What is cacao?
Cacao is a beautiful, healing plant medicine. Cacao seeds (or beans) come from the fruit of a small, tropical American cacao tree. They are used to make cocoa, cocoa butter and of course, chocolate!
The cacao seed is the raw product you have before the fermentation process, cocoa is after, and chocolate is when sugar and other things have been added. Cacao is completely unprocessed and therefore all the fantastic benefits of the seeds remain intact.
The Latin name for Cacao, Theobroma means “food of the gods.” It has been used in ceremonies dating back to the Mayans and Aztecs. This sacred bean has gradually made its way from Latin America to many corners of the world, for casual sipping and ceremonies alike.
Cacao seeds are chock-full of nutrients, making it a superfood. They contain a molecule called theobromine, which is like a more grounded sister molecule to caffeine (its stimulating effects focus more on blood flow and the heart than on the nervous system, so it won’t make you jittery the way a strong cup of coffee can). Cacao also contains numerous active compounds and nutrients that stimulate the brain's production of neurotransmitters and neuro-modulators. This results in the stimulation of feel-good hormones like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for an improved mood. Endorphins are natural pain-killing substances that trigger a positive, euphoric feeling, serotonin helps to stabilise your mood, and dopamine helps you feel pleasure. Some compounds found in cacao, like anandamide, can actively help to keep mental illnesses like anxiety and depression at bay. It works like amphetamines, boosting our feelings of being in love and decreasing depression, but without the side effects, or nasty comedown. Note that in Sanskrit, ‘ananda’ means, ‘internal bliss’.
How does cacao make you feel?
Whilst it is not considered a psychedelic, cacao is most definitely stimulating and incredibly energizing. It acts as a natural high.
The flavonoids, amino acids and antioxidants within it release the neurotransmitters we call the ‘bliss molecules’. Feel-good hormones will stabilise your mood, increase pleasure and may trigger a positive, euphoric feeling. You might feel a very loving and receptive energy, like you are connected to everything and everyone past, present and infinitely.
It is completely legal to purchase, and shouldn't cause any adverse side effects (though those who are on antidepressants, particularly MAOIs and some SSRIs, might want to talk to their doctor before drinking a lot of it).
What to expect when attending a cacao ceremony
The cacao used in ceremonies is chocolate in its purest form. A cacao ceremony involves a cacao beverage being consumed to elevate whatever spiritual ritual is being practiced.
No two cacao ceremonies are alike, the format and what they involve can vary wildly. Usually, people start out by drinking some cacao and there is some kind of focused intention when consuming it. After that, there are a lot of possibilities. Common ones are free-flowing dance, yoga, meditation, inner processing, or specific seasonal ceremonies. The effect of adding the cacao to these practices can be incredibly powerful. Journeying with ceremonial cacao can be profound, fun, uplifting and transformative.
Benefits of a cacao ceremony
1. It's heart-opening - because theobromine significantly increases blood flow, people often experience a heart-opening sensation. The association between love and chocolate has been celebrated for ages. You might feel filled up with love, or more open and connected to other people.
2. It's mood-boosting - cacao releases dopamine and increases serotonin uptake, which contributes to an overall feeling of happiness and contentment.
3. It brings guidance and clarity of mind – it develops creativity and imagination, people can focus longer and deeper on spiritual practices.
4. It helps find peace - cacao helps release past issues and opens the heart to forgiveness.
5. It's good for your health - high in antioxidants, iron, magnesium, calcium, and more, there is also research showing regular consumption of cacao (in healthy amounts) can improve heart and brain health.
If you're attending a cacao ceremony for the first time, the facilitator should be able to answer any questions you have beforehand. The most important thing is to go with an open mind and have fun.