Human beings aren't the only creatures who use substances to escape from reality. Animals the world over drug themselves as eagerly and regularly as any college sophomore with a 'Legalize It' t-shirt. Find out how animals manage to get themselves ready for a Pink Floyd laser light show.
10. They go to the pharmaceutical industry.
Poppy farmers growing for the pharmaceutical industry in Australia started noticing strangely damaged crops. Their fields of poppies had huge circular crush marks in them. Was it aliens? No. It was wallabies. They broke into the fields, ate a lot of poppies, and then got so high that they could only hop in circles. The drugged-out marsupials returned for the high again and again, causing more damage. So it seems that drug companies enable users right from the beginning of their manufacturing process.
9. They pick their poisons.
Black lemurs will gnaw on the heads of giant millipedes, even though the millipedes are poisonous. In fact, they do it because the millipedes are poisonous. The millipedes get their heads bitten and excrete a cocktail of defensive toxins, including cyanide. These will hurt the lemur if they ingest them, but will get them high if they just rub them on their bodies. The chemicals act as a narcotic, so whenever the lemurs are stressed or bored, it's time to do some 'pede.
8. They get stuck with an addiction.
Locoweed is a group of about 20 types of weed in the western United States. It grows through the winter, making it an attractive food for free-ranging horses. After they've tasted it a few times, they come back even in the summer. And the spring and the fall. It's addictive, and what's more, it's poisonous. Horses will literally eat themselves to death over the course of a few years. There are whole sites dedicated to detoxing horses from locoweed, and many recommend that the horse be kept sedated to keep it from hurting itself or others.
7. They see their parents do it.
Elephant groups will gather around the iboga plant, a powerful hallucinogenic. They all feed off of it and get spaced out. Since elephants are generally led by their oldest and most experienced members, they have a teaching society. The young ones will learn from the old, and in this case, they learn how to get high.
6. They cook up new compounds.
Birds like jays, ravens, blackbirds, and parrots tend to squash ants and push them into their plumage. After they've covered themselves with dead ants, they spin around for up to half an hour before shaking the ants off. Scientists once thought they used the formic acid that the ants secreted to clean off parasites - that is until they saw domesticated magpies roll their bugs in tobacco ash before placing them on their bodies, and guessed there was a little more to it than that. Birds as a species use a lot of different compounds, but scientists observe that individuals never change their compounds, if they can help it. They've been hooked.
5. They have an Oktoberfest.
It doesn't happen in October, but that's okay, because the actual Oktoberfest doesn't either. When the marula fruits ripen in Africa, and all of nature flocks to the trees. Not to eat the ripened fruit, but to let the fruit drop and ferment on the ground. Elephants, monkeys, and all kinds of mammals then feast on the fruits and fight, have sex, and get too blitzed to even walk.
4. They recruit more users.
Goats enthusiastically eat coffee beans and pigeons space out after eating cannabis seeds. Jaguars hallucinate after eating a certain vine. It's possible that observing these behaviors is what lead to people doing the same. Somewhere, back in time, some poor goatherd was thinking, "I wish I had as much energy as that goat . . . wait a second." As for how people could tell a pigeon was stoned or a jaguar was hallucinating - that's anyone's guess.
3. They become legendary users.
Reindeer like to consume hallucinogenic mushrooms as they wander around the freezing plains of the north during the winter. People observed this and did the same. One of the common side effects of consumption of these mushrooms is the sensation of flying. It could be that this is where Santa's 'flying reindeer' come from. Suddenly a legend about a man in a fur-lined suit breaking into a house at night and bribing children with gifts so he can grab their cookies is somewhat unsavory.
2. They become slaves to their addiction.
The acacia tree has herds of ants that protect it. Why? Because it feeds them a sugary syrup. At first it was thought this syrup was just nutritional. Recently, researchers have found out that it is also severely addictive. The ants, needing to feed their addiction, will attack anything that threatens the tree, including large animals. The tree also produces pesticide, to bump the ants off when they get out of line.
1. They'll do anything to get a high.
In the absence of any kind of outside substances, animals will often make their own high physiologically. When an animal wants to escape, particularly if it's stressed, it will bang its own head repeatedly. It can repeat this motion without hitting anything, or it can slam its head into a wall or the ground. Scientists aren't sure whether the motion is a way to dull other pain or whether the slight, controllable pain releases endorphins that make the animal feel good. What they do know is this form of self-drugging is not just for birds and rodents, but also common among human infants. Babies about a year old will repeatedly slam their own heads against their beds or chairs, apparently with no cause. It's just an instinctive need to feel good.
Header Image: Timmy Toucan