In millennia of existence, psychoactive drugs have not ceased to manifest a continuous interest for people of all ages and social statuses. Sought for their perception-altering properties, they are nowadays known as nootropics. The word, derived from the Greek terms “nous”-mind and “trepein”- to bend, was not a popular one until 1972 when the Romania chemist Corneliu Giurea concluded his research on Piracetam. After stating that the supplement was able to improve memory and cognition, he went on and affirmed that there are other substances with the same effect on the human brain.

The target of the drugs is to produce significant mood and consciousness changes. Ancient Peruvian shamans used hallucinogens, whose manner of action is similar to that of nootropics, to trigger the appearance of visual and auditory hallucinations. Native Americans regarded plant-based mind-bending substances as being sacred. Such is the case with old Asian medicine people whose daily use of herbs brought about an improvement in the brain’s structure. As of now, nootropics have started to spread their area of application. They are no longer used only as brain enhancers.

Current day studies aim to show the benefits nootropics have in treating severe medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. Somehow surprising, in this class of psychoactive drugs one can also find cocoa powder. To define it as a mind-bending substance would probably be an exaggeration. Cocoa powder is under no circumstance as powerful as other drugs. Still, it has some acknowledges properties in altering the perception. That, combined with the fact that it is completely legal, makes it a perfect pick for party people all around the world.

What is Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder, known as simply cocoa, is the end product of the extraction process of cocoa beans. Native to tropical regions of Central and South America, the cacao tree is an essential element in the billion dollar chocolate industry. Natural cocoa powder is relatively light in color. That is because the color of cocoa beans ranges between fair white and dark brown. Found in this state, the taste of cocoa powder is strong and rather bitter. In order to be used in the food industry, it goes through an alkalization process which makes it darker in color. As a result, the bitterness is drastically reduced. Cocoa powder contains several minerals such as magnesium, copper, sodium or zinc. Cocoa powder’s mineral levels are not necessarily diminished after being processed. Aside from minerals, its chemical structure is also rich in flavonoids. While it maintains part of its initial properties even after alkalization, the flavonoid levels are significantly smaller in dark colored cocoa powder.[1][2]

Cocoa also contains cadmium, a toxic metal which, upon inhalation for extended periods of time, can lead to pulmonary edema and even death. Aside from being part of the food industry, cocoa powder managed to make its way into the complex realm of mind-bending substances as well. As crazy as it might sound, cocoa is quickly becoming a convenient choice for millions of party people. That is because cocoa is relatively safe when compared to other substances.

Is it due to the fact that one’s desire to experience all sorts of things often points to the weirdest if choices? No matter the answer, cocoa powder is definitely one of the hottest trends in terms of psychoactive drugs nowadays.

Cocoa Powder Compounds

Numerous research projects have brought to public attention the importance of superfoods in one’s diet. The difference between super food and regular food is attributed to the higher antioxidant levels found in super foods. Such is the case with cocoa powder which is thought to have powerful properties. According to a study conducted by various groups of fruits and vegetables in order to analyze their polyphenol and flavanol levels and their antioxidant capacities. Cocoa powder registered the highest level out of all groups. It is no wonder that mass-media is currently promoting cocoa beans as a super fruit. Not doing so would cause a significant disadvantage to people that could benefit from them.[3]

Ultimately, the media sources are the reason for which cocoa powder has gained its massive popularity. Cocoa beans are the source of cocoa powder. They are neither beans nor fruits, but the seeds found inside the fleshy pulp of the cocoa fruit. Once harvested, they are placed in dark environments and let to ferment long enough to assimilate the sugar from the pulp. They are afterward removed from the outer peel and produce, as a result, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Both lighter cocoa powder and dark cocoa powder contain high levels of polyphenolic compounds, more notably flavonol.

  1. Polyphenols

Polyphenols are a class of chemical substances with a role in preventing severe medical conditions like cancer or heart diseases. The abundance of these compounds with high antioxidant properties in one’s diet shows that polyphenols are a real defense system against oxidative stress. This process is a highly toxic one for the human body. In the presence of oxidative stress, the body can no longer detoxify itself. In time, a large number of toxins and free radicals can gather inside the organism and influence the occurrence of major diseases.

An experiment done on various fruit powders showed to what extent they were able to use their antioxidant capacities in blocking the harmful impact of oxidative stress. The specialists who have conducted the experiment reached the conclusion that the quantity of polyphenols found in cocoa powder was significantly higher than in other fruits regarded as super foods. The overall results placed cocoa powder on the top of the list, being more efficient that acai or cranberry powder. Even so, cocoa powder processed as hot chocolate showed a decrease in antioxidant levels. Moreover, there was a powder with allegedly more powerful capacities, namely the pomegranate one. It is important to be mentioned that the tests were done using lighter cocoa powder. The process of alkalization, although a necessary one for cocoa powder to enter the market, lowered the antioxidants levels. It also reduced the polyphenolic compounds number, making dark cocoa powder less active when dealing with oxidative stress. The high quantity of polyphenols in lighter cocoa powder is what makes it a super food. On the other hand, alkalized cocoa powder was relatively low in terms of efficiency.[4]

  1. Flavonoids

Flavonoids are a class of compounds extremely well-spread in all kinds of foods. They are a rather common constituent, as they naturally occur in fruits, vegetables, chocolate or tea. Their primary role is to enhance the brain’s neuroprotective activities through their anti-inflammatory,antioxidant and possibly even anticancer properties. A study conducted on foods rich in flavonoids showed an improvement in the vascular activity of people using them. A high intake of foods that contain flavonoids shows no health related risk. This is the result of their low bioavailability. The digestive system breaks them down rather rapidly. It then sends them to the intestines and after that they enter the bloodstream. Nonetheless, flavonoids are not incredibly powerful antioxidants when compared to other compounds like ascorbate or glutathione. A large number of known flavonoids only bear the name of flavonoid. They are more a sub-class with weaker properties. Moreover, in connection with their capacity to fight free radicals, it is yet unknown whether they can indeed act as metal chelating agents or not.[5]

At the present moment, cocoa powder is one of the foods with the highest flavonoid levels. Aside from being the main component of chocolate and chocolate based products, cocoa has been used for centuries for its medical properties. A large number of flavonoid compounds is believed to diminish the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A subclass of flavonoids present in the cocoa powder, the flavonols, has immunoregulatory abilities.

  1. Methylxanthines

Methylxanthines are a class of compounds such as caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. The first two are naturally occurring in cocoa. Introducing them in the diet shows an increase in cerebral activity. By being chemically active substances, caffeine and theobromine stimulate the nervous system. They bring about an enhancement of memory and cognition and improve logical thinking. In regard to the brain’s activities, their properties are noteworthy enough to include cocoa in the super foods class. Furthermore, despite their particular bitterness, both caffeine and theobromine have a significant contribution in one of the today’s biggest industries, chocolate. By consuming cocoa based products, one can therefore benefit mentally and physically as well.

Methylxanthines are currently present in large quantities in coffee, cocoa and tea. All three products have several medical uses. Throughout history, people used them to support a healthy cerebral activity. Because they are natural substances, they do not show any particular risk. Xanthines, compounds similar to methylxanthines, are usually found in human body tissues and fluids.[6]

Caffeine’s and theobromine’s mechanism of action is a clear one. Methylxanthines act directly on the adenosine receptors discovered in the central nervous system. In the human brain, they are responsible for slowing down metabolic activities. By influencing their common operations through a blockage of adenosine receptors, methylxanthines improve mood and concentration while producing a mild state of arousal. Whereas caffeine is found in cocoa powder, its quantity is rather insignificant when compared to the theobromine levels.

Theobromine is considered to positively influence one’s mood by reducing the adenosine receptors’ and phosphodiesterases’ action on the brain. Less studied than caffeine, there is still sufficient proof related to the theobromine’s benefits for the human being’s health. The compound, toxic for some animals, did not show an adverse effect when consumed by people. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that theobromine can, to some extent, diminish the side effects of caffeine. In spite of their action on the central nervous system, there are no clear research projects to prove that either caffeine of theobromine can produce addiction. In addition to that, even with the occasional coffee-related negative advertising, caffeine has more than ten years since it has been excluded from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances. The psycho-stimulatory action of methylxanthines is more well-known when related to caffeine rather than theobromine. [7][8]

Caffeine is thought to have more influence on the nervous system in connection with the brain’s biochemical processes. On the other hand, theobromine is believed to play a more vital role in relation to our taste buds and smell. An experiment was done on two groups of bees as to indicate the importance of both caffeine and theobromine on the smell. One of them was given sucrose. The other one was rewarded with caffeine and theobromine enriched substances. As a result, the second group showed an increased ability to remember a floral scent and return to the flower emanating it.

Still, the effect the compounds had on the brain’s regions related to smell and taste might be one of the few disadvantages of cocoa-based products consumption. It would be exaggerated to state that chocolate is an addictive substance. Closer to the truth would be that the sugar present in chocolate is what influences a possibly high desire to consume it. While theobromine and caffeine are beneficial for mood improvement, there are other foods whose compounds can do so in a healthier manner.[9]

Chocolate Powder as a Party Drug

Chocolate is a cocoa-based product. While it loses much of cocoa’s initial properties, chocolate powder is popular and commonly used in the food industry. Recently, chocolate powder has gained more followers, but not for what one might think. Used as a primary ingredient in many desserts, it has become a very popular substance among party people. More simply put, its powdered form has turned into a psychoactive substance overnight. Unlike more popular drugs such as cocaine, LSD or speed, cocoa powder is entirely legal. Also, if one takes into consideration that it can easily be found at any market, cocoa seems to be a convenient choice. The powder is more popular in Europe. Its sweetness is what makes it enjoyable. That, combined with a lack of known harmful effects, turns it into a healthy alternative to what already exists on the market.

A while back, Lucid, a famous night club in Berlin made headlines with its strange pick in terms of hallucinogenic substances. The club’s clients were offered cocoa enriched drinks and pills. They confessed that there was an immediate change in their behavior and energy levels.

After being ingested, there is indeed a surge of serotonin and endorphins in the blood stream. Cocoa also contains magnesium and flavonoids, compounds known for their muscle relaxant and vasodilator properties. In addition, flavonols, a sub-class of flavonoids, are packed with antioxidants able to stimulate brain’s activity. People using chocolate powder affirmed that the substance induces a similar mood to that of psychedelics.

There exists evidence related to a possible placebo effect. Doctor Catherine Kwik-Uribe, the director of research for Mars Symbioscience, stated that cocoa products contain chemicals able to influence one’s perception positively. It is true that, when in a low mood, people often resort to sweets. The favorite one is chocolate. Even so, she said that while improving the mood, cocoa is not a mind altering substance. Its main constituents have rather antioxidant capacities. Whereas they can help dilate the blood vessels and produce muscle relaxation, their impact is not strong enough nor does it last for extended periods of time.

Using chocolate powder as an alternative to more popular drugs is not the best idea. Drugs themselves are a bad idea. Chocolate powder’s legality status does not make it appropriate to be used as a psychoactive substance. While it has genuine benefits in helping the nervous system, more research is to be conducted in order to confirm cocoa’s psychoactive properties. It is uncertain if that is bound to happen in the near future. For now, chocolate powder enjoys its hot trend status. As weird as it might sound, in spite of its not well-deserved position when it comes to this domain, getting high on cocoa is the safer choice.[10][11]

References   [ + ]

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