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Book Fungus Can Get You High

  "Book Fungus Can Get You High"
 By Ellen Warren / Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO-Getting high on great literature is taking on a whole new

It turns out that, if you spend enough time around old books and
decaying manuscripts in dank archives, you can start to hallucinate.
Really. We're not talking psychedelia, "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"
stuff, here. But maybe only a step or two away from that. Experts on
the various fungi that feed on the pages and on the covers of  books
are increasingly convinced that you can get high - or at least a
little wacky-by sniffing old books. Fungus on books, they say, is a
likely source of hallucinogenic spores. The story of The Strangeness
in the Stacks first started making its way through the usually staid
antiquarian books community late last year with  the publication of a
paper in the British medical journal, The Lancet. There, Dr. R.J. Hay
wrote of the possibility that "fungal hallucinogens" in old books
could lead to "enhancement of enlightenment." "The source of
inspiration for many great literary figures may have been  nothing
more than a quick sniff of the bouquet of mouldy books," wrote Hay,
one of England's leading mycologists (fungus experts) and dean of
dermatology at Guy's Hospital in London. Well, said an American expert
on such matters, it may not be that easy. "I agree with his premise -
but not his dose. It would take more than a brief sniff," aid Monona
Rossol, an authority on the health effects of materials used in the
arts world. For all the parents out there, these revelations would
seem ideal for persuading youngsters to spend some quality time in the
archives. But attention kids: You can't get high walking through the
rare books section of the library. Rossol said it would take a fairly
concentrated exposure over a considerable period of time for someone
to breathe in enough of the spores of hallucinogenic fungus to
seriously affect behavior. There are no studies to tell how much or
how long before strange behavior takes hold. Still, this much seems
apparent - if you want to find mold, the only place that may rival a
refrigerator is a library. Just last week the Las Cruces, N.M., Public
Library was closed indefinitely, prompted by health concerns after a
fungus outbreak in the  reference section. Library director Carol Brey
said the fungus promptly spread to old history books and onward to the
literature section. The town's Mold Eradication Team, she said,
shuttered the library as a precaution. "We didn't want to take any
chances," she said. A mold removal company will address the problem,
which is believed to have originated in the air conditioning system.
Psychedelic mushrooms, the classic hallucinogenic fungus, derive their
mind-altering properties from the psilocybin and psilocin they produce
naturally. One historic example of this phenomenon, scientists now
believe, is the madness that prevailed in the late 1600s in Salem,
Mass., where ergot, a  hallucinogenic fungus, infected the rye crops
that went into rye bread. Ergot contains lysergic acid, a key compound
of the hallucinogenic drug  LSD. This tiny fungus and its wild effects
on the rye-bread-eating women  may have led to the Salem witch trials.
Rossol, a New York chemist and consultant to Chicago's Field Museum of
Natural History who publishes the newsletter Acts Facts, the journal
of Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety, said that there have not been
scientific  studies on the hallucinogenic effects of old books. But,
relying on accounts from newsletter readers who report their own
strange symptoms - ranging from dizziness to violent nausea - she says
there is no doubt that moldy old volumes harbor hallucinogens.

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