by Zoƫ Pollock

Andrew Haynes offers some nice cocktail conversation fodder for the holidays:

[The reindeer] goes to great lengths to search out the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) the one with the white-spotted red cap that garden gnomes like to sit on. Eating the toadstool makes reindeer behave in a drunken fashion, running about aimlessly and making strange noises. Head-twitching is also common.

Fly agaric is found across the northern hemisphere and has long been used by mankind for its psychotropic properties. But its use can be dangerous because it also contains toxic substances. Reindeer seem to metabolise these toxic elements without harm, while the main psychoactive constituents remain unmetabolised and are excreted in the urine. Reindeer herders in Europe and Asia long ago learnt to collect the reindeer urine for use as a comparatively safe source of the hallucinogen.

(Hat tip: David Pescovitz)

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.