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.

It would be another three decades before the lichen’s DNA was analyzed, showing that it was indeed a new species. In 2014, a team of researchers led by Michaela Schmull christened the lichen Dictyonema huaorani and used a technique called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) to determine the chemical compounds existent in its tissue. Tests showed the presence of psilocybin, tryptamine, 5-MeO-DMT, 5-MeOT (5-methoxytryptamine), 5-MeO-NMT and 5-MT.

This composition makes D. huaorani a very interesting specimen, in the sense that this specific cocktail of substances has never been found before in any plant, fungus or animal.

Talk about it!