One such species, appropriately for a Christmassy article, is the reindeer, which goes to great lengths to search out the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) – the one with the white-spotted red cap that garden gnomes like to sit on. Eating the toadstool makes reindeer behave in a drunken fashion, running about aimlessly and making strange noises. Head-twitching is also common."The animal world has its junkies too" (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)
Fly agaric is found across the northern hemisphere and has long been used by mankind for its psychotropic properties. But its use can be dangerous because it also contains toxic substances. Reindeer seem to metabolise these toxic elements without harm, while the main psychoactive constituents remain unmetabolised and are excreted in the urine. Reindeer herders in Europe and Asia long ago learnt to collect the reindeer urine for use as a comparatively safe source of the hallucinogen.
Another hallucinogen used by wild animals is the African plant iboga (Tabernanthe iboga). It has been reported from Gabon and the Congo that boars, porcupines, gorillas and mandrills will dig up and eat the powerfully hallucinogenic roots.
In the Canadian Rockies, wild bighorn sheep are said to take great risks to get at a rare psychoactive lichen. In scraping it off the rock surface they can wear their teeth down to the gums.
On the prairies of the south-west US, horses and other grazing mammals can become addicted to hallucinogen-containing plants known generically as locoweed. These plants, mainly species of Astragalus and Oxytropis, are normally avoided, but animals that try them can come back time and again for a repeat fix. Symptoms include altered gait, aimless wandering, impaired vision, erratic behaviour and listlessness.
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