Ask any biologist and he’ll tell you lichens are an intriguing bunch. They exist only because of a symbiotic relationship between algae (or cyanobacteria) and fungi. The fungus creates a network that sustains, hydrates and protects the alga, which in turn provides sugars through photosynthesis. So, while they exhibit plant-like characteristics, they are not plants. They are composite organisms. This makes the case of the psychedelic lichen even more interesting.
According to a scientific paper published in The Bryologist, the recently classified lichen exhibitspresumed hallucinogenic properties. The scientific method requires that researchers be thorough and only state things that were rigorously tested. That is why they included the word presumed. The elusive lichen is decidedly psychedelic, as evidenced by reports from the tribe who knew about its existence, but since researchers weren’t permitted to use pure reference compounds, they were unable to positively determine the presence of hallucinogenic substances.
The story behind the discovery of this trippy organism is about as compelling as they get. In 1981, ethnobotanists Jim Yost and Wade Davis were out doing field work in the dense Ecuadorian rainforests when a tribe called the Waorani pointed them in the right direction. Yost had heard of the existence of a hallucinogenic lichen but it was so rare he had never had a chance to encounter one, despite having searched for it for seven years. In a 1983 paper that detailed their discovery, the ethnobotanists wrote:
“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 in an isolated house. …”