Animals get high on purpose. Only in the last few years have ethologists – those who
study animal behavior – come to agree on this concept. Of course what science has been
reluctant to accept was easily seen by anyone with a brain who watched a cat with catnip.
Nevertheless the budding field of entheo-ethology – the study of animals getting high
from plants – has amassed a lot of information about animals intentionally seeking to get high, in natural settings, drugging themselves voluntarily and with purpose. What was previously considered the exception now becomes the rule.
Moralistic culture may hope for behavioral constraints on our purposeful drug use but – as we have seen -- the impulse is totally cross-species and cross-cultural. Science has been slow to accept this notion, because of its implications. Because if animals get high on purpose, might it be part of evolutionary agenda? There may be nothing more natural
than getting high!
We’ve long known that domesticated animals will get high – even to the point of becoming addicted and dying. Every opium den has its addicted cats and rats living nearby. But the assumption here was that this abnormality was due to the process of domestication which overwhelmed the animals’ natural impulses. The thought was that the natural normal animal would not get purposefully high. Because if animals did get high on purpose, then perhaps getting high was natural – and normal for animals. Including us human beings. Furthermore, if animals get high on purpose, perhaps they do so for the same reason humans do – for pleasure. This thought too might not be in vogue at the moment, as it implies getting high as a search for pleasure is essential to our human nature. In fact our evolutionary history may involve an advantage. Perhaps those ancestors in our evolutionary past, who got high, had sex more often, had more babies, and produced healthier and happier offspring – who then continued the process. Evolution through intoxication.
We know animals get high recreationally too. Gorillas in West Africa purposefully dig at
the strongest part of the psychedelic plant iboga – its roots. In fact the natives claim this
is how they discovered the iboga’s psychoactive nature. After consuming the root, the
gentle giants can be seen rocking themselves back and forth clearly under the influence.
Bighorn sheep will seek out psychoactive lichen – going miles out of their way to obtain
some. Reindeer have an affinity for the psychoactive amanita mushroom bordering on an
addiction. Afterwards the animals will stagger around for hours. Hoofed animals on every
continent will seek out the various psychoactive (Astragalus) locoweeds. In fact once
they try locoweed, and come to realize its effect, the animals will seek out the less
nutrient-rich psychoactive plant often to the point of becoming sick and dying. Koala
bears literally become addicted to the only food they will eat – psychoactive eucalyptus
leaves. Goats in Yemen and Ethiopia enjoy the high from khat (Catha edulis) so much
that they account for the mythological origins of khat’s discovery. Italian mountain goats
– having something more delectable on hand -- intentionally seek the magic mushroom.
Psilocybe semilanceata. Afterwards they are observed to be frolicking playfully for
several hours before repeating the process, often until the mushrooms are gone. So we
find that once scientists allowed for the possibility that animals get high on purpose, they
see evidence of it everywhere.
Finally there is the case of parrots. Parrots are pot heads -- particularly cockatoos. (And you thought parrothead was a Jimmy Buffet thing) While I would never allow any bird to smoke which would damage their lungs, my cockatoos have a clear affinity for getting stoned. They will purposefully stroll in and hang on the shoulders of tokers for hours…. Their eyes taking on the same half-lidded-look that we humans obtain. They seem to be happier for it – they tell me they are evolving!