Claviceps purpurea is an ergot fungus that grows on the ears of rye and rye-related cereals. This particular species of ergot is notable for being repeatedly mentioned in the annals of history. A large number of historically calamitous events have been attributed to ergot, the most noteworthy being The Great Fear (French Revolution). Historians have also pointed at ergot being the reason for Russia's lack of a warm weather seaport and a failed maritime conquest against the Ottoman Empire.
To understand why all of the above events happen, let us try and understand ergot and its effects.
Ergot is a hardened fungal mycelium mass that grows on the ear of the rye plant. What made it dangerous in antiquity was its ability to mimick the shape of the seed host. The protruding ergot mass would often be mistaken for the plant seed. This would then be milled and baked into bread. Rye was a staple crop for Northern European regions for its ability to brave the cold damp weather. The consumption of ergot affected rye foods led to massive outbreaks of ergotism. What made ergotism dangerous was its symptoms of mania, psychosis, nausea, spasms and even gangrene. This is all the side effect of increased concentrations of ergot alkaloids.
If you have ever been urged to "turn on, tune in, trip out" to acid, know this: LSD was synthesized by Dr Albert Hofmann while studying ergot. Dr. Hofmann like the mad lad he is, dosed himself (250 mg, 10 times more than the modern typical dosage) and turned delirious. He reported the findings to his company, following which they actually patented the drug and SOLD IT. The parent company, Sandoz also gave LSD to research institutions and doctors for experiments following animal trials.
LSD found further extensive use in a mind control project set up in the 1950s by the CIA called Project MKULTRA. The project tested on unwitting people as well as volunteers in a bid to fully comprehend the reactions. One such volunteer was Ken Kesey. Kesey's experience with LSD influenced him to write the seminal novel, "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest". Apart from his literary contributions, Kesey is considered to be one of the birthers/forefathers of the 1960s countercultural hippie movement.
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