CORVALLIS, Ore., Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Researchers have discovered the world's oldest piece of grass, perfectly preserved inside an piece of amber unearthed in Myanmar. Also incapsulated in the amber fossil is ancient fungus similar to ergot, a fungus involved in the original synthesis of LSD.
The discovery suggests this psychotropic fungus has evolved alongside, for millions and millions of years, the grasses and cereal grains that came to make up much of the modern diet.
"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," George Poinar, Jr., an amber expert at Oregon State University, explained in a recent press release.
"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 added. "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."
But long before humans ever ate grasses (and the fungi that grow on them), it is likely massive dinosaurs consumed the hallucinogen.
"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."
Most famously, ergot's lysergic acid was the model used by the lab scientists who first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the powerful psychedelic compound. But the fungus has also been used to derive hundreds of legal drugs, including treatments for Parkinson's disease.
But even as it was being used by primitive doctors to induce abortions and treat a variety of maladies, ergot's accidental consumption by both animals and humans -- especially via contaminated rye bread during the Middle Ages -- was known to cause delirium, irrational behavior, pain and death. Some historians have suggested the women accused of dark dealings during the Salem witch trials may have been poisoned by rye bread containing ergot.
If researchers are correct, prehistoric Earth might have featured spastic dinosaurs flopped over in fields seeing kaleidoscopic colors in the clouds. In other words, Ken Kesey was just copying.
The research will soon be published in the journal Palaeodiversity.