December 10, 2008

I'm laughing but it's not funny: a nutmeg warning


I had an incredibly weird experience yesterday that I want to share as sort of a public service announcement. If you have nutmeg in your pantry, please read on...

Yesterday morning I woke up early and did an hour of yoga before leaving for work. It was one of those days you just feel great. Like I do every morning, I cooked up some whole grains for breakfast. I always add cinnamon, raisins and fresh fruit. But I had the idea to include some nutmeg for a real Christmas-y winter-y variation. I'm always in a big rush by the time I'm packing up breakfast, so without looking I shook my usual amount of cinnammon in, then the nutmeg – but ooops! the nutmeg didn't have a lid with holes, it was just an open bottle mouth. I dumped a fair amount into my breakfast so I tried to scoop it out but finally just mixed it in and decided breakfast may taste a little bitter today, oh well.

I typically don't do this, but I stopped for a small coffee on my way to work. At about 11am I noticed I was a little shaky and blamed it on the coffee. Then, around 3pm I started to feel really weird. My boss came in and was talking to me and all I could think was "Are we really having this conversation right now? Is he HIGH?" I felt like things around me just weren't right. Then I started to get really lightheaded, nauseous, and freezing cold. Sometimes I have a fainting tendency and thought maybe that's what was happening, although it didn't feel any better when I got on my office floor to lie down. And I never fainted. Around 4:30 I dragged myself to a couch on another floor of the building (of course too embarrassed and discombobulated to say anything to anyone) and tried to rest and maybe sleep a little. But my sleep felt more like waving in and out of consciousness, waking up every few minutes with a start. When I went to the bathroom I noticed my eyes were totally bloodshot red and I had the worst cottonmouth. Every little noise sent me reeling and I felt like I wasn't breathing, like my chest was heavy and I might forget to inhale. After an hour it wasn't getting any better so I called my husband and had him bring me to the emergency room.

Rush hour in Boston means I didn't get to the ER for another half hour, then we waited and waited to be seen. I started to come out of it a little, by 8pm. I felt like my eyes were focusing properly and I was fully conscious. Still a little shaky, but overall much better. By the time we saw a doctor I had no visible symptoms. I recounted this tale to 3 doctors, they tested my blood glucose, did a pregnancy test (negative) and an EKG. Everything was fine. I declined an IV and we finally went home around midnight. They told me to eat chicken soup and drink a lot of fluids.

So that's it, huh? Maybe a seizure, maybe a really crazy anxiety attack? Maybe it's something I ate? Which got me thinking, what did I EAT?? Maybe I'm not getting enough iron (but what about all that kale I had for dinner and lunch?). Maybe it was that little cup of coffee? The only other thing I could think of that was odd abount my meals lately was that mishap with the nutmeg. This morning I had to stay home from work so I did a very quick google search to find:

Nutmeg is perhaps the most readily-available psychoactive substance apart from coffee, alcohol, and chocolate depending on how you classify them...Since nutmeg is a deliriant and produces dizziness and disorientation at recreational doses, the nausea can be compounded and vomiting can occur. Perhaps the most difficult nutmeg side effects are those that involve drying of the mucous membranes. You are going to be in for the worst cottonmouth you’ve ever experienced...
from http://psychoactivation.com/nutmeg-side-effects


One interesting footnote is that during the nutmeg high’s peak...nervousness manifested itself in alarm at sudden noises of any kind. If the clock chimed for the hour, or the refrigerator motor stopped, I turned my head quickly and shuddered in surprise which quickly dissipated. Silence and calm felt best for me. I had fears about losing control over my actions, or at one point of ceasing to breathe. To some extent this was simply inexperience with nutmeg and fear over its effects. However I did notice a few times that I had forgotten to inhale. I would nod my head forward, doze briefly and then open my eyes and realize I needed to inhale again.
from http://www.truthtree.com/Nutmeg.shtml


There are a tons of links out there describing nutmeg's psychoactive properties and side effects. According to health services at Columbia University, as little as 2 tsp. of ground nutmeg can do the trick. And apparently it's a known fact that it takes a good 2-6 hours to start feeling the effects. It all describes my experience perfectly. Unbelieveable!! I don't know if I feel like a moron for overdosing on nutmeg accidentally, or like a genius for figuring this out!

It's now noon the following day and I still feel a bit off. The articles say it can take a few days for the nutmeg hangover to wear off. Am I serious right now? A nutmeg hangover?! Maybe I am better off eating a Dunkin Donuts breakfast sandwich in the mornings... In any case please share if you know anything about nutmeg! This is just incredible to me, it's like some bad joke. I will be tossing that jar of nutmeg out of my pantry, pronto!

28 comments:

Culinarywannabe said...

That is totally insane!!! Why does no one know about this! Did you really have a ton in your breakfast or is this something we should all be concerned about when eating a cookie?

VeggieGirl said...

YIKES!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

so scary!! got me thinking... i've been playing around with nutritional yeast lately... eating it quite recklessly and every now and then i think... hmmmm... i have no idea what the serving size is for nutritional yeast! nor do i know what is safe to combine it with. very good to read this! thanks. - jenn (from body awakening)

Jenn said...

I learned about this in nutrition class in college! Yes! It can totally do that. Aren't you glad it's just overseasoning and not something serious???

So glad you're okay!

Ricki said...

How freaky! That must have been incredibly scary. Glad you're okay now, though!
PS (I last visited Boston about 5 years ago--and STILL remember that traffic!).

karen@cook4seasons.com said...

Wow, Michelle, what a trip! (excuse the pun.) In all my nutrition classes I had not learned of this before so thanks for the heads up. I'm sorry you had to go through such am ordeal.
btw - love the skulls and crossbones...

neimanmarxist said...

whoa! good to know ! sorry you went through that .

Laurel from Simple Spoonful said...

While this is definitely something to be aware of, nutmeg isn't a devil spice. Many spices can have negative effects with overuse, including cinnamon:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6672644

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400384/Can-Cinnamon-Be-Toxic-For-Toddlers.html

Other herbs, including rosemary and mint, may also cause problems when consumed in large (read: overly strong--"large" may be only .4 oz straight serving for some common herbs and spices) quantities. Some of that depends on preparation. For example, powdered cinnamon is a lot harder on your liver than cinnamon infusions (soaking a stick of it in hot water).

Basically, you have to be careful with these strongly-flavored items. Acute or chronic overconsumption of anything so strong is a bad idea.

Spices are tasty...just keep 'em in small amounts, no matter how much you love the flavor.

All that said, thanks for sharing your experience, Michelle! And hooray that you're okay, despite a very cruddy day or few. It definitely helps to pass around information like this, as a lot of people are trying to cook for themselves safely without necessarily having grown up with an example of how to do that.

Michelle said...

culinarywannabe--Seems like a whole pie usually calls for 1/8 tsp. so even if you ate the whole thing you'd be ok. I probably had 2 or 3 tsp. of nutmeg on my breakfast, and one of the web sites I linked to says that 2 tsp. is enough to trip you out!

veggiegirl--no kidding!

Anon(jenn)--eating nooch recklessly? haha yes be careful! let me know bc I eat a lot of that myself!

Jenn--You're the first person who I've told that had EVER heard of this. I am glad it's not a neurological condition or anything...i was scared for sure.

Ricki--thanks for the well wishes :-)

karen--It sounds like some schools might mention this (like Jenn's) but others don't. I'm suprised!

neimanmarxist--thanks for stopping by. love that name!

laurel--good info, thank you! my mom taught me a ton about cooking but even she didn't know about nutmeg. or, i suppose cinnamon. thanks again!

VEGAN TICKLES said...

Holy Cow. Can't wait to pass this along to everyone I know. Hope you feel better now.

J'Hab@lavidaveggie said...

Michelle,

Scary indeed! I actually posted a recipe recently featuring nutmeg, and it turned into an interesting conversation about the dark side of this little seed.

http://lavidaveggie.blogspot.com/2008/11/you-gotta-compost-itmake-less-of-it.html

Not Another Omnivore said...

I just found your blog and love it! Thanks blogher.

I'm also moving to Boston in May/June and cannot wait!

NAOmni

Marisa L. S. said...

Wow! That's crazy! Who would have thought it? I am glad you're okay now! That must have been scary!

Vered - MomGrind said...

That's scary. I had no idea. Thanks for posting this.

Not Another Omnivore said...

p.s. I've given you an award http://notanotheromnivore.blogspot.com/2008/12/thank-you-for-blogging.html

lifeinrecipes said...

wow. thanks for this information. that experience would have scared the life out of me. glad you are feeling okay.

the cooking room said...

Hi Michelle. Loved your blog. Very informative. I also have a food related blog:

thecookingroom.blogspot.com

Laurel from Simple Spoonful said...

Every time I come here and see that the Nutmeg Bowl of Oatmeal Death is still up, I start to giggle. I can't help it, and I am so sad you got sick and so glad you are okay, but the skull and crossbones on that innocuos looking bowl just tickle my humor bones...

Does that make me a horrible person?

Bix said...

That sounds scary, Michelle. The not knowing, the symptoms, the disruption. Everything about it. I'm glad you're past it.

(I knew about the nutmeg - my herbal medicine background. Traditionally it was used whole and grated - fresher and difficult to use too much. Herbs and spices are quite medicinal, good and bad. They've been the source of many of our pharmaceutical drugs. Our ancestors knew more about them than we do today. It's a shame we're losing that homegrown knowledge. It's another byproduct of the drug industry, IMO.)

I liked your photo too.

Patty said...

Wow - thanks for sharing this great cautionary story. I heard that excess consumption of nutmeg caused "highness", but I didn't know how much, or how little, or what the effects were...

amandalouden said...

that is CRAZY

Darya Pino said...

omg, i'm glad you're alright!! jeez.

Raene said...

I've heard this!! Glad I left it out of the gingerbread people I just made.

Michelle said...

vegan tickles--yes, please do pass along to friends!

j'Hab--I'd like to read your post but the link isn't working, can you send it to me? also, thanks again for the award!

NAOmni--welcome in advance to our fair city! do you know where in Boston you are moving yet?

Marisa, Vered, LifeinRecipes--thanks for the well wishes! it was super scary.

the cooking room--thanks for stopping by and sharing your blog!

Laurel--glad your funny bone got a tickle from my cheap photoshop job :-)

Bix--tell me more about your herbal medicine background! interesting!

Patty, amanda, darya--I know, crazy! thanks for stopping by :-)

Raene--i think the amount in recipes is fine, i've definitely cooked and baked with nutmeg in the past and it's usually such a small amount in the whole recipe.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this article because im looking up the affects right now. i have a couple friends that have tripped on it, so im sitting here about to try it too. glad ur ok becuase I just read somewhere that if you take too much it can kill you.

paradigmshifted said...

hey girl, that's trippy. i think your reaction was not "typical" based on how much you had (2-3 tsps), so you might be oversensitive to it. i've had mild effects from overspicing, but yours sounded more serious!

next time, forgo the can, and go with the whole nut, so you can grind/scrape/flake it yourself. :)

Ingrid said...

Wow Michelle! I'm so sorry you went through that experience. On the other hand, thank you for this informative write up. I've heard of the potential bad side effects nutmeg can induce if taken in excess. I'm sure the level of tolerance to this spice varies from one person to the next.

Clearly the excess of nutmeg was the key factor to your reaction but I wonder if the coffee component helped contributed to the reaction.

I'm really interested to learn more nutmeg beyond its use in a recipe (you've inspired me). I must admit, I like the hint of flavor from fresh nutmeg and don't plan on tossing mine.

Thanks again for an informative write-up. I think you did a great service and created awareness to help others.

Lillian said...

It's funny that so many people have never heard of this--at my elementary school, nutmeg tripping was the big thing.