Nutmeg

Nutmeg, like mace a product of the fruit of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans, has long been a popular spice—and historically, an important medicament in Asia, the Near East, and Europe—of which the United States alone consumes between five and six million pounds a year, mainly as a food flavoring in baking and cooking. It is used especially in doughnuts, and around Christmas time there is always a marked upsurge in its popularity as a savory ingredient in eggnog and hot toddy.

Less well-known perhaps is the fact that in large doses nutmeg acts on the central nervous system as an hallucinogenic intoxicant, though, let it be said at once, with bizarre physical and mental symptoms and with such distinctly unpleasant after-effects as extreme nausea, headache, dizziness, and dryness of the nose and throat. The psychoactive properties of nutmeg, which have been noted by physicians since early times, present a whole series of interesting cultural and psychopharmacological problems, especially since two of its essential oils, safrol and myristicin, are the basis of two synthetic drugs, MDA and MMDA, amphetamine derivatives that have become important in psychotherapy.

The ancient world is full of tales of nutmeg as a narcotic medicament with wondrous healing properties for a great variety of ailments, from kidney disease to chronic irritability to impotence. Unfortunately, as Weil (1967), who made a study of experimentation with nutmeg intoxication among students and United States prison populations* has noted, reliable historical data on nutmeg's being deliberately used as a psychoactive agent are hard to come by, although there are a number of early accounts of the effects of nutmeg intoxication, and the nutmeg is specifically referred to as a "narcotic fruit" in the Ashur Veda, an early Hindu work dealing with medicine and the prolongation of human life.

* Malcolm X, for example, describes his prison experience with nutmeg intoxication in his Autobiography (1964).

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