Ceremonial Cacao and Psilocybin Mushrooms: Historical Overlap and Therapeutic Synergy

Ceremonial Cacao and Psilocybin Mushrooms: Historical Overlap and Therapeutic Synergy

by Nick Meador

(Published 4/5/2024. Updated on 4/29/2024.)

*Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We do not condone or endorse any illegal activity related to the use, possession, or distribution of psilocybin mushrooms. Before considering any form of psilocybin therapy, it is essential to research and understand the law. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional or legal expert to ensure compliance with regulations.*

 

Immense potential exists for combining psilocybin mushrooms and ceremonial cacao in a therapeutic context. With the legalization of professional psilocybin services in certain states in the USA and the permanent legal status of cacao (the main ingredient in dark chocolate), the possibility for professionally combined administration has finally arrived. 

“Mushroom chocolates” have long been a popular form of ingesting psilocybin in non-professional contexts. But there has not been much speculation into why, other than the obvious: masking the bitterness of mushrooms (and in an illicit setting, being able to hide mushrooms from sight). The flavor, aroma, and texture of chocolate can certainly make ingesting “magic” mushrooms more pleasant. Yet three topics beg deeper consideration: (1) the ancient historical overlap of cacao and mushrooms, (2) other advantages that cacao offers for psilocybin administration, and (3) the combined effects of ingesting them simultaneously.


1. The Historical Overlap of Psilocybin and Cacao

Extensive research in anthropology and ethnobotany has established evidence of historic psilocybin use in many places around the world, and it was potentially prehistoric (dating to the Stone Age) in some cases. [1] Signs of psilocybin mushroom use have been found in Africa and Europe going back at least 8,000 years, and in Latin America for at least 3,500 years. [2]

The most well-documented historical use of psilocybin is in what’s now Mexico, Central America and South America. And it appears that the clearest surviving indigenous use in ceremonial or spiritual settings – and perhaps for that reason, the most researched overall – is in various groups located in Mexico. The Mazatec people are most known for it, but others have been noted as well. [3]

(Ancient mushroom statues carved from volcanic basalt rock, on display at the Popol Vuh Museum in Guatemala City. Specific dates of origin are unknown, but there are seven mushroom stones displayed with “Late Pre-Classic” Mayan items. That was 300 BC to 250 AD. One more can be found at the National Museum of Mayan Art, also in Guatemala City. Photo © Nick Meador / Soul Lift Cacao)

There’s just as much mystery in the story of cacao, which can refer to what’s now categorized as the Theobroma cacao tree, different parts of the tree (e.g., cacao pod), and products made from the tree (e.g. cacao nibs or a cacao drink). The birth of cacao has been traced to the Amazon river basin of South America. [4] Recent archaeological findings have forced significant modifications to the understanding of human use of cacao. The earliest evidence of human domestication (i.e., intentional cultivation and consumption) of cacao is from about 5,300 years ago in southern Ecuador. [5] Since the 1980s, many pre-Columbian artifacts have been found in Mexico, Central America, and South America that either show depictions of cacao (pods, seeds, and/or drinks), display a glyph deciphered to mean “cacao,” or tested positive for chemical constituents of cacao. But like with psilocybin, the exact role that cacao played in ancient indigenous life is not totally clear. 

Over the last 10 years, the concept of “ceremonial cacao” has gained popularity in countries with only a modern connection to cacao and chocolate like the U.S. There is no established grading system for cacao, so claims of being “ceremonial grade” are at this time mostly subjective. The idea of ceremonial cacao only exists because of the ancient indigenous view of cacao as sacred. The relationship was distinguished by traditions of cultivation and preparation. In those settings, a ceremony was held for the planting and harvesting of cacao. And cacao seeds (a.k.a. “beans”) were roasted over wood fire, peeled by hand, ground on a stone metate, and usually enjoyed as a drink. To this day in Latin America, many families still grow, prepare and enjoy cacao this way. [6]

However, most products labeled “ceremonial cacao” are actually made outside the country where the cacao grows, by importing the seeds and processing them in a factory. This approach cuts out many indigenous people and traditional practices from the supply chain. [7] On the other hand, buying authentic ceremonial cacao that's made into 100% chocolate paste (a.k.a. cocoa solids) in the same Latin American country where it grows supports a humanitarian mission of financial development and social justice in places that have been drastically harmed by foreign exploitation and destabilization. [8]

Myths and stories have also arisen about indigenous groups – especially Mayan and Aztec – using cacao in spiritual settings. Cacao is definitely considered sacred in the Mayan “Cosmovision” – in other words, their combined beliefs about how to orient to and connect with the physical and metaphysical world. And throughout time, cacao has been used in many highly valued ways: as an offering to spirits, as a currency, and in weddings and other milestone events. Some indigenous groups have used cacao specifically for healing purposes. But sometimes assumptions are made about cacao based on traditions surrounding psilocybin, peyote, and ayahuasca. [9]

(Ancient clay vessel specifically used for cacao, on display at the Popol Vuh Museum in Guatemala City. This one was dated to the “Early Classic” Mayan Period, about 250-550 AD. Vessels like these have been tested and found to contain traces theobromine and caffeine, and cacao was the only plant in ancient Mesoamerica that contained both compounds. It's speculated that ones with a spout like this were not only for pouring cacao, but also for blowing into to promote a froth – the most highly valued part of the cacao drink. Photo © Nick Meador / Soul Lift Cacao)


2. Comparing Preparation and Administration Options for Psilocybin and Cacao

The two main suggested methods for combining and ingesting psilocybin and ceremonial cacao together pose notable differences, requiring a decision by facilitator and client. Both involve using homogenized mushroom analyte (i.e., lab-grown mushrooms ground into a powder and tested for psilocybin content), which can either be made into a cacao drink or mushroom chocolates.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that both methods produce a chocolate "buffer" in the digestive system that could reduce the potential for nausea and abdominal discomfort. However it appears that this hasn't been tested in clinical research.

A common "daily serving" of ceremonial cacao is about 28 g (1 oz). However, a smaller serving (for example, 14 g) can also be effective, especially if the facilitator and/or client are concerned about caffeine. A "ceremonial serving" of 43 g (1.5 oz) isn't recommended for mushroom co-administration unless a client already knows well how their body reacts to the type and amount of cacao.

OHA has set a maximum session dose of 50mg of psilocybin compound, which translates to an average of 7 g of dried mushrooms based on historical testing data from Rose City Laboratories in Portland, Oregon. [10, 11]


Ceremonial Cacao Drink

A cup of ceremonial cacao is made by mixing chopped cacao paste in hot water using an agitator to emulsify (i.e. evenly distribute) the cacao butter. An example of a typical ratio would be 28 g (1oz) of pure cacao paste mixed into 7-8 oz of water. This can be done with a blender, a handheld frother, or a molinillo (traditional whisk). Stirring alone isn’t enough, because the cacao solids will sink to the bottom.

The homogenized mushrooms simply need to be put in the hot water before the cacao is blended, along with any other sweetener or spice the client may want to include. This is similar to the common administration method of making “mushroom tea,” and only requires the extra step of agitation.

For a smaller drink, 14 g of cacao can be mixed in 4 oz of hot water, but this is about the smallest serving that can be prepared while still emulsifying the cacao butter.

This approach fits into the requirements established by Oregon Health Authority (OHA) for transfer of psilocybin products to clients. The client can be provided with a thermos with hot water and a handheld frother to make a drink, as long as the cacao comes individually pre-packaged by a licensed food business, because it’s not a supplement or an intoxicant. [12]

A cacao drink offers certain potential benefits when compared to simply eating mushrooms. For one, there’s a general assumption that homogenized mushrooms will be more quickly digested than whole mushrooms, leading to faster onset and less waiting time for a client. 

For any cacao drink, it's recommended to use water that's at least 200˚F, because cacao at room temperature (think 70˚F) will cool down the water during boiling and it could be less enjoyable to drink.

The temperature of the drink also makes a difference when mushrooms are added. Rose City Laboratories found that mushrooms steeped in 212˚F (boiling) water resulted in better extraction of psilocybin and less degradation of psilocin (the compound that actually produces a psychoactive effect) when compared to an equal amount of time in 176˚F water. [13]

This offers an insight into making the most out of OHA regulations about how many milligrams of psilocybin compound a client can consume in one session. In other words, making a drink with steaming but not boiling water would apparently waste some of the psychoactive compounds. Even if only steeping a drink for 5 minutes at the lower temperature, 15% or more of the active compounds get degraded.

Any hot drink is thought to break down the chitin (structural compound) in the mushroom cell walls, and anecdotal reports in the field suggest that this in itself could lower the chance of nausea.

But one potential downside with even a boiling drink is that digestion, and therefore the psychedelic experience, might happen too fast for the client to be able to process deeper emotional issues, gain insights, and fully integrate the experience into their day-to-day life. That is, compared to the next option.


Mushroom Chocolates Made with Ceremonial Cacao

To fit into OHA’s legal requirements, mushroom chocolates would need to be made in a facility licensed by both the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and OHA that’s established with the sole purpose of manufacturing psilocybin edibles. [14]

In an edible, the psilocybin analyte powder would be evenly distributed with any other ingredients that are combined with the cacao to make a chocolate truffle. This way, precise doses would be measured in advance. Mushroom chocolates could be made to contain anywhere from 5-50 mg of analyte, so they could be intentionally given as a first dose and/or booster with certainty about how much the client is ingesting.

Chocolates are basically made by melting cacao paste and mixing with other ingredients for flavor and/or texture. But the melting point of cacao paste is 94˚F, probably well below the level that would initiate degradation of the active compounds in mushrooms.

Anecdotal reports suggest that the even distribution of analyte in a truffle could act as a “timed release,” where the mushroom particles move through the system in a fairly consistent way as the chocolate is digested.


3. Synergistic Effects of Ingesting Psilocybin with Cacao

Ceremonial cacao has become especially popular outside its original context among people who are interested in spiritual self-development and/or who practice activities like yoga and meditation. Anecdotal claims hold that ceremonial cacao is a “heart opener” that can help people with emotional processing, feeling more in touch with their body, and gaining new insights or clarity into life situations. 

Science has not yet reached a consensus of fully recognizing or explaining cacao’s therapeutic effects. Popular myths point to the importance of compounds such as serotonin, phenylethylamine (PEA, known as the “love chemical”), and anandamide (known as the “bliss molecule”). But research has found that these occur in insignificant amounts in cacao. [15,16] 

It appears that the main active compounds in cacao (i.e. those that could influence sensations, heart rate, and brain function) are methylxanthines (primarily theobromine, and to a lesser extent, caffeine) and polyphenol antioxidants (primarily flavonoids). In cacao, caffeine always occurs in a lower amount than theobromine, which has been found to lower blood pressure. This could be useful for countering the blood pressure increase that psilocybin is known to provoke. [17] And the types of polyphenols in cacao (most notably the flavonoids epicatechin and catechin) are known to improve cerebral blood flow as well as cognition (e.g., memory, attention, motivation, etc). [18,19] 

It’s hard to interpret published data on the amounts of active compounds in cacao, chocolate, and “cocoa,” because these products are processed in very different ways. Dark chocolate is the closest in process and purity to ceremonial cacao. Average dark chocolate appears to contain approximately 20-30 mg of caffeine, and around 140-230 mg of theobromine, per 28g serving. [20,21] In order to better understand potential objective advantages of certain varieties and preparations of cacao, lab tests for caffeine and theobromine were commissioned on many varieties of non-engineered, wood-fire-roasted, hand-peeled cacao. Across nine Guatemalan varieties and one Mexican variety, the amount of caffeine ranged from 63-143 mg per 28 g serving of cacao, and the amount of theobromine ranged from 300-468 mg. [22] Both are considerably higher than typical dark chocolate.

As for polyphenols, a 2011 study found that non-alkalized cacao powder had a higher count than most antioxidant-rich foods (except possibly pomegranate). [23] And the polyphenol count basically went down the more cacao was processed, from dark chocolate to defatted cacao powder to hot chocolate mix (containing “cocoa” processed with alkali). So “hot cocoa” mixes would give basically none of the health benefits of cacao. 

Dark chocolate (containing 60-63% cacao) contained 24.8 mg of polyphenols per gram of product. [24] A laboratory test for polyphenols in Heart of the Earth ceremonial cacao showed 63.4 mg per gram – more than double the amount found in dark chocolate. [25] Curiously, Heart of the Earth also had the highest numbers of caffeine and theobromine of any other ceremonial varieties in these tests, so it could be that amounts of these active compounds are correlated with each other in any given variety of cacao.

If cacao and psilocybin are combined, there is a potential for synergistic and/or additive effects – “synergy” meaning the chemical constituents could react with one another, and “additive” meaning the mushroom cacao experience could simply be the sum of interesting parts. The experience provoked by cacao, while subtle, can be thought of like a “tiptoe” into the same energetic realm that psychedelics open up. Like different psilocybin strains, different cacao varieties have objective differences (caffeine, theobromine, etc.) and also different “energies” that would need to be taken into consideration for this type of therapeutic work. 

There have also been reports that the mushroom chocolate method using ceremonial cacao could increase ratings of the session as "mystical." And from clinical research beginning with Roland Griffith's publications in 2008, it appears that the mystical factor is key in a person being able to make a significant life change or to experience what they view as emotional healing. [26]  But whether cacao actually contributes to this hasn't been tested in clinical research.

One interesting possibility for synergy is the role that monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) play in a psilocybin experience. It has now been demonstrated that psilocybin mushrooms contain naturally occurring MAOIs in the form of β-carbolines. [27] These prevent a rapid degradation of psilocybin and psilocin, and thereby allow the psychoactive journey to occur – much like in an ayahuasca brew. Cacao does contain tetrahydro-β-carbolines, but reportedly in small amounts. [28] So it’s not clear if this could have an effect on the bioactive nature of cacao in general and/or increase the effect of the MAOIs in mushrooms until more research is done.


Conclusions

Combining psilocybin mushrooms and authentic ceremonial cacao offers promising benefits for both administration and therapeutic effect in professional psilocybin services. It also presents a way to increase the financial and cultural equity of these services. For good reason, mushrooms must be grown in a lab in the state where the services happen. But that means it’s impossible to have a direct link to the Latin American countries that have a historic connection to them. 

On the other hand, ceremonial cacao can only grow in tropical climates, presenting an opportunity for more capital (financial and cultural) for indigenous cacao workers, so that the benefit is more evenly distributed across the cacao supply chain. Whether ingesting mushrooms in a ceremonial cacao drink or in a chocolate truffle, many people could potentially experience more therapeutic rewards while enjoying the sensory delight of ethical chocolate. 

 

Are you a licensed psilocybin facilitator wanting to offer ceremonial cacao to your clients?

All of our ceremonial cacao and drinking chocolates come in single serving packets available on our online shop.

We have a free local pickup option in Portland, Oregon, and affordable shipping around the country.

For other articles on testing for mold and heavy metals, as well as other important topics, please browse our Blog.

And if you have a service center where you'd like to stock our products, please Contact Us to learn about wholesale options.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blei, F., S. Dorner, J. Fricke, F. Baldeweg, F. Trottmann, A. Komor, F. Meyer, C. Hertweck, and D. Hoffmeister. “Simultaneous Production of Psilocybin and a Cocktail of β-Carboline Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors in ‘Magic’ Mushrooms.” Chemistry: A European Journal 26 (2020): 729-734.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2013.

Crozier, S.J., A.G. Preston, J.W. Hurst, M.J Payne, J. Mann, L. Hainly, and D.L. Miller. “Cacao Seeds Are a ‘Super Fruit’: A Comparative Analysis of Various Fruit Powders and Products.” Chemistry Central Journal 5 (2011): 5.

Eren, F.H., and S. Kabaran. “Evaluation of Theobromine Content and the Relationship Between Cocoa Percentages in Dark Chocolates.” Functional Foods in Health and Disease 13, no. 10 (2023): 520-532.

Galeano, Eduardo. Open Veins of Latin America. 25th Anniversary Edition. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1997.

Griffiths, R.R., W.A. Richards, M.W. Johnson, U.S. McCann, R. Jesse. "Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later." J Psychopharmacol. 22, no. 6 (2008): 621–632.

Janikian, Michelle. Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2019.

Lanaud, C., H. Vignes, J. Urge, G. Valette, B. Rhone, M. Garcia Caputi, N.S. Angarita Nieto, O. Fouet, N. Gaikwad, S. Zarrillo, T.G. Powis, A. Cyphers, F. Valdez, S.Q. Olivera Nunez, C. Speller, M. Blake, F. Jr. Valdez, S. Raymond, S.M. Rowe, G.S. Duke, F.E. Romano, R.G. Loor Solorzano, and X. Argout. “A Revisited History of Cacao Domestication in Pre-Columbian Times Revealed by Archaeogenomic Approaches.” Scientific Reports 14 (2024): 2972.

Nehlig, A. “The Neuroprotective Effects of Cocoa Flavanol and its Influence on Cognitive Performance.” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 75, no. 3 (2012): 716-727.

Oregon Health Authority. “Public Health Division – Chapter 333: Psilocybin.” Accessed March 11, 2024. https://secure.sos.state.or.us/oard/displayDivisionRules.action?selectedDivision=7102

Rose City Laboratories. “Extraction Efficiency of Ground Psilocybe Cubensis in Water at Different Temperatures and Extraction Times.” Self-published (2023).

Rose City Laboratories. "Historical Distribution of Psilocybin Potency in Samples Tested by Rose City Labs." Self-published (undated).

Soul Lift Cacao. “Ceremonial Cacao Lab Testing for Caffeine and Theobromine.” Published 1/24/2023. Last updated 12/17/2023. Accessed on 3/13/2024. https://soulliftcacao.com/blogs/news/ceremonial-cacao-lab-testing-for-caffeine-and-theobromine

Soul Lift Cacao. “Testing Ceremonial Cacao for Polyphenol Antioxidants.” Published 8/29/2023. Accessed on 3/13/2024. https://soulliftcacao.com/blogs/news/polyphenol-antioxidant-testing-for-ceremonial-cacao-versus-chocolate-and-cocoa

Soul Lift Cacao. “Why ‘Fair Trade’ Cacao Isn’t Actually Fair Enough.” Self-published on 9/21/2021. Updated on 8/10/2023. Accessed on 3/21/2024. https://soulliftcacao.com/blogs/news/why-fair-trade-cacao-chocolate-isnt-as-fair-as-ceremonial-cacao

Spiers, N., B.C. Labate, A.O. Ermakova, P. Farrell, O.S. Gonzalez Romero, I. Gabriell, and N. Olvera. “Indigenous Psilocybin Mushroom Practices: An Annotated Bibliography.” Journal of Psychedelic Studies (2023).

Tuenter, E., K. Foubert, and L. Pieters. “Mood Components in Cocoa and Chocolate: The Mood Pyramid.” Planta Medica 84 (2018): 839-844.

Zugravu, C., and M.R. Otelia. “Dark Chocolate: To Eat or Not to Eat? A Review.” Journal of AOAC International 102 (2019): 5.



NOTES

1. Spiers, et al., “Indigenous psilocybin mushroom practices: An annotated bibliography.” pp. 1-5.
2. Spiers, et al., pp. 17-18.
3. Spiers, et al., p. 2.
4. Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, p. 25
5. Lanaud, et al., “A Revisited History of Cacao Domestication in Pre-Columbian Times Revealed by Archaeogenomic Approaches,” p. 7.
6. Coe and Coe. Also, personal perceptions from working with indigenous cacao families.
7. Soul Lift Cacao, “Why ‘Fair Trade’ Cacao Isn’t Actually Fair Enough.”
8. Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America, pp. 91-120.
9. Summary of personal conversations with various cacao workers in Guatemala, Mexico, and Costa Rica, and indigenous spiritual guides in Guatemala, going back to 2016.
10. Oregon Health Authority, “Public Health Division – Chapter 333: Psilocybin,” 333.333.5170.
11. Rose City Laboratories. "Extraction Efficiency of Ground Psilocybe Cubensis in Water at Different Temperatures and Extraction Times."

12. Oregon Health Authority, “Public Health Division – Chapter 333: Psilocybin,” 333.333.5240.

13. Rose City Laboratories. "Historical Distribution of Psilocybin Potency in Samples Tested by Rose City Labs."
14. Oregon Health Authority, 333.333.2080 and 333.333.2100.
15. Nehlig, “The Neuroprotective Effects of Cocoa Flavanol and its Influence on Cognitive Performance,” p. 722.
16. Tuenter, et al., “Mood Components in Cocoa and Chocolate: The Mood Pyramid,” p. 843.
17. Janikian, Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion, p. 175.
18. Nehlig.
19. Tuenter, et al.
20. Zugravu, “Dark Chocolate: To Eat or Not to Eat? A Review,” p. 1389. The authors write that dark chocolate “contains caffeine (15 mg/20 g) and theobromine (100–150 mg/20 g).” Per 28 g amount, that’s 21 mg caffeine and 140-210 mg theobromine. But the authors don’t list the percentage of cacao in the chocolate. Also, dark chocolate doesn’t usually come in 28g servings, but that’s typical for ceremonial cacao so I have standardized the amounts for comparison.
21. Eren and Kabaran, “Evaluation of Theobromine Content and the Relationship Between Cocoa Percentages in Dark Chocolates,” p. 521. Bittersweet dark (60-80% cacao content) showed 8.19 mg theobromine per gram of product, which calculates to 229.32 mg in a 28g serving.
22. Commissioned Laboratory Studies, Element Laboratory - Parkrose (Portland, Oregon), 11/3/2021, 9/22/2022, 5/22/2023. Data have been converted from results showing mg of compound per 100g of cacao.
23. Crozier, et al., “Cacao Seeds Are a ‘Super Fruit’: A Comparative Analysis of Various Fruit Powders and Products.” The ratio of total polyphenols in Heart of the Earth vs. dark chocolate can’t be explained just by percentage of cacao, since it’s more than half of dark chocolate quantity per serving.
24. Crozier, et al., pp. 2, 5. Total polyphenolic content of dark chocolate (60-63% cacao) was 991.1 mg per serving (40 g), which is 24.78 mg per gram of dark chocolate (2,478 mg per 100g).
25. Commissioned Laboratory Studies, Element Laboratory - Parkrose (Portland, Oregon), 6/22/2023. Data have been converted from results showing mg of compound per 100g of cacao.

26. Griffiths, R.R, et al. "Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later."
27. Blei, “Simultaneous Production of Psilocybin and a Cocktail of β-Carboline Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors in ‘Magic’ Mushrooms."
28. Tuenter. p. 843. 

 

KEYWORDS

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