Psychoactive Spices

Updated July 20, 2017

Aromatic substances from plants used to enhance the flavour of food often contain psychoactive chemicals that can alter the function of the brain. Small quantities of dried and ground spices have a subtle effect that adds pleasure to the culinary experience. Plants and spices can be powerful agents for healing and have been used medicinally since ancient times, but there is also a danger of toxic overdose when excessive amounts are ingested.


The seed of the nutmeg tree contains myristicin, a psychoactive substance similar to mescaline and amphetamines. When ground as a powder, the spice has had sedative and aphrodisiac properties attributed to it. A mild euphoria is associated with common use in pumpkin pie and eggnog during holiday celebrations. Other festive baking ingredients, such as cinnamon and anise, also contain trace amounts of a similar psychoactive material. High doses of nutmeg may cause hallucinations. Stories about jazz legend Charlie Parker suggest that he and his band consumed containers of nutmeg mixed in milk when funds for other intoxicants ran low. This practice is not recommended because of the extreme gastrointestinal reactions that accompany ingestion of excessive quantities.


Chocolate is made from the seeds of the tropical "Theobroma" cacao tree. Theobroma is Greek for "food of the gods." The Aztecs used the cacao beans to prepare a chocolate drink that they believed offered wisdom and vitality. The tryptophan in chocolate enhances serotonin function and diminishes anxiety. Consumption of chocolate also releases endorphins and reduces sensitivity to pain. Flavonol-rich cocoa used in candies, drinks, cakes and cookies is known to stimulate mental activity, memory and alertness.

Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds from the "Papaver Somniferum" species of the poppy plant contain none of the opium derived from other parts of the plant. The morphine and codeine extracted from the opium are used as a pain-relieving narcotic. Somniferum is Latin for "bringer of sleep," as the sap from poppy plants has calming medicinal properties. Poppy seeds are a psychoactive spice when small amounts of the sap from the plant leak onto the seeds. Consumption of just one poppy seed bagel can leave trace amounts of opium in the bloodstream.

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About the Author

Pat Pendleton is a counselor and artist who has written about health, mindfulness and creativity since 1995. She writes a monthly column for "The Myeloma Beacon" and published "The Cracked Cup" in 2011. Pendleton holds a Master of Arts in transpersonal counseling psychology and art therapy from Naropa University.