Humans aren't the only animals that get stoned


It seems like no matter where you try to draw the line between animals and people, the animals keep sneaking a paw (or hoof) over. They make tools. They have sex for fun. They commit murder. And, says neuroscientist David Linden, they also like to get high.

Animals in the wild will also voluntarily and repeatedly consume psychoactive plants and fungi. Birds, elephants, and monkeys have all been reported to enthusiastically seek out fruits and berries that have fallen to the ground and undergone natural fermentation to produce alcohol. In Gabon, which lies in the western equatorial region of Africa, boars, elephants, porcupines, and gorillas have all been reported to consume the intoxicating, hallucinogenic iboga plant (Tabernanthe iboga). There is even some evidence that young elephants learn to eat iboga from observing the actions of their elders in the social group. In the highlands of Ethiopia, goats cut the middleman out of the Starbucks business model by munching wild coffee berries and catching a caffeine buzz.

But do we really know whether these animals like the psychoactive effects of the drug, or are they just willing to put up with them as a side effect of consuming a valuable food source? After all, fermented fruit is a tasty and nutritious meal. While it's hard to dissociate these motivations in animals, many cases suggest that the psychoactive effect is the primary motivator for consumption. Often, only a tiny amount of plant or fungus is consumed, so while its nutritional effect is minuscule its psychoactive effect is large

Perhaps the most dramatic example of nonnutritive animal intoxication is found among domesticated reindeer. The Chuckchee people of Siberia, who are reindeer herders, consume the bright red hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria as a ritual sacrament. Their reindeer also indulge. Having discovered the mushrooms growing wild under the birch trees, they gobble them up and then stagger around in a disoriented state, twitching their heads repeatedly as they wander off from the rest of the herd for hours at a time.

The Compass of Pleasure: Bob Dylan and Siberian Reindeer Agree: Everybody Must Get Stoned

Image: Reindeer Buddies Plush Dolls, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from sassypackratstudios's photostream


  1. There’s really no need to travel to far off and exotic places to prove this point. Witness catnip. From the Wikipedia that never lies:
    Catnip and catmints are mainly known for the behavioral effects they have on cats, not only domestic cats but big cats also (lions, tigers, leopards, and so on). When cats sense the bruised leaves or stems of catnip, they may roll over it, paw at it, chew it, lick it, leap about and purr, heavily salivate, or eating much of the plant. Some will growl, meow, scratch, or bite the hand holding it. Some cats will eat dried catnip. Often, eating too much can cause cats to be overtly aggressive, typically making them hiss.

    1. A bunch of years ago I saw video of a dog that, when let into the backyard, would find, pin down (but not kill) and lick certain frogs or toads that, when licked, gave the dog quite the psychotropic experience. The dog’s owners said something about trying to limit unsupervised trips outside. In the vid, the dog seemed very eager to be let out.

    2. One day I was trying to find my cat, who didn’t come in at the usual time. I saw a couple of other cats hanging out in the parking lot of a small apartment complex nearby and went to see what was up. The dumpster had all these cats on it, in it and around it, including my cat. Turns out somebody dumped a ton of fresh catnip and the neighborhood cats showed up to get a cheap buzz. I’ve never seen so many cats so mellow.

    1. That was immediately my first thought. Just about anyone with a cat already knows animals consume narcotic substances not just for their nutritional value. An obligate carnivore has no nutrition-based reason to eat catnip. I’ve even seen a cat with advanced bone cancer “self medicate” with catnip. It was eventually all he would eat, and in much larger quantities than usual in the last few days we had with him.

  2. “stagger around in a disoriented state, twitching their heads repeatedly as they wander off from the rest of the herd for hours at a time.”
    – been there, done that. o_O

  3. That was not supposed to be a reply to 2k, but rather to wheezer. My immediate first thought was not about deer peepee.

  4. I don’t know about all the various animals, but it would seem that this would be a bad idea for those reindeer. If I was wandering around the tundra with wolves watching me from the forest, the last thing I’d want to be is stoned. “Wow, man…look at that gray furry thing hurtling toward me. It’s so…beautiful, man! It’s like…gaaaakkkk!”

    1. So it’s not just humans who make potentially tragic mistakes by giving in to immediate gratification.

      1. So it’s not just humans who make potentially tragic mistakes by giving in to immediate gratification.

        Perhaps not, but it would appear that humans are the only species who seemed compelled to moralizes about it.

  5. I’m pretty sure the mourning doves are getting buzzed on the mulberries right now. They seem to weave off if disturbed from eating them on the road.

  6. Actually drunk monkeys, while funny sounding, are most likely a myth.

    “Katharine Milton, a researcher looking into the evolutionary history of human fondness for ethanol, conducted a survey of primatologists covering 22 different primate species. Specifically she asked at what stage of ripeness monkeys preferred to eat fruit. Not one out of 22 species preferred overripe fruit (fruit with the most ethanol), and it appeared all species in fact, studiously avoided the ethanol containing fruit.”

  7. Only news to city dwellers, I guess.

    Around here the possums and raccoons are fond of the beer people put out for slugs.

  8. Obviously we need to outlaw this behavior and throw all these animals in jail. Then erradicate any plant or fungus that might get another animal intoxicated.

    Mother nature is a drug pusher.

  9. Anyone who doubts this hasn’t lived in a fruit-growing region. In the Hudson Valley, we had a definite Roadkill Season, occurring when the orchard windfalls started fermenting and drunk racoons began staggering out into the road.

    (It has long struck me that there’s an opportunity for someone to negotiate with NY State to gather these carcasses and go into the fur business. “Cruelty-free; made only with animals which committed suicide.”

  10. I also wonder whether we’re programmed to ingest these toxins as antiparasite drugs…

  11. Catnip anyone? My dog learned he liked beer after knocking over one of mine on the floor and lapping it up as a puppy. He lived for 15 years and drank beer any chance he got. Before I found an actual vet medicine that worked wonders, I would give him a small bowl of malt liquor to help with the arthritis pain in his later years.

    1. I knew a dog that would knock peoples beers over so he could lap em up. Otherwise, I liked him.

  12. Also see this book:

    Animals and Psychedelics: The Natural World and the Instinct to Alter Consciousness

    by Giorgio Samorini and Rob Montgomery (Aug 1, 2002)

    Awesome and amusing stuff!

    Don’t forget humans are animals too. Despite some folks’ opinions, our natural drives and curiosities are not bad things. Nor unique to humans.

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