I came across something quite bizarre in my most recent spate of research for the novel I am writing. I needed to find out more about poisonous mushrooms, and so I did a few searches on google to see what I could find.
Well, one of the searches on 'deadly poisonous' came up with Fly Agaric, which surprised me somewhat as I knew this mushroom was taken as an hallucinogenic and, as far as I was aware, people didn't tend to die from taking it. A little further investigation revealed the the poisons lost their potency, although none of their hallucinogenic properties, upon drying and treating in various ways.
I couldn't help but wonder how people found this out, and how they ever knew it might be safe to eat Fly Agaric, so I dug a little deeper. What I discovered was the most fascinating symbiosis of man and animal, both in search of the ultimate high.
It all started with reindeer junkies. Yep, it's official, reindeer love a bit of fly agaric. They will hunt it out and can sniff it from several kilometres away. In fact, the easiest way, apparently, to attract deer to an area is to put down some cut up Fly Agaric and they will come running. And jumping. Because one of the effects of these mushrooms on the deer is that they get very energetic, and jump around, much higher than they usually would.
Where do the people come in? Well, apparently, indigenous laplanders would watch the reindeer as they ate the mushrooms and pranced and danced, and they wanted some of it. They knew the mushrooms eaten raw could be poisonous so instead of eating them themselves, they fed them to the deer and drunk the deer's urine.
I'm still trying to picture the first time this happened. How could it possibly have gone? Well, mate, I think if we drink their wee we might get quite high. Okay, yes, let's give it a go. Hmmm... Not sure. But apparently that was what happened and the Lapps got high too.
The next bit is priceless. You know how Santa has a sleigh, right, and how it's pulled by flying reindeer? Well... It's thought that this entire picture came from hallucinating Laps, watching hallucinating reindeer jump really high and seeing them fly off into the night. I love that in and of itself but there's still more. The crafty deer didn't leave it at that, with the laps drinking their wee and having all the fun. Oh no. When their partners in crime urinated on the snow, the deer ate that, thus completing a very neat, trippy circle of high and making the most of the harvested mushrooms.
Sometimes you really couldn't make it up.