Dinosaurs are cool. Studies show that the only way dinosaurs would be even cooler is if they did drugs*. And they might have, according to a recent finding.
This information came not by uncovering a Cretaceous stash of psychedelics and Jefferson Pterodactyl records as one would expect but rather from examining a piece of amber. The 12-millimeter long amber bead was discovered in a mine in Myanmar and has been dated at 97 to 110 million years old, placing it right in the middle of the K period, when dinosaurs ran amok.
The importance of this find resides in the fact that we now have a better understanding of grass. Not that grass, the family of grasses called Poaceae or Gramineae. Grasses make up one fifth of the vegetation on Earth and the domesticated varieties are the cornerstone of human society. Without corn, wheat, rice and the likes there wouldn’t have been a sedentary life style for early humans to adopt.
Until recently, we had little fossil record to effectively trace back the origin of grasses. That’s where the tiny piece of amber steps in. When scientists examined it, they found it encased a tiny blade of grass. The previous fossil records containing grass came in the form of coprolites, which is a fancy term for fossilized number two. This new finding establishes the fact that grasses were present in the Old World around 100 million years ago and are probably even older.
But the second thing discovered inside the piece of amber makes for a much more interesting conversation piece. Like a consciousness-expanding icing on a cake, a tiny fungal parasite was found on the tip of the grass blade. The ancient fungus is called Paleoclaviceps parasiticus, an extinct relative of Claviceps purpurea, aka ergot.
Ergot is a grain fungus that usually grows on rye and it was from a compound derived from this humble organism that Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD in 1938. A thousand more compounds were obtained from ergot, many of which have proven valuable assets to medicine. Like its modern relative, P. parasiticus also produced ergotamine, which is similar in structure and functionality to lysergic acid, the precursor of LSD.
This proves that hallucinogenic fungi are as old as the dinosaurs. While there’s no sure way to tell if it affected dinosaurs that ingested it, one is allowed to dream. Can you imagine a tripping T. rex? No? How about a high Velociraptor?
The fungus itself had a bitter taste; this was an adaptation it evolved so as to avoid being eaten. But as Prof. George Poinar, the leader of the study focused on the fossilized grass said, “my feeling is dinosaurs definitely fed on this grass.”
Sure, carnivorous dinosaurs never ate grass but they chomped down on herbivores who did and it wouldn’t have been impossible for the compound to pass from one to another. Who knows, maybe, just maybe one spaced-out dino had one hell of a trip waaay before humans began using psychedelic drugs. Wouldn’t that be a sight to behold?
On a side note, I once knew a girl called Amber and I have reason to suspect she also carried drugs inside of her(queue drum-roll). There, I made this awful joke so you wouldn’t have to!
*Sorry, not an actual study.