Killing yourself with nutmeg
DON'T. TRY. TO. GET. HIGH. ON. NUTMEG.
You will not enjoy it, and you could easily hurt yourself.
I am quite fond of nutmeg, and I use it regularly in my cooking. With this being the Christmas season, I'm drinking eggnog; probably more than I should, judging by its nutritional profile. To this, of course, I add nutmeg.
Perhaps too much nutmeg. Tonight I decided to have a cup full and began grating a nutmeg into it. Soon the cup contained half a grated nutmeg. I stirred it, added a small splash of brandy, and began sipping it. Halfway through the cup it occurred to me that this could be a very dumb idea: I knew nutmeg could be hallucinogenic or toxic in relatively small quantities (neither of which effects I wanted), but I had no idea what "small" meant. A gram? 10 grams? 50 grams? I put down the eggnog and performed a Google search for "ld50 nutmeg". LD50 is a term that denotes the fatal level of consumption for fifty percent of the population (that is, if you have a group of one hundred people and give each of them the LD50 of a substance, around fifty of them will die.) A very cool article debunking nutritional toxicology scares (showing that "natural" ingredients could be far more hazardous than "artificial" ingredients) that I read four years ago got me convinced that the LD50s of many common substances are well within reach.
So, to begin with, how much had I injested? I had three nutmegs left, and weighed them on the finest-precision scale available to me, my postal scale. The three nutmegs came in at a third of an ounce (or around 10 grams) total. That meant that each nutmeg was a little over 3 grams, half a nutmeg was between 1.5 and 2 grams, and half a cup of eggnog containing half a nutmeg delivered under a gram of nutmeg, total. I found next source was also not very positive (intriguingly, this is from a book entitled Legal Highs: A Concise Encyclopedia of Legal Herbs and Chemicals with Psychoactive Properties by one Adam Gottlieb, self-proclaimed 20th Century Alchemist. This is an interesting counterpoint to my position: I'm trying to make sure that I didn't do something very stupid and injest dangerous amounts of a substance while using it for flavoring, while there are apparently people who want to know if they can use it as a psychotropic drug without injesting dangerous amounts.)that read "Even though there have been cases of narcosis and collapse with just one whole nutmeg, people universally use nutmeg as food seasoning." This was not particularly good news. The
"Possible nausea during first hour; may cause vomiting or diarrhea in isolated cases. Takes anywhere from one to five hours for effects to set in. Then expect severe cottonmouth, flushing of skin, severely bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils. [...] "Intense sedation". Impaired speech and motor functions. Hallucinations uncommon in average (5-10 gm) doses. Generally followed by long, deep, almost coma-like sleep (expect 16 hours of sleep afterward) and feelings of lethargy after sleep. [...] Safrole is carcinogenic and toxic to the liver."
So, bad things can happen, and I was unsure how exactly to interpret this paragraph. "Hallucinations are uncommon in average [...] doses", but what about the other effects? Common? Do they set in at a lower threshold than the hallucination? TheI found said this:
"The perceptible dose is 5 to 15 grams (1 to 3 ground nutmeg seeds). It is a carminative in a dose of 0.03 mL. It is used as a hallucinogen in doses of 2-4 teaspoonfuls or greater than 2 whole nutmeg or 18 grams of fresh ground nutmeg. Effects begin in 3 to 6 hours but may be delayed 8 hours after ingestion and the duration is up to 60 hours. Effects are similar to LSD. Toxicity produces dry mouth, GI upset, abdominal pain, agitation, tremors, feeling of impending doom, delirium, psychosis, and coma. It is reported to produce miosis or mydriasis, hypothermia, hypotension. Cardiovascular effects including chest pain, palpitations and mild hypertension have been reported. One fatality reported in an 8 year old boy who ingested 14 grams was reported in 1908. Severe reactions with shock, hypotension, cyanosis and hypothermia may occur with very large amounts ." I had to look up carminative, miosis, and mydriasis, by the way.
OK, we finally have a definition of the perceptible dose, which is a factor of 4 to 12 above what I injested. So it looks like I'm in the clear, although this safety margin is significantly lower than I would like.
Do we need a moral here? Don't be an idiot like me: many herbs and spices contain dangerous chemicals in significant amounts. Significant increases in their culinary usage should probably be investigated before ingestion, not after.