cacao pod

Cacao

Overview


Cacao, scientifically known as Theobroma cacao, is a small (4–8 m tall) evergreen tree native to the deep tropical regions of Central and South America. Humans have been consuming its seeds, commonly known as cocoa beans, to make cocoa mass, cocoa powder, and chocolate for thousands of years.

The history of its use in ceremonial, traditional, and indigenous contexts dates back over 3,000 years. Its origins are from the ancient cultures of Mesoamerica, including the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations. These cultures recognized the plant medicine as a potent spiritual and ceremonial substance. Their social, religious, and cultural practices deeply integrated it. Certain civilizations also used cacao as currency.

Cacao isn’t psychedelic but is a plant medicine and has psychoactive effects.

Photo: Pexels

Experience

Consuming pure cacao as a plant medicine is an experience that combines physical, emotional, and, for some, spiritual effects. The plant, especially when used in ceremonial doses, is much more than just eating chocolate or using cocoa products in cooking.

Effects

PhysicalStimulation: Cacao contains theobromine, a mild stimulant that affects the central nervous system, providing a gentle increase in alertness and energy.
Increased Circulation: Theobromine acts as a vasodilator, widening blood vessels, improving circulation and lowering blood pressure.
Detoxification: Some people report a detoxifying effect, possibly due to the antioxidants in cacao, which can help neutralize free radicals and remove toxins from the body.
EmotionalMood Elevation: Cacao is rich in compounds such as phenylethylamine (PEA), which can enhance mood and increase feelings of well-being by boosting the release of endorphins and other pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters.
Enhanced Focus and Creativity: The stimulatory effects of cacao can help increase mental clarity and focus, making it easier to engage in creative tasks or meditation.
Emotional Release: In a ceremonial context, cacao is often used to open the heart and facilitate emotional release, helping individuals to connect more deeply with themselves and others, and process buried emotions.
SpiritualHeart Opening: fosters a sense of love, compassion, and connection to the divine or the universe.
Meditative States: The combination of physical relaxation and mental clarity can facilitate deeper meditative states, making it easier to engage in spiritual practices or introspection.
Enhanced Connection: Users often describe a heightened sense of connection to nature, other people, and the spiritual realm, supporting the use of cacao in communal and ritualistic contexts.

How to

cacao ceremony
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  • Look for pure, organic ceremonial-grade cacao. We minimally process it to retain its spiritual and medicinal properties. It’s different from the processed cocoa or chocolate bars found in stores.
  • Traditional preparation involves gently heating water (not boiling) and then mixing it with the cacao, which you can grate or chop into small pieces for easier melting. The common ratio is about 1 ounce (28 grams) of cacao per cup of water for a ceremonial dose.
  • You may add spices like chili, cinnamon, or vanilla to enhance the flavour without overshadowing the cacao’s natural properties. Avoid adding dairy products, as they can inhibit the absorption of cacao’s active ingredients.
  • As you drink the cacao, stay present and mindful. Savour the taste, texture, and warmth. Put an intention, and be open to the cacao’s effects on your body, mind, and spirit.

Benefits & Risks

BenefitsCacao contains significant amounts of antioxidants and certain minerals like magnesium and iron.
It has been linked to various health benefits, including improved heart health, reduced inflammation, and enhanced mood and cognitive function.
Heart opener, caco can also be aphrodisiac.
RisksSome individuals may experience adverse reactions to high doses of cacao, such as headaches, dizziness, or stomach upset, primarily due to the theobromine content.
While cacao is not psychoactive in the traditional sense like some other plant medicines (e.g., ayahuasca, psilocybin), its effects on mood and perception can be significant, especially in a ceremonial context.

Therapeutic Use

  • Ceremonial Use: Cacao is used beyond its physical health benefits in ceremonial contexts for its ability to open the heart, enhance meditation and spiritual practices, and foster a deeper connection to oneself and others.
  • Emotional Release and Healing: In therapeutic settings, cacao is often used to facilitate emotional release and healing. This helps individuals to process and move through emotional blockages.

Personal Growth

Pure cacao is a great medicine to tune in and be in the present moment. It is such a great feeling and profound spiritual practice to prepare the plant medicine, put an intention into it and drink it, feeling the warm beverage filling up your body.

To incorporate cacao into personal growth practices, consider starting with a small, ceremonial-grade dose in a quiet, reflective setting. Set an intention for what you wish to explore or achieve, whether it’s emotional healing, creative breakthroughs, spiritual insights, or simply greater self-awareness. Use the time following cacao consumption for meditation, journaling, creative expression, or other practices that support your growth.

cacao pod
Photo: Pexels

Legality

Cacao is completely legal to grow, sell, purchase, and consume worldwide. Its cultivation, trade, and consumption are subject to the same agricultural and food safety regulations as other food crops and products. There are no international or national laws that specifically restrict or control cacao due to its status as a basic food ingredient.

History & Stats

Olmec Civilization

The Olmecs (1500–400 BC), one of the earliest Mesoamerican civilizations, are believed to be the first to cultivate and use cacao. While direct evidence of their use in ceremonies is scarce, they laid the groundwork for cacao’s significance in subsequent Mesoamerican cultures.

Maya Civilization

The Maya (250–900 AD) elevated cacao to a divine status. They believed the plant was a gift from the gods, specifically the Plumed Serpent God, Kukulkan. The Maya used it in a variety of religious rituals. Marriage ceremonies included sharing a cacao beverage between the bride and groom as a symbol of unity. People also used it in baptismal ceremonies and made offerings to the gods with it.

Cacao was integral to Maya’s social and economic life, serving as a luxury drink for the elite and a form of currency. The Maya prepared the beverage mixed with water, chilli peppers, cornmeal, and other spices. They often frothed the mixture by pouring it back and forth from a height.

Aztec Civilization

By the time of the Aztecs (14th–16th century AD), cacao had become a symbol of wealth and power. The Aztecs believed that their god Quetzalcoatl bestowed cacao upon them. The gods punished him for sharing this precious gift with humans. They used cacao beans as currency and in high-status ceremonies, including offerings to the gods and rituals associated with human sacrifice.

The Aztec elite drank chocolatl, a frothy, bitter beverage made from cacao beans, water, and spices, during religious ceremonies and other formal occasions. This drink was considered sacred and was consumed to confer strength and vitality.

European Introduction and Adaptation

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, cacao was introduced to Europe. It was initially used as a medicine and an aphrodisiac before becoming popular as a drink among the European elite. The addition of sugar and honey to sweeten its naturally bitter taste made it more palatable to Europeans. Those additions transformed it into the hot chocolate we know today.

European adoption of cacao led to its widespread commercialization and cultivation in colonies. Plus, its traditional and ceremonial uses by indigenous peoples were largely overlooked or suppressed.

Contemporary Ceremonial Use

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the interest and appreciation for this traditional and ceremonial plant use. Cacao ceremonies, drawing inspiration from indigenous practices, have become popular in various parts of the world as a form of spiritual and emotional healing. These modern ceremonies often focus on intention setting, meditation, and community building, utilizing cacao’s heart-opening and uplifting properties.

Myths

There are various myths and misconceptions surrounding the plant, such as:

  • Cacao and chocolate are the same: While both come from the plant bean, the pure form is made by cold-pressing unroasted beans, preserving the living enzymes while removing the fat (cacao butter). Chocolate, on the other hand, is processed with sugar, milk, and other additives.
  • Cacao is unhealthy: the pure form is actually rich in antioxidants, minerals (such as magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium), and vitamins. It’s the added sugars and fats in chocolate products that contribute to health issues.

Cacao is a great medicine to prepare and/or integrate experiences such as psychedelic ones. Book a session with one of our coaches, to make the most out of your experience.