Were dinosaurs tripping balls on LSD fungus?

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

As we saw in Jurassic Park, fossilized tree sap, or amber, has a way of capturing and preserving all kinds of ancient things. According to a new report, though, a recently discovered specimen contains both evidence of the earliest grass specimen ever discovered and ergot, the fungus used to make LSD.

This fungus-covered grass was around during the reign of the dinosaurs, and raises the question of  whether or not they were tripping balls while grazing.

The study, published in the journal Palaeodiversity, also noted that the discovery provides evidence that grasses and ergot evolved together and played a major role in society as we know it along the way.

“It seems like ergot has been involved with animals and humans almost forever, and now we know that this fungus literally dates back to the earliest evolution of grasses,” said George Poinar, Jr., a paleontologist at Oregon State University.

“This is an important discovery that helps us understand the timeline of grass development, which now forms the basis of the human food supply in such crops as corn, rice or wheat,” Poinar continued. “But it also shows that this parasitic fungus may have been around almost as long as the grasses themselves, as both a toxin and natural hallucinogen.”

Far out, man

Ergot has been linked to both the development of certain drugs and the Salem witch trials, but it’s probably best known for the psychedelic effects found in LSD. Its effects aren’t limited to humans either as animals that consume the fungus have been seen staggering, hallucinating, delirious, convulsing, and even developing gangrene.

Imagine a giant like Brachiosaurus whacked out of its brain, stumbling around and leaving a trail of destruction behind it.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it would have been eaten by sauropod dinosaurs, although we can’t know what exact effect it had on them,” Poinar said.

According to the study, the amber fossil holds a grass floret topped by a dark fungus named Palaeoclaviceps parasiticus, a relative of ergot. The specimen was pulled from amber mines in Myanmar and dates to between 97 and 110 million years ago. During this time, dinosaurs and conifers dominated and the very first flowering plants, grasses and small mammals were just starting to evolve.

Millennia later, grasses would turn into a robust life form on Earth, producing vast prairies, feeding herds of animals, and ultimately making way for the domestication of early livestock and the farming of crops, altering the entire progression of the human race. Current estimates state that grasses produce approximately 20 percent of global vegetation.

Defense mechanism?

The study team said that a few grasses have normal defense mechanisms, and theorized that ergot could be among them, assisting in the repulsion of herbivores. The fungus is bitter and a problem in cereal and grass seed creation, along with providing complications in pastures and grazing land.

However, ergot has been utilized as a medicine to cause abortion or accelerate labor in pregnant women. According to one controversial study, it may have also played a part in the Salem witch trials. In the middle of the 20th century, the fungus was used to make the psychedelic compound known as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).


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