A new species of lichen from the Ecuadorian rainforest has been found to contain the hallucinogen psilocybin, which is also found in magic mushrooms. It’s the first and only lichen known to be containing this trippy compound. However, scientists are not able to confirm the psychedelic properties of the lichen, as they could not get access to pure reference compounds.

The researchers, who published a paper on the lichen in The Bryologist, said:

“Due to our inability to use pure reference compounds and scarce amount of sample for compound identification, however, our analyses were not able to determine conclusively the presence of hallucinogenic substances.”

Pure reference compounds are available samples of the chemicals in question, such as psilocybin. The War on Drugs has made these substances very difficult for researchers to obtain and continues to holds back psychedelic research though, so we may never know for sure what this lichen contains!

The rare lichen was first discovered in the 80s by ethnobotanist Jim Yost and Wade Davis, after searching for it for seven years. A local tribe called the Waorani that live in the rainforest in Eastern Ecuador told of this hallucinogenic lichen that their shamans, a person who is thought to be linked to the spirits, used to use. They last used it “some four generations ago – approximately eighty years – when ‘bad shaman’ ate it to send a curse to cause other Waorani to die’”. In 1983 Yost and Davis penned the story of how they discovered the lichen and described the Waorani’s use of psychedelics.

 “In the spring of 1981, whilst we were engaged in ethnobotanical studies in Eastern Ecuador, our attention was drawn to a most peculiar use of hallucinogens by the Waorani, a  small isolated group of some 600 Indians… Amongst most Amazonian tribes, hallucinogenic intoxication is considered to be a collective journey into the subconscious and, as such, is a quintessentially social event. The Waorani, however, consider the use of hallucinogens to be an aggressive, anti-social act; so the shaman, or ido, who desires to project a curse takes the drug alone or accompanied only by his wife at night in the secrecy of the forest or an isolated house.”

It was only recently, however, that the lichen had a DNA analysis that confirmed it is indeed a new species, as well as an investigation into the compounds it contains. They decided to call it Dictyonema Huaroni, after the tribe from the rainforest (Huaroni is another spelling of Waorani).

Words by Abbie Llewelyn. Tweets @Abbiemunch

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