Why Reindeer Love Magic Mushrooms

Santa needs to ensure Rudolph is kept on the straight and narrow this Christmas if all the presents are to be delivered on time.

Reindeer and a range of animals in the wild make use of mind-altering drugs and their crazy behaviour may have encouraged man to try these recreational drugs too, reports an article published in The Pharmaceutical Journal (Vol 285 18/25 December 2010).

 Reindeer go to great lengths to seek out the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) and eating the fungi makes them behave drunkenly, run about aimlessly and make strange noises.  Head twitching is also common.
Fly agaric mushrooms have long been used by man for their psychotropic properties but can be toxic.  Reindeer can eat them without harm and having observed their effects on their livestock, reindeer herders in Europe and Asia have long collected reindeer urine as a safer way of taking this hallucinogen.
The wider animal world has its junkies too, with horses and other grazing mammals on the prairies of South-West America becoming addicted to hallucinogen-containing plants known generically as locoweed, especially species of Astragalus and Oxytropis.  Those that try them come back time and again for a repeat fix and symptoms include altered gait, impaired vision and erratic behaviour.
Birds also enjoy a tipple and finches, waxwings and starlings are susceptible to getting drunk on fermented fruit and grain and crashing into windows.  Waxwings have been found dead in heaps near sources of fermenting rowan berries and post-mortem examinations show they died drunk, with acute alcoholic liver disease.
Goats are credited with the discovery of caffeine as according to tradition, an Ethiopian goatherd in the ninth century named Khaldi noticed his goats dancing frenziedly after eating the bright red berries of the shrub Coffea arabica.  He tried a few berries himself, felt elated and introduced his find to the monks in the local monastery.
The full article by Andrew Haynes can be read here: 

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