Millions of years prior to the production of hallucinogenic drugs, prehistoric dinosaurs munched on an ancient fungus that had psychedelic effects.
The evidence that these prehistoric animals got high came from a 100-million-year-old amber fossil of an ancient grass, the oldest grass specimen to be discovered. The amber was unearthed in a mine in Myanmar and collected by German paleontologist Joerg Wunderlich. The grass was covered by a fungus similar to ergot, which is known to have mind-altering and poisonous effects on the animals that nibble it.
Over 1,000 compounds have been derived from ergot. Some of them were being used as valuable drugs, but it has also been implicated in unwanted events, such as the death of thousands of people in the Middle Ages as well as in the Salem witch trials. It has been used as medicine to speed up labor or induce abortion as well as provided the hallucinogenic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), an illicit recreational drug.
The fungus in the now extinct grass specimen was named Palaeoclaviceps parasiticus and the discovery of the fossil shows that this fungus, the grass and the dinosaurs that feasted on the grass had once coexisted.
The fossil established that grasses existed 100 million years ago to the era of the middle Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs and conifers dominated the land and the earliest grasses and flowering plants were starting to evolve.
Evidence has been piling up that grasses evolved alongside dinosaurs and not after these prehistoric giants disappeared. Grasses that are found in dinosaur dung and hints from pieces of amber have also shown that grasses existed during the Cretaceous Period.
It appears that large sauropod dinosaurs, the largest of the plant-eating reptiles, feasted on the said fungus, which may have caused hallucination, convulsions, delirium and gangrene in other animals. Researchers, however, have yet to determine the effects of the fungus on the large prehistoric animals.
"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," said George Poinar, Jr. from the Oregon State University's College of Science. "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."