Hundreds of people are packed into a bumping basement club in downtown Berlin, dancing for hours on end in a free-wheeling rave. The substance of choice hails from the exotic tropics. It’s said to impart a brain-boosting rush and tons of energy, enough to transform its users into raging Energizer bunnies. This drug can be ingested, drunk and even snorted. You’re probably familiar with its common name: cacao.
Say, um, “hi” to the sweetest party drug there is. In recent months, cacao has transcended its already lofty status as a superfood and vaulted into the realm of party drugs. In this latest incarnation, cacao powder is taking the place of alcohol and illicit substances like Molly and ecstasy in parts of Western Europe. Lucid, a monthly cacao-fueled dance party in Berlin, fixes bitter Balinese cacao into partygoers’ drinks. Morning Gloryville, a rise-and-shine rave company that organizes dance parties from London to New York, stocks its bar with cacao drinks and cacao pills. And in perhaps the strangest form, Belgian chocolatier Dominique Persoone invented a special $50 snorting device so you can huff your chocolate in powdered form, much like cocaine.
Never mind that this is the same raw powder you can find at the corner Vitamin Shoppe or processed in your favorite candy bar — or that cacao is perfectly legal in all the jurisdictions we found. Proponents say that raw, virgin cacao is far more potent than you ever imagined. First comes a surge of endorphins into your bloodstream, which increases acuity and fuels you with feelings of euphoria. Then there’s the flood of magnesium, which relaxes your muscles and de-tenses your body. Raw cacao is also chock-full of flavanols that increase blood circulation and stimulate brain power, according to a recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
And, of course, cacao can be downright delicious. Lucid’s pixie-like party organizer, Ruby May, isn’t a purist when it comes to the stuff: She spikes the 18 pounds of cacao per party with sweet hints of honey, agave syrup and cinnamon, and the celebrations go on for six hours. “It’s like a smooth, sensual hug in a cup,” says the 36-year old. And as far as the sniffing chocolate goes, Persoone mixes the powder with ginger, raspberry and mint for his patrons in Belgium. Chili pepper was tried, he says, but was “not a good idea.” Color us surprised.
To be clear, cacao is not going to distort your reality. Under the beats of house, hip-hop, funk and electronic music, cacao “amplifies” the experience, rather than dims it with alcohol or drugs, says May. In fact, she doesn’t allow booze inside. The mood-boosting effects of cacao are “subtle,” she says, and it’s not like tripping on acid. Even pure cacao is not actually a drug. While it does contain certain mood-enhancing compounds such as anandamide and phenylethylamine, the bitter reality is that the amount is much too low to have any direct influence on mood, says Dr. Catherine Kwik-Uribe, the director of research and development for Mars Symbioscience, a scientific division of Mars, Incorporated. Which is to say that all of this alleged chocoholism is probably a placebo effect.