This story originally appeared on AlterNet.
Was the brontosaurus blissed out on prehistoric psychedelics as he munched the swamp grass in Southeast Asia 100 million years ago? Scientists who have analyzed a perfectly preserved amber fossil from a cave there say it’s entirely possible.
The amber fossil contains evidence of the earliest grass specimens ever discovered — about 100 million years old — and that they were topped by a fungus similar to ergot, which has long been intertwined with animals and humans. Ergot is known as a medicine and a toxin. It is also the source of the psychedelic drug LSD.
In animals, ergot can cause hallucinations, delirium, gangrene, convulsions, or the staggers. And this research provides evidence that the fungus, the grasses it lived on, and the dinosaurs who gulped down huge mouthfuls of both, coexisted for tens of millions of years. Imagine a multi-ton behemoth wrecked out of its dinosaur mind stumbling around the landscape.
The scientists say it’s certain that dinosaurs ate the ergot-laced grasses, but whether they actually tripped on them is unclear.
“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,” said George Poinar, Jr., an internationally recognized expert on life forms found in amber and the Oregon State University researcher who led the team of scientists. Their research results were just published in the journal Paleodiversity.
“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,” Poinar elaborated. “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. 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.”
The fungus found in the now-extinct grass specimen, Paleoclaviceps, is very similar to the modern fungus Claviceps, commonly known as ergot. Before Albert Hoffman ushered in the modern psychedelic era by deriving LSD from it in 1938, ergot was known in the Middle Ages as a cause of killer epidemics from ergot-infected rye bread. Its consumption by humans was also linked to delirium, irrational behavior, convulsions, severe pain, gangrenous limbs, and death.
It’s also been used as a medicine to induce abortion or speed labor. One researcher has controversially argued that it also played a role in the Salem witch trials.
Did the dinosaurs see tracers 65 million years ago as they watched the asteroid carrying their doom with it race toward Earth? We’ll never know. But they might have.
Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.