After roaming the wild all day, getting into a snarling, tear-claw throw-down with a hot and bothered rival over the affections of a lady friend, mauling a sub-Darwinian creature in order to take his nap spot in the shade of a Banyan tree, and having to bathe in an ice cold river in front of an angry herd of twenty other males, can we blame (or judge) an animal for wanting to toss back a few fermented berries or chew on magic mushrooms just to forget about life…for a while.
In the 2012 book The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good, author and neuroscientist David Linden documents an array of wild animals that “voluntarily and repeatedly consume psychoactive plants and fungi.” In Gabon, a sovereign state on the west coast of Central Africa, boars, elephants, and gorillas are reported to consume Tabernanthe iboga, an intoxicating, hallucinogenic plant, while in the remote highlands of Ethiopia, goats go gonzo for the wide-eyed buzz associated with munching on wild coffee berries.
In other words, animals are just like us. They make ingenious tools; they (well, dolphins and pygmy chimpanzees, at least) have sex for pleasure and don’t always copulate for fertilization; and they commit atrocious acts of murder. But more importantly, they have an affinity for feeling good, getting buzzed, and enjoying an all-natural pharmacy of mind-altering substances.
7. South American Horses, Favorite Drug: Waxy Monkey Leaf Frogs
The waxy monkey leaf frog (Phyllomedusa sauvagii) is a small, hylid frog that inhabits the Chaco (dry prairie) of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. South American horses have long enjoyed licking the waxy monkey leaf frog in order to get high. The frog’s skin produces a powerful substance called dermorphin; it not only creates a short-lived but intense euphoria, but it also masks pain and helps horses run faster. It’s no surprise that dermorphin or “frog juice” has found its way into professional stateside horseracing. Steven Barker, the head chemist at the state testing laboratory at LSU, says that “Dermorphin is an opiod peptide – an amino acid found naturally in certain species of frogs but is being synthetically produced for improper use in horses.” According to The Huffington Post, in 2012 a Denver lab discovered more than 30 horses from four states with dermorphin metabolite in their systems.
6. Hummingbirds, Favorite Drug: Datura Flower
If animals have an inherent proclivity for intoxicants and mind-altering experiences, then sooner or later some species in the animal kingdom is going to have a bad trip. Cue, the hummingbird. The hummingbird acts like the tweaker of birds, and its drug of choice is the nectar of the datura flower. The datura flower is toxic and its potency varies with the age of the plant. In the book Pharmacology and the Abuse of Cocaine, Amphetamines, Ecstasy, and Related Designer Drugs, the datura flower is described as being delirium inducing and the least liked psychoactive agent for humans. One can’t help but wonder if the hummingbird loves the drug, or if its non-stop agitation is just a paranoid side effect of too much datura flower.
5. Wallabies, Favorite Drug: Opium Poppies
Tasmania produces half of the world’s legally grown opium. In 2009, Tasmanian farmers found a batch of bizarre crop circles. Was it the work of: A) Aliens? B) A religious cult? C) Bored school kids? None of the above, actually. The labyrinthine crop-stomping was caused by stoned marsupials. Wallabies were caught gobbling opium poppies that were grown for “medicinal use.” High and tweaking, the wallabies zigzagged and hopped around, carving out X-Files style crop circles. “They would just come and eat some poppies and they would go away,” said retired Tasmanian poppy farmer Lyndley Chopping, to the Australian Broadcasting Network. “They’d come back again and they would do their circle work in the paddock.” And we thought opium was a downer. Mulder? Scully?
4. Capuchin Monkeys, Favorite Drug: Hallucinogenic Millipedes
On the topic of animals taking hits from the bong, David Linden (author and scientist, for those of you with a short term memory) said: “while it’s hard to dissociate motivations in animals, many cases suggest that the psychoactive effect is the primary motivator for consumption.”
Capuchin Monkeys use millipedes as a natural remedy to repel insects. The bugs deter predators by their smell and taste. However, the millipedes are also a narcotic, so while the monkeys are rubbing the defensive chemical all over their fur, they’re also getting a mind-bending high. Evidence suggests that Capuchin monkeys share millipedes during social events, which proves that losing inhibitions is equally as important as keeping the bugs away.
3. Gorillas and Elephants, Favorite Drug: Iboga Plant
In the mid-1800s, when French and Belgian explorers visited Gabon and the Congo, they came in contact with an unusual shrub that African natives claimed was a powerful stimulant and aphrodisiac. Large doses of the plant were claimed to produce fantastic visions. While the earliest specimens of the iboga were brought to Europe in 1864, it had long been a narcotic plant of social importance in African and a central feature in rituals and religion.
Man didn’t discover the iboga plant. Natives watched wild boars dig up and eat the roots and then go into a frenzy. However, several accounts state that gorillas have a real taste for the iboga plant, and some scientific evidence suggests that young elephants learn to eat iboga from observing their elders in a social group, which puts a whole new spin on the 1987 United Sates anti-drug campaign: “I Learned It By Watching You.”
2. Dolphins, Favorite Drug: Pufferfish Venon
It appears Flipper is a stoner. Dolphins have a reputation for being intelligent, laid-back, and friendly animals. These bohemian mammals are one of the few species known to have sex because it’s fun and not just for pre-creation. It should come as no surprise then that these easy-going, underwater deviants also enjoy getting high.
When Emmy award-winning filmmaker John Downer filmed the two-part mini-series, Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, he saw that dolphins would gently chew on a pufferfish and then pass it to another dolphin in the pod. After chewing on the pufferfish, the dolphins looked tranquil and dazed, their trance-like behavior a dead giveaway that they were getting high on the nerve toxin released from the fish. Rob Pilley, a zoologist who worked on the mini-series, said: “the dolphins began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection.”
1. Reindeer, Favorite Drug: Hallucinogenic Fungi
In what is probably the most well documented example of an animal species indulging in recreational drug use, reindeer are known to deliberately eat hallucinogenic fungi. However, what’s fascinating about reindeer is why they munch on more ‘shrooms’ than a Deadhead at a 1967 San Francisco concert. According to an article in the Pharmaceutical Journal by scientist Andrew Haynes, “reindeer seek out mushrooms in order to amuse themselves and escape the monotony of dreary long winters.” Haynes goes on to say, “that reindeer have a desire to experience altered states of consciousness.” Who knew that Santa’s reindeer had so much in common with Timothy Leary?