The cicada life death and immortality

The Last of Us or Mushroom Zombification

Warning: This text is not an apology for psychedelic drugs, which have their share of dangerous and harmful psychoses that we must beware of.

Posted at 12:00 p.m


Without encroaching on the teachings of the very competent Hugo Dumas, I will talk about the series The Last of Us, a production in which two heroes must survive in a post-apocalyptic world where humans roam zombified by a cordyceps mushroom. The best known of these parasite handlers is Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.

This mushroom perches on a carpenter ant, zombifying it and bringing it to a gruesome and well-scripted death. As in the popular series, the ant becomes a simple puppet at the mercy of the parasite-turned-puppeteer.

As the production is a hit, so has Televorians’ curiosity about this fungal parasitism. So instead of telling you the sequences of this evolutionary magic, I’m going to answer the question many people are asking: Can mushrooms control the human brain?

The fungus that inspired the series is a species related to ergot, another fungus that causes uncontrollable muscle spasms in people it infects.

In an impressive book entitled The Hidden World, biologist Merlin Sheldrake reports that the prosecutors of the famous Salem trials were likely poisoned (zombified) by alkaloids of this crop-contaminating fungus.

In the 16th century, midwives in France and Germany used the powers of ergot to induce uterine contractions. A tradition that will lead to the discovery of LSD, an alkaloid of fungal origin that has also zombified many people.

The Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann discovered LSD, short for lysergic acid diethylamide. Hoffman, who worked for the Sandoz company, was commissioned to look for molecules in ergot that could potentially stimulate blood flow. By 1938 he had synthesized the 25 alkaloids contained in the fungus. He will then name the final molecule that will be at the center of the 1960s counterculture.

All gentlemen, all honor: The discoverer experiences the first LSD trip. An experience that propelled him into a universe as parallel as that of the carpenter ant held on a leash by Ophiocordyceps. After LSD, Hofmann will also be the first to synthesize psilocybin, a psychoactive alkaloid found in psilocybe, this magical mushroom that grows in Mexico.

According to Michael Pollan, author of Journey to the Edge of the Mind, these fungal molecules have changed the course of social, political and cultural history and the individual journeys of millions of people. The author even draws a line between the discovery of these drugs and the birth of Silicon Valley. The relationship may not be direct, he says, but a link can be made between the arrival of psychedelics and the tech boom that took place in Silicon Valley 20 years later.

More than just a control, these fungal alkaloids leave lasting traces in the human brain. LSD and psilocybin are able to open the door of human consciousness and cause ego dissolution there.

Additionally, in the 1950s, these molecules were regularly used by specialists and therapists to treat the ailment that accompanies a diagnosis of cancer, nicotine addiction, alcoholism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. Unfortunately, the festive excesses with these drugs (which can also be very dangerous) sowed panic and pushed politicians to suppress the use of psychedelics from 1965 onwards.

In the midst of the Cold War, how could we tolerate molecules that drive the brains of youth to critique capitalism and challenge man’s place in the biosphere? How could capitalism celebrate molecules that, without being harmless, shake relationships at the moment, sweep away certainties and urge a connection with nature?

Remember that the Mazatec nation of the Oaxaca region, who used psilocybe in religious rituals, called it “meat of the gods” before it fell into the hands of the western world. If, as the Mazatec leaders did, the political and intellectual elites of the western world had allowed this fungus to guide them to the light, our impact on the planet might have been less dramatic.

Unfortunately or fortunately, this time humanity has turned its back on the wisdom of the mushroom world. This time I say good, because at the very beginning of the development of human civilizations there were mushrooms that controlled us with the gut and the brain.

To convince yourself of this, consider the place of bread, alcohol and wine in our evolution. If these foods are frequently quoted in the sacred texts, it is also in large part due to the work of microscopic fungi called yeasts.

The Mazatec spiritual leaders celebrated the “meat of the gods,” and the priest also celebrated the work of the yeasts with his bread and wine. He even equates the products of microbial fermentation with the flesh and blood of a “Son of God.”

In conclusion, the zombification of humanity by the fungus is more subtle than the images of fear conveyed in The Last of Us series. It is also true that fungi harbor malevolent forces that bring us disease and our agriculture Butcher. But who said gods and spirits are always kind to humans?