Cacao is surely a plant medicine. Like any potent medicine, it is important to be mindful of its use.
In most cases, there are no concerns to be aware of. The pieces listed below are mainly a concern in higher (33-42gr / 2 ounces) doses, like when we use the cacao ceremonially. In these cases, the combination of potent cacao and a higher dose warrants some additional mindfulness.
First, if you are working with it ceremonially, we recommend that you start off with about half the full dose. A full dose, the maximum we use, is 2 ounces, so that means starting off with 1 ounce. See how it feels and wait at least 30 minutes before consuming more.
Cacao is a strong bitter and stimulant, so there are some potential side effects to be aware of, as well as certain contra-indications. Since cacao is consumed in higher doses in a ceremony, people might experience symptoms such as light-headedness, sweaty palms, headache or nausea. Simply slow down, drink water and practice self-care as needed until symptoms subside. Cacao can also stimulant detox symptoms in some cases. If this happens, take it as a blessing and drink plenty of water as your body lets go of whatever it didn’t like. This will likely be accentuated for people on a raw diet or who are fasting. Go with lower doses in this case.
Certain anti-depressants are worth extra consideration. MAOI based anti-depressants are contraindicated with the tyramine in chocolate, so a larger dose of cacao is not recommended. MAOI based anti-depressants are first-generation anti-depressants and are less common these days. People taking them are on a restricted diet that includes limiting or avoiding chocolate, so they should know if they can consume or not. Side effects could include more serious headaches and nausea, so make sure to check medications first. Additionally, there has been some concern with larger doses of cacao and SSRI type anti-depressants, because of the MAOIs in cacao. Specifically, the tryptophan, a type of MAOI which is a pre-cursor to serotonin has been cited by some as a possible contraindication. The research about this interaction is minimal, but studies on both the amounts of tryptophan in chocolate and how that might cause ‘serotonin syndrome’ don’t indicate any problem. However, to be on the safe side, for those on SSRI’s, we suggest consulting with your doctor and/or pharmacist regarding higher doses of cacao and to consider starting with low doses.
Serious heart conditions. The theobromine in cacao increases heart rate significantly and is a vasodilator, lowering blood pressure. If you have such a condition, consider consulting a physician and certainly go lighter on amounts.
Pregnancy & breastfeeding. Like coffee or tea, it is important to reduce the intake of stimulating foods. The theobromine in cacao, which is very similar to caffeine, has a stimulating effect. Thus we recommend using lower dosages (ex. a maximum of 1oz in a ceremonial drink).
Pure cacao can be fatal to dogs (and possibly horses and parrots) so be sure to keep it away from pets.
If any symptoms do present, drink lots of water, get some rest and it will pass.