We all owe a lot to our ancestors that managed to eat only non-poisonous things, and we owe even more to our ancestors’ friends that weren’t so lucky. The human diet is incredibly diverse, but we’ve mostly been able to keep it fairly clean (with exceptions for things like fugu or hákarl). Surprisingly enough, though, some common-ish foods that have made it into the human diet can actually do some pretty wacky things to the human body.
Although this is kind of a silly topic (try to say, “Don’t get high on fish heads!” with a straight face), the truth is that these foods contain compounds that can seriously mess up the body and mind, and there’s nothing here worth seeking out. There’s a reason you don’t hear about mulberry addicts, okay?
That being said, here are some of the most common foods that can get a person high (and/or cause them to die).
While a few teaspoons here and there won't hurt you, too much nutmeg at a time can cause quite a problem. After a few tablespoons, a range of symptoms can set in: mild hallucinations, flu symptoms, dry mouth, nausea, and reduced brain function. In a study of 119 cases of nutmeg abuse, no deaths were reported as a result of nutmeg consumption, but the researchers concluded that significant medical intervention may be necessary in some cases.
For something so synonymous with holiday joy, it can be a real downer.
Getting high off fish? It’s possible, apparently. The sarpa salpa is found off the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. The fish is infamous for two cases where consumers of the fish experienced horrifying hallucinations for over a day after eating it. The kicker? Scientists aren’t entirely sure why it can cause visual and auditory hallucinations. They current suspect is a type of seagrass the sarpa salpa eats, but the question of why it induces long-lasting, horrific nightmares in some people while leaving others unharmed is still unanswered.
Hot peppers and tobacco are in the same botanical family (solanaceae AKA the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes and potatoes), so there's no doubt that these hot peppers contain some interesting chemicals. Chilis are hot because of the compound capsaicin, which actually contains some painkilling properties. Of course, it’s still an irritant designed to keep silly mammals like humans from eating it, but we all know how well that’s worked out for it.
When paired with the natural endorphin rush you get after eating something painful, it can create a briefly euphoric feeling. If you don’t have a strong stomach or just genetically drew the short straw, you’ll probably skip past any euphoria and just get pain. You’ll just feel...not so hot.
On their own, the fruit of the mulberry bush is a totally normal berry. It's got a nice purple hue and can be mistaken for blueberries. Before it’s fully ripe, however, it’s a bit of a risk.
According to The Ohio State University’s Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide, eating the white, unripe mulberries can result in “stomach upset, stimulation of the nervous system, and hallucinations.”
Yeah, we’ll leave the weasel from “Pop Goes The Weasel” to its mulberry bush — losing control of our stomachs and hallucinating aren’t on our list of things to do.
While moldy bread definitely shouldn’t be on the menu, it can have some serious side effects if ingested. The fungus ergot infects rye, replacing rye grains with dark purple masses. These masses contain ergotamine and lysergic acid, the latter of which aided in the creation of LSD. Ergot’s hallucinogenic compounds have even been theorized to have caused the Salem Witch Trials.
Other symptoms of ergot toxicity include violent fits, delusions, and pain. Oh, and extremities will turn gangrenous, rot, and fall off. Yikes.
Fortunately, ergot doesn’t really make it to the flour and bread stages of rye bread nowadays. If you do see any mold, dark purple or not, discard that bewitched bread!
Chewing areca nuts is similar to chewing coffee beans, coca leaves, or tobacco — it’s a potent stimulant absorbed by the blood vessels in the gums and mouth. Arecoline, the compound found in areca nuts, is somewhat comparable to the nicotine in tobacco and cigarettes. They both produce a pleasant, mild euphoria and surge of energy with a whole host of negative side effects.
One study revealed that eating cheese before going to bed could lead to some pretty, uh, unique dreams. The study had participants eat a small amount of cheese shortly before going to sleep, and, although the research was fairly informal, the results are still interesting.
More common cheeses seemed to inspire fairly benign dreams of celebrities or work, but stilton consumers had a different experience. For example, one woman dreamed of a vegetarian crocodile who wept at the fact that he could not consume children. It’s still rude to cut the cheese before bed, but if you want some gnarly dreams, we think you can get a pass.
We've all seen the Seinfeld episode where Elaine’s love of poppy seed bagels makes her fail a drug test. J. Peterman’s opium paranoia (paranopium, if you will) aside, there’s some actual truth behind the gag.
Opium is created from poppy seed pods, not the seeds themselves. However, any part of the poppy plant can contain opiate compounds, especially morphine and codeine. Not enough to do anything noticeable, mind you, but they’re there — and we don’t really have a way to distinguish their presence versus the presence of actual opiates.
In the most ideal of ideal experimental situations, roughly 40 grams of the most potent poppy seeds is the equivalent of one dose of morphine. In reality? The morphine and codeine content vary wildly from seed to seed, so while one batch of seeds may result in no effects, the next could cause an instant overdose. Home concoctions like poppy seed tea can be and have been lethal.
Yes, that magical bean brew that gets you through that morning meeting can get you high. And not just in an eye-opening way.
We’re sure you’re aware that caffeine is technically a drug, but did you know it’s the most consumed psychoactive substance? While you may not feel “normal” until your cup of joe, the resulting feeling from consuming coffee is a high. Remember that euphoria and energy from the areca nuts? It’s pretty dang similar to caffeine’s effects, and although caffeine carries fewer risks, it’s still a drug. And like other drugs, your body can get used to it.
You know those headaches you get when you don't have your morning cup? That's your body going through caffeine withdrawal. The Mayo Clinic recommends a maximum of 400 milligrams of caffeine a day — roughly the equivalent of four cups of coffee, four Red Bulls, two cans of Monster, or two 5 Hour Energy shots. We know, we know, you drink more than that and you’re fine. But the fact remains that the energy and mood shift you get from caffeine is still a high from a drug, and it shouldn’t be considered your baseline (sorry).
Too much caffeine can cause tremors and spike your heart rate, and it can even cause or worsen anxiety and paranoia. Caffeine may even aggravate psychotic or mood-related episodes, especially in patients with schizophrenia.
Look, we don't want to sound like D.A.R.E. or anything here, but drugs are serious business, even the common ones. Just be aware of your consumption and use, and be mindful of what goes in your body.
And avoid bagels before job interviews.