Nutmeg: Psychedelic spice for the holidays

Teens across America are finding a new use for nutmeg: snorting the spice to get high. (AP Photo/ /Mark Englund) | Zoom
KIRO Radio

A pinch is more than enough to spice up your apple pie, but teens across America are finding a new use for nutmeg: snorting the spice to get high.

"It's something that's happened basically back to the 12th century," said Dr. William Hurley, medical director for the Washington Poison Center. "It's nothing new."

The active ingredient in nutmeg, myristicin, can cause hallucinations in several-spoonful doses, sort of a cheap household LSD. The buzz can linger for a couple of days.

Experts say the internet is at least in part to blame for a relative spike in nutmeg abuse cases across the country; a YouTube search garners dozens of how-to videos.

According to statistics from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there have been 67 reported cases of nutmeg poisoning across the country this year.

Seven of those reports have come from Washington state, but Hurley suspects abuse is more widespread, since most nutmeg abuse does not lead to poisoning.

"It's a relatively safe agent to abuse," he said. "It doesn't look like people develop significant brain or cardiac toxicity."

But the side effects can be nasty: severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, or an increased heart rate.

Like all drugs of abuse, nutmeg has gone in and out of style over the years. "It seems to be a sporadic thing that happens," Hurley said. The last spike in cases happened in the 1990s.

Hurley said parents who suspect their child is abusing household items needs to take action. "A child abusing something for hallucinogenic properties, the parent needs to explore with the child what the reasons for that abuse are."

Follow Alex Silverman on twitter @alexsilverman

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