Introduction to Cacao
"Cacao", also known as the cocoa tree/plant, cacao tree/plant, and [less often as] the chocolate tree/plant, is the common name for the evergreen Theobroma cacao, a short tree native to the tropical areas of South America.
"Cacao" may also be used to refer to the agricultural products—in this case the beans/seeds—of the tree, whereas the terms "cocoa" and/or "chocolate" are used more often used when speaking of refined products made from these seeds.
Cacao and chocolate are very mild psycho-stimulants, containing methylxanthine alkaloids such as those present in coffee, tea, yerba mate, guayusa, guarana, kola nuts, etc. While cacao, especially in the form of chocolate, is technically one of the most widely consumed psychotropics, it is much more often than not eaten as a confection/food and savored for its taste, rather than for specific stimulant effects. That being said, historic and some contemporary users of the plant and its products employ or promote cacao as a stimulant, ethnobotanical, or even an entheogen.
Cacao and chocolates' main constituent xanthine is theobromine, a chemical which affects adenosine receptors in the brain and mainly stimulates the heart, and to a lesser extent (than the related caffeine) the central nervous system. Cacao also contains smaller traces of caffeine, theophylline, anandamide, and phenethylamine, although at levels which are often negligible.
Cacao beans (or "nibs" when they have been freed from their coating) and (more rarely) the pulp surrounding the beans within the cacao pod (known in Spanish as baba de cacao) are the only parts of the plant consumed, both historically and in modern times. Derived cocoa products include chocolate, cocoa/chocolate liquor, hot chocolate, cocoa powder, and cocoa solids (to name a few of many examples).
Ways of Administration
Any given cacao product is either eaten or drank as a beverage. There are a few rare cases of non-oral use, but little data is available on the effects of such routes of administration. Perhaps most notably, the powdered inner bark of a different species within the Theobroma genus, T. bicolor, is insufflated with powdered mapacho (Nicotiana rustica/Aztec tobacco) leaf in an Amazonian preparation known as Nu-Nu. However, it is doubtful that any alkaloids are present within the bark of the plant, and given that T. bicolor is not the same biologically as T. cacao, this article does not cover the former plant.
Effects of Cacao
Combinations with Cacao
Different Uses for Cacao
Pharmacology of Cacao
Chemistry of Cacao
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The Dangers of Cacao
Physical Health Risks
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Mental Health Risks
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Forms of Cacao
Legal Status of Cacao
History of Cacao
More Cacao Sections