may actually have harm his memory for a prolonged period of time.
Although I must say that I am surprised that nutmeg would cause such a serious negative effect to one’s memory. After all, I have consumed a significant quantity of nutmeg extracted in my tea without noticing such an impairing consequence.
Furthermore, the confounding thing is that there exists many studies which indicate that nutmeg may actually improve memory.
One study on mice showed that the n-hexane extract of nutmeg significantly improved learning, memory, and memory retention and of both young and aged rats, while at the same time reversing the scopolamine and diazepam induced impairment to learning and memory.
Now why is it that nutmeg is showing learning and memory enhancing properties? Well there are many studies that show nutmeg as a substantial acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.
For example, one study observed that the n-hexane extract of nutmeg significantly decreased the acetylcholinesterase activity in brains of Swiss albino mice. Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, thereby decreasing its presence in the body & brain. If this enzyme is decreased, then obviously that would cause an increase of acetylcholine levels.
Yet another study explores alternative herbal acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors that are used in Indian medicine. The researchers were probably inspired by that fact that AChE inhibitors are the only approved therapy for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease as of 2007, in London. One of their findings is that the hydroalcohol extract of nutmeg “showed
an inhibitory effect on AChE with IC50 value 133.28 ± 11.26 μg/mL” in vitro.
So in the end, nutmeg has a variable effect on memory, either positive or negative, depending on a person’s genetics, diet, lifestyle, and other factors that I may not be aware of. In general, I would like to assume that small quantities of nutmeg in the diet may not impair memory, and in some instances may actually have a positive effect on memory. Alternatively, I have an inkling that larger doses of nutmeg (more than a teaspoon) start to have an opposite effect & impairs memory instead.
How Safe is Nutmeg?
Honestly, I believe that nutmeg is pretty safe for human consumption, although not so for cats and lab animals. That’s why you can still find this nice spice in almost every supermarket. Although nutmeg usually becomes harmful if taken for long periods of time at high doses. High chronic intake of nutmeg may harm the dopaminergic neurons of the brain, although I still haven’t found a study that directly supports this claim. Studies usually point to other studies showing that nutmeg has a dopaminergic effect. I don’t know how that supports their claim of nutmeg being neurotoxic to dopamine neurons. High chronic intake of nutmeg also causes fatty liver, just like with alcohol. Nutmeg is also dangerous if given to children, and in combination with certain drugs that shouldn’t be taken with a MAOI, or has a CNS depressant effect.
In fact, there have been only 2 deaths reported associated with nutmeg consumption. One child died of nutmeg poisoning. And an adult died due to combining flunitrazepam with nutmeg.
For the first case of death, in 1887 an 8 year old boy ingested 2 nutmegs and became semi-comatose. After he was found, “doctors” administered:
an emetic and ‘‘diffusible stimulants’’, followed by ‘‘hypodermic injections of brandy, ammonia, and small doses of sulphate of atropia’’ but died the following morning (one may question whether the treatment was more toxic than the ingestion).
For the second case of death, you should first consider that combining flunitrazepam with alcohol or an opioid is also quite deadly. Furthermore, flunitrazepam is dangerous on its own. That’s perhaps why you can only find this substance in specific regions in only 1mg doses. The dosage used to be higher, but users often ended up overdosing. In addition, flunitrazepam is not approved by the FDA in the US- in fact, flunitrazepam is treated as an illegal drug in the US that comes with a long term prison sentences.
In my opinion, flunitrazepam is what I would consider dangerous. Nutmeg not so much, although combining multiple CNS depressants is usually a bad idea.
So in the adult case of death, a 55 year old woman was found dead with blood myristicin levels of 4 microg/ml and blood flunitrazepam levels of 0.072 microg/ml. Note that myristicin levels corresponds with the amount of nutmeg consumed, given that myristicin is a major active constituent of nutmeg.
Normally in cases of nutmeg poisoning, life-threatening situations were never observed, even with high dosages (20-80 grams of powder). In one example, a myristicin blood level of 2 microg/ml was measured 8 hours after a person ingested 2-3 tablespoons of nutmeg powder- which is approximately 14-21 grams of nutmeg. By bodyweight, it would be 280-420 mg/kg.
And in cases of flunitrazepam, blood or plasma flunitrazepam concentrations are usually in a range of 5–20 μg/L in persons receiving the drug therapeutically as a nighttime hypnotic (not exactly a pure sedative- flunitrazepam and other benzodiazepines actually decreases the quality of sleep by decreasing delta brainwave activity. During sleep, delta brainwaves indicate a better quality of sleep.), 10–50 μg/L in those arrested for impaired driving and 100–1000 μg/L in victims of acute fatal overdose.
Note that in the case of the woman’s death, she had blood flunitrazepam levels of 0.072 microg/ml. That translates into 72 μg/L, which is close to the minimum required to see fatal overdose of flunitrazepam. In other words, this lady already has a toxic level of flunitrazepam in her blood. And it looks like nutmeg, like alcohol and opioids, pushes the fatal level of flunitrazepam down significantly. Looking back at this study, it may be assumed that this lady took about 5-6 tablespoons of nutmeg powder and a dangerous 7+ mg amount of flunitrazepam.
All in all, nutmeg is pretty safe to use as long as you keep the dosage low (1 teaspoon is what I am comfortable with) and not combined with other narcotics or CNS depressive drugs.
Buy some nutmeg to spice up your life? I hear that a pinch of nutmeg goes pretty well with hot cocoa for a nice mood lift.
- Simply Organic Nutmeg Ground CERTIFIED ORGANIC 2.3oz. bottle
- Indian Spice Nutmeg Whole
- Nutmeg 100% Pure Therapeutic Grade Essential Oil by Edens Garden- 10 ml
- Biological effects of Myristica fragrans (nutmeg) extract. [Phytother Res.]
- Abuse of nutmeg (Myristica fragrans Houtt.): studies on the metabolism and the toxicologic detection of its ingredients elemicin, myristicin, and safrole in rat and human urine using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. [Ther Drug Monit.]
Memory Problems [erowid.org]
- Improvement of mouse memory by Myristica fragrans seeds. [J Med Food.]
- Comparative brain cholinesterase-inhibiting activity of Glycyrrhiza glabra, Myristica fragrans, ascorbic acid, and metrifonate in mice. [J Med Food.]
- Screening of Indian medicinal plants for acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity. [Phytother Res.] [Full PDF]
- The spice of life: An analysis of nutmeg exposures in California [ResearchGate]
- Nutmeg (myristicin) poisoning–report on a fatal case and a series of cases recorded by a poison information centre. [Forensic Sci Int.]