Reindeer herders of the northern hemisphere across Europe and Asia used to have a side business as they collected and distributed reindeer juice. Sounds Christmassy, right? Like an alternative to eggnog. Well, that might be true, to some extent at least. Reindeer juice refers to the urine that these herders collect from the reindeer themselves. You read that right. This urine is then distributed and consumed. At times like these, it is natural to wonder ‘Why?’ Well, the answer is simple. They do it because the urine contains strong hallucinogens and psychedelic substances that can help them have an out-of-body experience much more potent than the other hallucinogens we are well aware of, such as the peyote mushrooms. This article is all about Reindeer Rudolph.
Background of Reindeer Rudolph
While psychedelic substances might be considered illegal and classified as dangerous drugs in most parts of the world, the nature around us has no shortage of plants and fruits with psychedelic properties and animals who consume them at every chance they get. Even so, how does reindeer urine contain hallucinogens? Reindeer love eating mushrooms—one specific type of mushroom, in fact. The mushroom is called Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria). This red-colored mushroom covered with white specks is supposed to be extremely toxic.
It is in the same class as other deadly mushrooms, such as the ‘Death Cap’ (Amanita Phalloides) and the ‘Destroying Angel’ (Amanita Virosa). What makes Fly Agaric different from these deadly mushrooms is ibotenic acid and the other toxic agents. Ibotenic acid is present in freshly picked Fly Agaric, which converts to Muscimol when the mushroom is dried. While ibotenic acid in itself is a hallucinogen, Muscimol is an even more potent form of it—up to 10 times more potent, in fact.
Muscimol, when ingested, has several good and potentially deadly effects as well. Its interaction with the brain receptors can and will lead to hallucinations, animation of inanimate objects, size distortion, and losing a grasp on the concept of space and time, making reality seem distorted to the user. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Some potential side effects include but are not limited to anxiety, nausea, vomiting, twitching, convulsions, and coma.
Fly Agaric was the drug of choice across Northern Europe since the mushroom grows in the wild all across the northern hemisphere. However, the mushroom is deadly if ingested freshly or even after drying it since the body can’t safely digest the toxins. This is where the reindeer come in.
Since the Fly Agaric mushroom was extremely risky to ingest even when diluted and mixed with water or any other agent, the locals and farmers across Europe and Asia started looking at alternatives. When the reindeer herders realized that the deer would actually actively seek these mushrooms and ingest them without a second of thought, these reindeer would then be visibly intoxicated as they would wander all over the place with an altered gait and would sporadically twitch and move their head around. Their behavior seemed to indicate that by all means, they were enjoying the psychedelic properties of the mushroom without suffering the consequences of the other deadly toxins.
As it turns out, the reindeer eats mushrooms a lot, and due to evolution, they can safely metabolize these toxins while enjoying the properties of muscimol. These hallucinogenic components of muscimol pass through the body relatively unchanged. Therefore the reindeer too would pass its urine, and with it would come out the muscimol in a much safer albeit gross form, reindeer urine. This urine was collected and stored by the herders and then sold to customers and shamans under reindeer juice. The muscimol is so strong and potent that it can pass through 6 to 7 people and remain unchanged, meaning that it would still carry the muscimol’s psychedelic properties.
The rise of knowledge about Reindeer juice has also brought up some interesting theories. One that stands out is that Santa’s uniform, the red coat, and the Christmas hat with the white stripe are in homage to the Fly Agaric mushroom. When ingested, the mushroom gives an intense feeling of euphoria, making you believe that you might really be high up in the clouds soaring through the sky and flying, exactly as Rudolph and the other reindeers do, according to the stories. Ancient Sami-Shamans who would also ingest the mushroom’s psychoactive components in the form of reindeer urine would filter it and drink it to get high. They would then hallucinate, and that made them believe that the reindeer were flying. This is supposed to have influenced Santa and his reindeer’s story having the ability to fly while, in reality, they were just high on mushrooms.
Animals Love Getting High
It’s not just reindeer, however, who like tripping on mother nature and her offerings. The animal kingdom all across the world has its own niches of hippie mammals and animals who seek roots, fruits, and mushrooms to have a good trip.
Animals have been enjoying psychedelic substances for a much longer time than humans. In fact, it is by observing these animals and their altered states of behavior that humans were able to connect the dots and realize that there are such plants and substances in the world which can alter your state of mind and consciousness and even more so make you see things that aren’t there. These were then classified as psychedelic, and centuries later, humanity has just begun exploring the potential of psychedelic substances in treating mental disorders, chronic pain, and other medical issues.
The earliest instance of humans discovering such substances traces back to Noah and his ark. According to the Bible, Noah, after the flood, had settled down. One day he saw a goat frolicking around and jumping about after ingesting some fermented berries. Noah followed in the goat’s footsteps and ended up having a very merry evening as he ended up wandering the streets singing out loud, losing his clothes, and eventually falling asleep right outside his house. The next day on waking up, he realized that this enjoyable experience and state of mind were due to the fermented berries, and that’s when he gathered vines to establish the world’s first vineyard.
Goats are also to be credited for another one of mankind’s important discoveries, coffee. In the ninth century, an Ethiopian goatherd named Khaldi noticed his goats dancing around and getting hyper on eating some berries from a shrub. This shrub was later identified as ‘Coffea Arabica.’ On trying some berries himself, he was elated at what he had discovered, and he rushed to the local monastery to inform the monks there. However, this story is challenged by the claim that monks in the Ethiopian highlands used coffee as a stimulant well before Khaldi ‘discovered’ it. However, since animals have existed long before humans, it is safe to assume that the knowledge of coffee beans in the first place was inferred from the behavior of domesticated animals such as goats around different plants and shrubs.
Some other animals who have been seen actively seeking psychedelic plants and roots are mandrills and boars in the regions of Gabon and Congo. These animals seek out the plant ‘iboga’ and consume its roots, which are said to have hallucinogenic properties. Wild bighorn sheep that are found in the Canadian Rockies love hunting for a rare psychoactive lichen, which usually grows on cliffs or in hard to reach places, there is a risk involved, but the sheep are good at climbing and love the lichen so much so that they can wear their teeth down to just the gums by scraping off the lichen from the mountainside.
To the south and south-west in the United States of America, horses and other grazing mammals can become addicted to hallucinogenic plants called locoweed. These plants are usually avoided, but once a mammal tries them, they can be quite addictive as these mammals keep coming back for more and more. In the rain forests located in South America, one can find jaguars who start acting like small kittens while eating the yage’s roots or bark. Another example of animals altering their state of mind that we can regularly see in our society is household cats and their love for catnip. Catnip contains volatile terpenoids called nepetalactone. These terpenes affect most household cats and can even affect big cats such as lions. The oils released by the catnip on pawing at it or chewing on it can make the cat frisky, skittish, or maybe even drowsy to some extent. The effect is short-term, and there appear to be no long-term side effects.
Humans and animals are much more similar than we think. As of today, humans have more knowledge about space and what’s going on in the sky while most of the earth’s deep seas remain unexplored. Animals have taught us many things about this planet. They have been here longer than we have, and it is by depending, observing, and helping each other out that we can realize just how much more we have yet to learn about our earth and its oceans. So while you enjoy your Christmas with eggnog, or go to Starbucks in the morning for your daily fix of caffeine, or even if you land in Amsterdam and try out the ‘Magic Mushrooms,’ remember to say a quick thank you to the animals of the world for introducing humankind to the amazing potential of these plants and fungi.