Nutmeg and the MDA Cluster

Publication Year: 
1983

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HISTORY

Introduction to the MDA “Cluster”
Previous chapters describe the four groups of psychedelic substances that have had the greatest influence on humans to date (for speculations regarding the history and possible influence of Fly Agaric, see chapter Nine). Of the five remaining groups of substances generally regarded as psychedelic, the one attracting the most interest in the U.S. Currently appears to be the MDA cluster.
MDA-like compounds almost always come from the volatile oils found in a small number of plants: nutmeg, mace, saffron, calamus, crocus, parsley, dill and sassafras. More than a thousand synthesized compounds fall into this group. Only a few have been tried by humans.
MDA-like compounds—such as the TMAs, DOB, DOET, DOM, MMDA, PBR, TMPEA, DMPEA, DMA, PMA and MEDA—have molecular structures that resemble mescaline, dopamine and amphetamine. Moreover, the effects are often experienced as being like an interplay between mescaline and amphetamine—one or the other tendency predominating according to the structure of the particular compound. Thus this cluster often has been referred to as “psychedelic amphetamines.” (A chemist would probably designate them as “alpha-methyl phenethylamines,” “indolealkylamines” or “one-ring substituted amphetamines.”)
An important feature common to members of the MDA cluster is that substitutions on the molecular ring can be made fairly readily; the process is expensive and requires sophisticated chemistry. Still, the chemistry is much simpler than for the four psychedelic groups already discussed, which is one reason why a tremendous number of these MDA-like substances have been synthesized. Many people feel that the number and variety of MDA analogues will enable researchers to make systematic comparisons of mental characteristics and chemical structures, thus providing an important key for understanding more about the nature of the human mind.
amphetamine
The superiority of the synthetics over the natural MDA-like sources is pronounced. “Aminization” (chemical conversion to amine form) of plant oils heightens and clarifies mental effects and all but eliminates physical effects often accompanying use of the botanicals. Users of the synthetics generally report increased relaxation, empathy and mental fluency, and many prefer this experience for being without the “distractions” of the psychedelic visuals that are characteristic of LSD and mescaline.
One can think of mescaline and LSD as one pole in the psychedelic field—evoking ego-death and rebirth, visions and much else that can appear with jolting unexpectedness. Most of the tested MDA-like compounds are gathered around the opposite pole—where shocks are rare and the emphasis is on ideas and enhanced rapport with people.
The MDA cluster is presented here as the first of five psychedelic clusters that are more exotic—at least in the sense of being used by fewer pole that LSD, mescaline, marijuana and psylocybian mushrooms. It should be emphasized that now we begin to depart from consensus on what's truly “psychedelic.” effects from members of the MDA-cluster can easily be likened, and thereby denigrated in the minds of many, to those of cocaine or amphetamine. Although the MDA-like compounds are increasingly popular, their subdued effects couple them with the subtlety of marijuana for some.


Nutmeg and Mace
nutmeg
Nutmeg, which in the U.S. is mainly used as a garnish during Christmas festivities, is the dried kernel of Myristica fragrans, a tree native to the Spice Islands, near new Guinea. Now cultivated in may places, the tree grows to about fifty feet high and bears seeds for up to sixty years. Its fruit looks much like a peach and contains a brownish-purple, shiny kernel encased within bright orange-red or red covering. The covering, or aril, is used for production of mace; the seed, dried in the sun for about two months and turned over each day, becomes nutmeg. Both the kernel and its covering contain psychoactive components within their oils.
Most of the natural substances that contain compounds similar to MDA have a history of use for their medicinal properties and their psychoactiviy. The Ayurveda of ancient India refers to nutmeg and mace as made shaunda, generally translated as “narcotic fruit.” An 1883 Materia Medica from Bombay records that “the Hindus of West India take Myristica as an intoxicant.” Nutmeg has been used for centuries as a snuff in rural eastern Indonesia; in India, the same practice appears, but often the ground seed is first mixed with betel and other kinds of snuff. Restrictions on hashish in Egypt have brought about periods when nutmeg was used as a substitute.
Nutmeg appears in Hindu Pharmacopoeia as a treatment for fever, asthma and heart disease. Since the seventh century A.D., Arab physicians have used it for digestive disorders, kidney disease and lymphatic ailments. Yemeni men are said to consume nutmeg to increase and maintain their sexual vigor.
Nutmeg and mace weren't known to the Greeks or Romans. They were not introduced to the West until 1512, when the Portuguese reached the Banda, or Nutmeg, Islands. The earliest record of nutmeg's mental effects comes from 1576, in the description of a “pregnant English lady who, having eaten ten or twelve nutmegs, became deliriously inebriated” (she was lucky not to have died).
squibbssquibbs2
The photos on these pages come from the Squibb Handbook of 1896; Squibbs captions have been retained and illustrate variations appearing in the Myristica fragrans species.
In the seventeenth century, nutmeg became an important article in the spice trade, which the Dutch monopolized for a long while with their naval superiority. “So precious were nutmegs,” writes the botanist William Emboden in narcotic Plants,

that carved wooden replicas were sold to the ignorant via a black market. Slaves on the ships bringing nutmeg to Europe were castigated for consuming part of the cargo. They knew that a few of the large kernels of nutmeg seed would relieve their weariness and bring euphoric sensations of an otherworldly nature accompanied by pleasant visions. Nausea and dizziness follows as the price for this respite from reality. The more practical mind of the European saw this seed as potential medicine and did not hesitate to administer it in the event of severe illness. On that day in February 1685 when the feeble King Charles II was felled by a clot or haemorrhage, one of the numerous unsuccessful attempts to revive him included a decoction of nutmeg. His death a few days later did nothing to detract from the reputation of nutmeg as a useful drug. Nutmegs encased in silver were worn at night as an inducement to sleep, aphrodisiacal properties were ascribed to them, and they became a standard element in love potions. In London the Rumor spread that a few of these nuts would act as abortifacient.


Use of this commonly available substance as an ingredient has continued into this century. “Confirmed reports of its use by students, prisoners, sailors, alcoholics, marijuana-smokers and others deprived of their preferred drugs,” write Shultes and Hofmann in the The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens, “are many and clear. Especially frequent is the taking of nutmeg in prisons, notwithstanding the usual denials of prison officials.”

pp. 281-286 Psychedelics Encyclopedia by Peter Stafford (1983)

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