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Nutmeg Factfile (FAQ)
by Anonymous
v 1.0 - 2000
Minor update Apr 2001, by Erowid
Erowid Note: This FAQ was not authored by Erowid. It may include out-of-date and/or incorrect information. Please check the version date to see when it was most recently revised. It appears on Erowid as part of our historical archives. For current information, see Erowid's summary pages in the substance's main vault.
This is the nutmeg factfile, compiled by me. Currently it contains the following excerpts about nutmeg and its effective constituent, myristicin. Feel free to add more information to this file.

ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, Part VII Micropedia.
General information about nutmeg, but mentions nothing about its psychoactive properties. (Why ?)
DORLAND'S ILLUSTRATED MEDICAL DICTIONARY.
MACMILLAN DICTIONARY OF TOXICOLOGY.
ILLUSTRATED CHURCHILL'S MEDICAL DICTIONARY.
INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF MEDICINE AND BIOLOGY.
UUSI TIETOSANAKIRJA (in Finnish and in English).
MARTINDALE THE EXTRA PHARMACOPOEIA TWENTY-NINTH EDITION.
These tell some chemical and medical facts about myristicin and related substances.
BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL 1970 1, 21 March 1970, page 754.
NEW YORK STATE JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, February 1, 1969, pages 463-465.
Two interesting case studies about the nutmeg intoxication and references.
THE BRITISH JOURNAL OF ADDICTION, Vol.53, No.2.
And finally, some information by William Burroughs.
CREDIT & COPYRIGHTS


ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, Part VII Micropedia:

nutmeg, spice consisting of the seed of the Myristica fragrans, a tropical, dioecious evergreen tree native to the Moluccas or Spice Islands of Indonesia. Nutmeg has a characteristic, pleasant fragrance and slightly warm taste; it is used to flavour many kinds of baked goods, confections, puddings, meats, sausages, sauces, vegetables, and such beverages as eggnog. Grated nutmeg has been used as a sachet; the Romans used it as incense.

Around 1600 it became important as an expensive commercial spice of the Western world and was subject of Dutch plots to keep prices high and of English and French counterplots to obtain fertile seeds for transplantation. The nutmegs sold whole were dipped in lime to prevent their growth.

The tree is cultivated in the Moluccas and the West Indies principally, and elsewhere with varying success. The trees may reach about 65 feet (20 metres) tall. They yield fruit 8 years after sowing, reach their prime in 25 years, and bear fruit for 60 years or longer. The stands on the Moluccas thrive in the shade under groves of lofty trees. The nutmeg fruit is a pendulous drupe, similar in appearance to an apricot. When fully mature it splits in two, exposing a crimson-coloured aril, the mace, surrounding a single shiny, brown seed, the nutmeg. The pulp of the fruit may be eaten locally. After collection, the aril-enveloped nutmegs are conveyed to curing areas where the mace is removed, flattened out, and dried. The nutmegs are dried gradually in the sun and turned twice daily over a period of six to eight weeks. During this time the nutmeg shrinks away from its hard seed coat until the kernels rattle in their shells when shaken. The shell is then broken with a wooden truncheon and the nutmegs are picked out. Dried nutmegs are grayish-brown ovals with furrowed surfaces. Large ones may be about 1.2 inches long and 0.8 inch in diameter.

Nutmeg and mace contain 7 to 14 percent essential oil, the principal components of which are pinene, camphene, and dipentene, all having the empirical formula C10H16. Nutmeg on expression yields about 24 to 30 percent fixed oil called nutmeg butter, or oil of mace, the principal component of which is trimyristin, C45H86O6. The oils are used as condiments and carminatives and to scent soaps and perfumes. An ointment of nutmeg butter has been used as a counterirritant and in treatment of rheumatism.

The name nutmeg is also applied in different countries to other fruits or seeds: the Jamaica, or calabash, nutmeg derived from Monodora myristica; the Brazilian nutmeg from Cryptocarya moschata; the Peruvian nutmeg from Laurelia aromatica; the Madagaskar, or clove, nutmeg from Ravensara aromatica; and the California, or stinking, nutmeg from Torreya californica.


DORLAND'S ILLUSTRATED MEDICAL DICTIONARY:

myristic acid
trivial name for tetradecanoic acid, the 14-carbon, straight-chain unsaturated fatty acid.
Myristica
a genus of trees of tropical countries. M. fragrans Houtt. (Myristicaceae), the nutmeg tree, is the source of myristica. M. ocuba is the source of ocuba wax.
myristica
nutmeg; the dried ripe seed of Myristica fragrans Houtt. (Myristicaceae) deprived of its seed coat and arillode and with or within a coating of lime. It is the source of nutmeg oil, which is used as a flavoring agent in pharmaceutical preparations. It has stimulating aromatic, carminative, and psychomimetic (sp? psychotomimethic?) properties. (carminative = flatulence relieving.)
myristicene
a fragrant eleopten, C10H14, from nutmeg (myristica) oil.
myristicol
a stearopten, or camphor, C10H16O, from nutmeg (myristica) oil.
myristin
chemical name: glyceryl trimyristate, C3H5(C14H27O2)3, found in spermaceti and many vegetable oils and fats, especially coconut oil and fixed nutmeg (myristica) oil.


MACMILLAN DICTIONARY OF TOXICOLOGY:

myristicin
A naturally occurring methylenedioxyphenyl compound found in nutmeg. It has been suggested that myristicin may be responsible, in whole or in part, for the toxicity of nutmeg. The spice (5-15g) causes symptoms similar to atropine poisoning: flushing of skin, tachycardia, absence of salivation, and excitation of the central nervous system. Euphoria and hallucinations have given rise to abuse of this material. As a methylenedioxyphenyl compound, myristicin gives rise to a type III spectrum with reduced cytochrome P-450 and can inhibit monooxygenations catalyzed by this cytochrome. See also AMPHETAMINES; CYTOCHROME P-450, OPTICAL DIFFERENCE SPECTRA; HALLUCINOGENS.


ILLUSTRATED CHURCHILL'S MEDICAL DICTIONARY (page 1227) and
INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF MEDICINE AND BIOLOGY (page 1868)
(These have exactly the same text.)

myristicin
A toxic, crystalline, safrole derivative present in star anise, parsley seed oil, and nutmeg oil. When ingested in large quantities, it can cause convulsions, hallucinations, tachycardia, and possibly death.


UUSI TIETOSANAKIRJA 14 sivu 342 (in Finnish)

Myristisiini, 5-metoksi-safroli, C11H12O3, kellert{v{, voimakkaan hajuinen, veteen liukenematon, alkoholiin ja eetteriin liukeneva |ljy, sulamisp. < -20 C, kiehumap. 149.5 C (15 mm:n paineessa). M:a on persiljassa sek{ muskottikukissa ja -p{hkin|iss{.

My humble translation to English:

Myristicin, 5-metoxy-safrole, C11H12O3, a yellowish, strong-odoured oil, insoluble in water, soluble in alcohol and in ether, melting point < -20 degrees centigrade, boiling point 149.5 degrees centigrade (in 15 mm. pressure ?). There is myristicin in parsley, in mace and in nutmeg.


MARTINDALE THE EXTRA PHARMACOPOEIA TWENTY-NINTH EDITION:

4679-n

Nutmeg
Muscade; Myristica; Noz Moscada; Nuez Moscada; Nux Moschata.

Pharmacopoeias. In Egypt., Port., Span., and Swiss. In B.P.C. 1973 which also includes Powdered Nutmeg.

The dried kernels of the seeds of Myristica Fragrans (Myristicaceae).

4678-d.

Nutmeg Oil (BAN, USAN).
Atherisches Muskat|l; Esencia de Nuez Moscada; Essencia de Moscada; Essence de Muscade; Myristica Oil; Oleum Myristicae.

CAS 0 8008-45-5.

Pharmacopoeias. In Arg., Aust., and Br. Also in U.S.N.F.

A volatile oil obtained by distillation from nutmeg. It is colourless, pale yellow or pale green liquid with an colour and taste of nutmeg. It is available as East Indian Nutmeg Oil and West Indian Nutmeg Oil.

East Indian oil is soluble 1 in 3 of alcohol (90%), West Indian 1 in 4. Store at a temperature not exceeding 25 degrees in well-filled airtight containers. Protect from light.

STANDARD FOR NUTMEG OILS. British Standard Specifications for East Indian and West Indian Nutmeg Oil (BS 2999/37/38: 1971) are published by the British Standards Institution.

Adverse Effects
Nutmeg, taken in large doses may cause nausea and vomiting, flushing, dry mouth, tachycardia, stimulation of the central nervous system possibly with epileptiform convulsions, miosis, mydriasis, euphoria, and hallucinations.

Within 4 hours of taking 28 g of nutmeg in water and orange juice, a 19-year-old woman felt cold and shivery. This was followed after 6 to 8 hours by severe vomiting accompanied by hallucinations. For a week she had poor concentration and was disorientated. The hallucinogen in nutmeg was believed to be myristicin. - D. J. Panayotopoulos and D. D. Chisholm (letter), Br. med. J., 1970, 1, 754. A similar report. - R. A. Faguet and K. F. Rowland, Am. J. Psychiat., 1978, 135, 860.

Within 3 days of receiving ground nutmeg 9 teaspoonfuls daily to control the diarrhoea associated with nodullary carcinoma of the thyroid, a patient complained of dry eyes and mouth, blurred vision, dizziness, tingling, and feelings of depersonalisation and remoteness. The symptoms gradually subsided as the dose was reduced. - G. S. Venables et al. (letter), Br. med. J., 1976, I, 96.

Ingestion of freshly ground nutmeg 1.5 to 4 g three to four times daily for 2 days by 2 subjects produced constipation, but no aspirin-like effect on biphasic platelet aggregation was noted. Both subjects also felt light-headed, slightly disorientated, occassionally nauseated, flushed, and had nasal congestion and very dry mouths; pupil size was unaffected. - W. H. Dietz and M. J. Stuart (letter), New Engl. J. Med., 1976, 294, 503.

Uses and Administration
Nutmeg and nutmeg oil are aromatic and carminative and are used as flavouring agents. Nutmeg oil and expressed nutmeg oil, a solid fat, are rubefacient. Nutmeg is reported to inhibit prostaglandin synthesis.

Reports of diarrhoea associated with increased plasmaprostaglandin concentrations responding to treatment with nutmeg: J. A. Barrowman et al., Br. med. J., 1975, 3, 11; idem (letter), 160; I. Shafran et al. (letter), New Engl. J. Med., 1977, 296, 694.


BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL 1970 1, 21 March 1970, page 754:

Hallucinogenic Effect of Nutmeg

Sir, - A patient tells us it is common knowledge among the drug-taking and hippie sub-culture that taking nutmeg is a potent way of taking a "trip". The hallucinogen in nutmeg is believed to be myristicin.

An intelligent 19-year-old female with a hysterical personality took one ounce of nutmeg in water and orange juice. She had five fays previously taken L.S.D. with very little effect. She had also experimented with cannabis, but the only noticeable effect of this was that she developed a dry mouth. In contrast to this the effects of nutmeg were marked. At first she felt no effect, but after four hours she felt cold and shivery. Six to eight hours later she was vomiting severely. She saw faces and the room appeared distorted, with flashing lights and loud music. She felt a different person and everything seemed unreal. Time appeared to stand still. She felt vibrations and twitches in her limbs. When she shut her eyes she saw lights, black creatures, red eyes and felt sucked into the ground. Her mood was one of elation. She was taken by her friends to be seen by one of us (D.P.) as an emergency. She was admitted and quickly fell into a sound sleep. For the next week, however, she felt that she was walking in a cloud and complained that her thinking was confused and she found it difficult to follow what people were saying. Her concentration seemed poor and lapses of attention were noticed.

The clinical features of this case have much in common with the effects of nutmeg ingestion previously reported (1). The physical symptoms were unpleasant, and the girl states that she would not take nutmeg again because of these. In her case vomiting was the most severe physical side-effect. Severe physical collapse following ingestion of nutmeg occurs (2). A dose of 10-15 g. however is required before acute intoxication occurs (3). Despite the side-effects, however, it is probable that with the increased drug-taking among young people more cases of nutmeg intoxication will come to medical attention.
-We are, etc.,
D. J. PANAYOTOPOULOS.
D. D. CHISHOLM.
Ross Clinic, Aberdeen.

REFERENCES

  1. Fras, I., and Friedman, J. J., New York State Journal of Medicine, 1969, 69, 463.
  2. Shulgin, A. T., Nature, 1966, 210, 380.
  3. Truit, E. B., jun., Duritz, G., and Ebersberger, E.M., Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, 1963, 112, 647.


NEW YORK STATE JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, February 1, 1969, pages 463-465

Hallucinogenic Effects of Nutmeg in Adolescent

Ivan Fras, M.D., Binghamton, New York
Joseph Joel Friedman, M.D., F.A.C.P., Binghamton, New York

Child Psychiatrist (Dr. Fras), Director (Dr. Friedman), Broome County Mental Health Clinic.

The household spice, nutmeg, has been known to have psychotropic effects. These have been described in varying details by a number of reports in the literature. Even authors who do not accord them much prominence, such as Payne, (1) do mention them. It is generally assumed that the active psychotropic substance is myristicin. The inability to imitate nutmeg intoxication with synthetic myristicin has given rise to speculation that other substances of the volatile oil obtained from the nutmeg seed, Myristica fragrans, may also be factors. (2) Weiss (3) has reported in detail the psychic experiences of adult prison inmates following the ingestion of powdered nutmeg. Nutmeg has been mentioned as one of the substances now prominent in illegal or quasi-legal use among adolescents. (4) There are no detailed reports about the use of this substance by adolescents.

Case report

The following is an account of the experiences of an eighteen-year-old student who ingested half a can (one fourth of a teacup) of commercially available nutmeg. His girl friend who was present throughout this experience did not partake of the nutmeg. He had taken marihuana on several occassions before that and had experienced vivid imagery under its influence. About two weeks had elapsed between the last time he had taken marihuana and the time he took nutmeg. The latter substance was taken partly out of curiosity (he had heard about its effect "by the grapevine"), but mainly because marihuana was not then available. Fifteen to twenty minutes after taking nutmeg, a teaspoon at a time, and flushing it down with Coca Cola, "things went funny." He felt "as if he had stayed awake for two days without sleeping" and "things started to look unreal" to him. His head shook back and forth, and when somebody said something to him, he could not see the connections between the sentences. He said he remembered that he "spoke up and nobody understood him" either.

About one and a half hours after the ingestion, he started feeling "as though he had drunk fifty cups of coffee." He "could not stop shaking," he "was giggling," he "was saying stupid things," things he would not have said otherwise. His friend became aware of the change in him. The patient remembered she asked him whether or not he felt all right. "Peoples' voices appeared to come out of a porthole above my head." He "felt a tingling" in his hands, and presently his "whole body felt numb." Friends laid him down on the floor, and he remained there for some time. Finally he opened his eyes, looked at the lights on the ceiling, and felt they were cylinder-shaped. He raised his hands, grabbed one of those cylinder light beams, and sat up, "pulling himself up by that beam." He was still aware of his surroundings and noticed that people were watching him. His heart was beating fast, he was breathing hard, and his throat felt dry. Fortunately, he was constantly accompanied by his friend who subsequently corrobated his recollections. He "felt as though he was floating" but "he knew that in reality he was not floating." He knew that "friends were helping" him. His "legs felt numb" and as if "he was walking in a lake with the water up to his waist." His "hands appeared white and wrinkled" to him.

At that point, he started feeling as if he was in a trance, and it was the first time that he did not know that people were around him. As he gradually came out of the trance, he could feel a ball in his hands; this ball would expand and contract as he moved his hands, but he could not see the ball. His friend said, "Touch something real!" He then touched the table and felt real again.

Subsequently, he felt he kept going in and out of a trancelike state and could, on several occassions, even induce it himself. As he was walking, he felt that the floor was bow-shaped, and he had to hold on to the wall.

He recalled that the following three hours were accompanied by these experiences: He would sit on a couch and he would drift away completely, "a great fog would be closing in" on him, and when he was surrounded by this fog "everything would turn black." "Spots of color, blue and red, would shine through this black cloud." Beyond the cloud, there seemed to him to be infinity. He "heard a massive confusion of sound," although to his knowledge there was no one talking and there were no sounds of any other nature at that time. But, again, when his friend called his name, he "came out of it." At times he felt excited, at times he felt relaxed. He remembered that he would often ask his friend to talk to him to keep him in reality. He found that he could, in this way, practically control his state of mind; that is, whether he would be in a trance state or not.

When he looked at the picture of a countryside with deer in it, he felt as though he were floating into the picture and it took on a three-dimensional character. The deer were alive, the trees had shape. He started feeling everybody in the world could hear him. When he went out of the house and stepped onto the lawn, he anticipated that he would fall into it, as if into an ocean. He started writing in mirror writing, "Help! I'm trapped behind the world."

He played a few notes on his recorder and felt that "each note was a brown disc." He then played a record; "the sound of music made a pattern of color. There was a central color and lines around it. The center was composed of the low notes, the bass, and the high notes were on the periphery." He remembered that sound made by "cymbals were silvery." This configuration kept changing, beating, and throbbing. Finally, he could not stand it no longer, and he turned the music off.

By this time, some eight or nine hours had elapsed from the ingestion of nutmeg. He started becoming confused, and memory (recall) became very poor. He fell asleep and seemed to realize that he could finally go to sleep without "dropping out."

Comment

The preceding narrative was given spontaneously by an intelligent, perceptive, and sensitive adolescent who had had prior experience with marihuana and morning-glory seeds. The frequent connection of the two is known. (3, 5) He felt that on marihuana, the predominant feeling was one of enjoyment and happiness, of being liked and floating. Hallucinations were less marked. On morning-glory seeds, he also had a light, floating sensation, but it seemed to be of a different kind, and the most marked thing was a constant feeling of euphoria. On both these substances, he felt he never really left reality, and he thought that this was a major distinction between these substances and nutmeg.

He repeated his experience with nutmeg in a smaller dose. On one tablespoon full of the substance he "felt high" or sometimes "weird," but without hallucinations; music sounded better although it did not sound louder. None of the colourful changes in perception occurred on the small dose of nutmeg.

The description given by this patient is richer and more colorful than the previous reports, (3,6,7) although the previous descriptions also contained many of the experiences reported here, such as lapses of attention, although consciousness was retained, (6) depersonalization, (6) bright colors, (3) a floating feeling, (3) and music being more enjoyable. (3)

Follow-up on this patient showed that he continued taking marihuana but stopped taking nutmeg. Psychodynamically, the patient was in the midst of an identity crisis, trying to deal with his leanings toward dependency and passivity by indentifying with the "hippie" groups. The patient's father had been incapacitated for several years because of psychiatric difficulties also centering around dependency and passivity.

Summary

Some of the pertinent literature on the use of nutmeg as a hallucinogen is briefly reviewed. It is noted that descriptions of experience with this substance in adolescents are lacking.

Feelings of depersonalization and unreality, changes in perception, as well as illusions and hallucinations, especially visual, were the significant aspects of the subjective experience of an eighteen-year-old adolescent. The patient was also able to differentiate the effects of nutmeg from those of marihuana and morning-glory seeds, on the basis of a temporary break with reality which he experienced with nutmeg.

Although the unfortunate easy availability of other hallucinogens probably makes nutmeg intoxication a relatively rare occurrence, mainly as experimentation or when other substances are not available, the medical profession should be reminded of its possible use and its hallucinogenic effects.

References

  1. Payne, R. B.: Nutmeg intoxication, New England J. Med. 269: 36 (1963).
  2. Shulgin, A. T.: Possible implication of myristicin as psychotropic substance, ibid. 380
  3. Weiss, G.: Hallucinogenic effects of powdered Myristica (nutmeg), Am. J. Psychiat. 346.
  4. Stanton, A. H.: Drug use among adolescents, ibid. 122: 1282 (May) 1966.
  5. Goodman, L. S., and Gilman, A.: Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1965, p. 1785.
  6. Truitt, E., et al.: Pharmacology of myristicin, Am. J. Psychiat. 205.
  7. Green, R. C., Jr.: Nutmeg poisoning, J.A.M.A 171: 1342 (1959).


THE BRITISH JOURNAL OF ADDICTION, Vol.53, No.2

Excerpt from the "letter from a master addict to dangerous drugs", sent by William Burroughs at August 3rd, 1956. This letter is also in Appendix I in his novel "The Naked Lunch", where this is quoted from. (ISBN 0-586-08560-2).

Nutmeg. - Convicts and sailors sometimes have recourse to nutmeg. About a tablespoon is swallowed with water. Results are vaguely similar to marijuana with side effects of headache and nausea. Death would probably supervene before addiction if such addiction is possible. I have only taken nutmeg once.

There are a number of narcotics of the nutmeg family in use among the Indians of South America. They are usually administered by sniffing a dried powder of the plant. The Medicine Men take these noxious substances, and go into convulsive states. Their twitchings and mutterings are thought to have prophetic significance. A friend of mine was violently sick for three days after experimenting with a drug of the nutmeg family in South America.

CREDITS & COPYRIGHTS

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Anonymous
Original encyclopedia entries compiled

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