Witchcraft or mycotoxin? The Salem witch trials

J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 2000;38(4):457-60. doi: 10.1081/clt-100100958.


The Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 have been studied by many historians looking for the complex social, political, and psychological determinants behind the community-wide hysteria that led to a travesty of justice and the deaths of 20 innocent Puritans. Recently, ergot poisoning has been put forth by some as a previously unsuspected cause of the bizarre behaviors of the young adolescent girls who accused the townsfolk of witchcraft. In this essay the circumstances behind the ergot poisoning theory for this historical event are described. When the evidence is weighed carefully both pro and con, it seems unlikely that ergotism explains much of what went on in colonial Salem.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Claviceps / growth & development
  • Climate
  • Edible Grain / history
  • Edible Grain / microbiology
  • Ergotism / history*
  • Ergotism / psychology
  • History, 17th Century
  • Humans
  • Hysteria / history
  • Hysteria / psychology
  • Mass Behavior
  • Massachusetts
  • Mycotoxins / history*
  • Mycotoxins / poisoning
  • Phytotherapy
  • Witchcraft / history*
  • Witchcraft / psychology


  • Mycotoxins