How Does Ceremonial Cacao Make You Feel? Everything You Need To Know.
Although cacao ceremonies are rapidly growing in popularity, taking part in one is still a relatively esoteric endeavor and a level of mystery, ambiguity, and misinformation still surrounds the practice.
A few questions in particular that tend to come up for most people who haven’t experienced ceremonial cacao yet, are “how does it make you feel?”, “does it get you “high?”, and “what makes this cacao ‘ceremonial’ and how is that different to regular chocolate?”
If you have similar questions or doubts, fear not, you’re not alone.
Before trying ceremonial cacao for the first time, and being someone who didn’t feel particularly well-versed in ceremony or ‘spiritual’ rituals simply because I hadn’t been exposed to these experiences or practices growing up, I had these same questions too!
After trying it and learning to nurture my own ceremonial cacao practice alongside my lovely wife Romany Pope every day for the past two and a half years, I now greatly appreciating its benefits and have been diving into more research about the topic. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Does ceremonial cacao get you “high”?
First, let’s clarify what you consider to be “high”.
If you’re thinking about the psychedelic-type of consciousness-altering “high”, then the answer is no. Ceremonial cacao in no way makes you feel “high” in the way a consciousness-altering ingestible like psilocybin or cannabis does.
If you’re thinking about a strong-cup-of-coffee-type of altering “high”, then the answer is yes. Like coffee, ceremonial cacao is a stimulant that will alter your states of body and mind once ingested.
How does ceremonial cacao make you feel?
Unlike coffee, which contains a high-concentration of caffeine that stimulates the nervous system and can give you an alert and jittery “buzz”, ceremonial cacao contains an abundance of theobromine that stimulates the cardiovascular system and can give you the feeling of a warm and uplifting “hum”.
In low doses, it brings about an alert but comforting, less jittery body-state in comparison to coffee. In high-doses (40g is considered a “ceremonial” or high dose), it can generate a warm and euphoric body-state not dissimilar to the elation some people experience when feeling deeply connected with life in a beautiful moment.
In my case, I compare the ceremonial cacao body-state to what I felt when I first hugged my now-wife and realized that I was in love with her or the elated sensation I experienced when witnessing a stunning sunrise at a secluded beach in Byron Bay. The moments I remember feeling the most alive…
This type of sensation is what is commonly referred to as the “heart-opening” feeling that ceremonial cacao (by way of theobromine) generates.
The heart-opening sensation that ceremonial cacao generates, and the production process the cacao bean goes through to generate it, are the main reasons why this particular type of cacao is labeled “ceremonial”.
Technically speaking, for a cacao-product to have “ceremonial” on its label it needs to be organic, ethically-sourced, and minimally or traditionally processed pure cacao bean paste (photo below), made from high-quality Criollo or Trinitario beans.
The reason for this is that the Criollo and Trinitario beans have the highest concentration of joy-enducing compounds (such as theobromine, serotonin, proanthocyanin, anandamine, and many others) out of all cacao bean strains. By processing the bean minimally through traditional means (you can learn more about that process and why ceremonial ceremonial cacao is “ceremonial” here), the resulting cacao paste retains the majority of these compounds and generates the most powerful heart-opening sensation out of all natural cacao-based products.
This ability to generate an intense body-state is why ceremonial cacao is imbibed in ceremony — this heart-opening sensation helps people feel more open, receptive and vulnerable. And when we are open, receptive and vulnerable, there is a higher likelihood we’ll identify something in our lives that needs to evolve, which is the reason ceremony exists: to catalyze change.
How much ceremonial cacao is “the right” amount?
In most situations, the dosage or amount of ceremonial cacao that you consume is the main variable that tends to have the most significant impact on what you feel. Too little and you might not feel anything at all, too much and you might slightly feel nauseous and sick (as you do when ingesting too much of anything).
The well respected “grandfather” of modern Western ceremonial cacao practices, Keith, recommends 42.5 grams of shaved cacao paste (a little more than 1/4th of a cup) to reach what most call “ceremonial dose”.
For those new to cacao, start with half this amount and see how you feel. If you’d like to stronger experience, slowly test higher doses (with 42.5gms being the upper limit) to reach your desired state. You can also try a micro-dose of cacao (5–10gms) to experience the subtler effects of the medicine.
How long does it take to feel the effects of ceremonial cacao and how long do they last?
For most people, most of the time it takes between twenty minutes to half an hour for the effects of ceremonial cacao to be felt. These effects usually last between two to four hours depending on the dosage and the individual.
When should we not drink ceremonial cacao?
Overall, ceremonial cacao, as any other plant, should be ingested with respect and common sense. Generally, it is not recommended to take ceremonial cacao doses above 55 grams — anything above this dosage is know to produce headaches, “the sweats”, nausea, or even heart palpitations for a small percentage of people.
Please, speak to your doctor and DO NOT INGEST CEREMONIAL CACAO if you’re taking antidepressants, have a serious heart condition, or taking hypertension medications. Ceremonial cacao pase contains tryptophan and MAO inhibitors that may cause a synergistic intensification when combined with antidepressants. The theobromine in the cacao can also increase your heart rate significantly and put your life in danger if you have a serious heart condition. Cacao is also a vasodilator, which lowers blood pressure, expands blood vessels and may intensify or interfere with the effects of hypertension medication.
External variables that impact the intensity of a ceremonial cacao drinking experience:
Apart from its innate chemical composition and dosage, there is also a handful of very important external variables that can greatly influence the effect ceremonial cacao has on us. More often than not, they are the following:
- Setting: Your mental state, the enviroment you are in, and the people you surround yourself with when you drink ceremonial cacao can be equally as influential on your experience as the type and dosage of cacao you drink. My wife and I focus on a simple, mindfulness-based ritual when we drink our cacao every morning and it has truly changed our lives. Most prefer a more traditional ceremonial environment to spark the healing potential of cacao. Some also just want to drink ceremonial cacao to enjoy the uplifting physical benefits it offers, without partaking in any sort of ritual at all! There is no right or wrong way to experience cacao! What’s important is that you’re aware of the power that the setting can have on your experience and take the necessary steps to create an environment that is most beneficial for your needs.
- Preparation: Traditionally, ceremonial cacao is melted down with water and topped with a sprinkle of chili powder (chile coban from Guatemala is particularly potent). Some people like to add a small amount of natural sweetener, such as honey or medjool dates (if blending), to make the naturally-bitter cacao more tasty and pleasurable. Here are a few non-traditional cacao recipes Romany Pope and I have been testing. Regardless of how you prepare it, the most important aspect is not adding a large amount of any ingredient that will “mask” the ceremonial cacao sensation, particularly sugar. When consumed, the sugar content gives rise to sudden spikes in blood sugar levels which cause a “sugar high” that overpowers the heart-warming sensations pure Criollo cacao paste brings about.
- What you’ve eaten: To have the “purest” ceremonial cacao experience, it’s recommended to drink ceremonial cacao when you are sober, with an empty stomach, and in a relatively healthy state. Why? The less stimulation your body is experiencing from other factors when you drink ceremonial cacao, the more you’ll be able to recognize the pure, heart-opening sensation it generates and the stronger the effects of it will be.
The best way to understand ceremonial cacao is to try it yourself!
The truth is, nothing that I or anyone else writes about how ceremonial cacao makes you feel will ever encapsulate powerful and unique states you can experience by drinking it.
As with any state-altering substance, learning what dose is the right one for you will depend entirely on your body and preferences. The only way to find that answer is by being sensible, knowing yourself, and trying different doses and settings that feel right for you. Luckily with ceremonial cacao, it’s usually a loving and gentle journey has greatly transformed many lives.