But did you know that other animals enjoy getting high as well?
In Weird Nature ― Peculiar Potions, an eye-opening BBC episode, we see how different species around the world find unusual ways to get intoxicated. I was aware of catnip and fermented fruits, and have watched amusing videos of drunk elephants raiding breweries in India. Though before this documentary, I didn’t know how the phenomenon was so widespread.
Scientifically, it was always held that humans were the only species that seek out to use drugs for their own pleasure. Recent findings, however, show that this is not true after all; many different animals willingly ingest plants and substances to get hammered.
We now also know that the tales about the mighty jaguar of the jungles of South America deliberately ingesting the hallucinogenic yagé (Banisteriopsis caapi), also known as caapi or ayahuasca, to alter its consciousness happens all over the animal world.
Some of the recorded examples include reindeer and goats feeding on Amanita muscaria (magic) mushrooms. Others include bees on orchid nectar, birds on marijuana seeds, cats on catnips. Rats, mice, flies, spiders, cockroaches and lizards on opium; elephants, monkey, snails and other African animals get drunk from fermented marula fruit. And in the Gabon and Congo, boars, porcupines, gorillas and mandrills ingest the wacky iboga root.
One of the earliest works on animal intoxication is From Chocolate to Morphine, a 1983 book by University of Arizona physician Andrew Weil.
Later in 1989, UCLA psychopharmacologist Ronald Siegel followed through with Intoxication: The Universal Drive For Mind Altering Substances.
Then, Giorgio Samorini took the research further with his 2002 book Animals and Psychedelics: The Natural World and the Instinct to Alter Consciousness. He writes:
“If we observe a goat eat the inebriant beans of the mescal plant and afterward tremble, fall down, and rise up again later, we might well consider the goat to have undergone an accidental intoxication by a psychoactive drugs. But when we observe the same goat return time and again to eat those same beans, manifesting identical symptoms of inebriation each and every time, it must make us suspect an intentional behaviour.”
Another example shown in the documentary is black lemurs in Madagascar getting high off millipedes. The genius behind this behaviour is that lemurs do not simply eat the millipedes; instead, they annoy them so that they spray out their defensive chemicals, which the lemurs spread over their fur. It is believed that the poisons repel insects such as the malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Though as the ritual continues, the secretion acts as a narcotic which sends the lemurs into trippy states of consciousness.
A similar phenomenon is seen with dolphins getting high off the nerve toxins of puffer fish. They, too, keep bugging and playing around with the fish until it secrets its Magick Potion. How imaginative.
When you think about it, it truly is remarkable how one individual in a certain species learns a new behaviour and then with a mixture of time, observation, and chance the behaviour develops and spreads throughout the species’ collective consciousness. And it was French sociologist Émile Durkheim who first presented the concept of animals having a collective consciousness in 1893. It was later theorized by Carl Jung.
The Hundredth Monkey Effect has an interesting explanation to this phenomenon.
There are many other occurrences all over the animal kingdom and the natural world in which they live. I will, however, leave the rest for my upcoming book where the topic is discussed in length.
All recent evidence support that the pursuit of intoxication with drugs is one of the primary motivational forces in the behaviour of organisms. Animals, it appears, equally seek otherworldly experiences, just like us. Perhaps because essentially we are all animals. A clear reminder that altering states of consciousness — or less formerly, getting high — is and has always been natural to the world and its inhabitants.
Enjoy the documentary...
*Article originally written on 10 July, 2012
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