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Animals and Psychedelics in the Wild

Animals and Psychedelics in the WildPsychedelics have been used for thousands of years by many different cultures throughout the world. These mind-altering substances are even considered sacred by some and have been used by various people as powerful spiritual conduits and for healing on mental, physical, and emotional levels. Psychedelics are revered by many, but it seems that humans aren’t the only species that appreciate the effects psychedelics have on the mind.

There happens to be many different species of animals that enjoy dipping into the psychedelic cookie-jar. While the initial appeal animals find in psychedelics is most likely for nutritional or protective reasons, many return time and time again to certain plants that contain psychedelic compounds. Fermented fruits, opium poppies, and hallucinogenic mushrooms are all quite popular amongst the animal kingdom. And there are those that speculate that animals choose to return to these plants for the sole purpose of experiencing the altered state they provide.

Reindeer on Mushrooms

The northern hemisphere is home not only to reindeer, but to the fly agaric mushroom. We’re familiar with these mushrooms as the red-topped, white spotted variety fancied by garden gnomes. It seems, however, that reindeer fancy these mushrooms a bit more and will go to great lengths to search them out. Eating these hallucinogenic mushrooms causes reindeer to act drunkenly, and run around meaninglessly making strange noises.

Jungle Animals Dig Up Iboga

In the jungle regions of Gabon and the Congo, there’s more than one animal known to purposely seek out iboga. Gorillas, boars, mandrills, and porcupines have all been known to dig up the roots of the iboga plant and eat them until intoxicated.

One account shows that a male mandrill will not engage in combat until he has first dug up and eaten the iboga root. He then waits up to two hours until the root has time to fully take effect. It’s only then that he will approach and attack the other male. This exemplifies that the animal has a full awareness that of how the substance will affect him and that he has full comprehension of what he is doing.

Mountain Goats Munch on Lichen

While lichen (the mossy looking stuff that grows on rocks) isn’t thought of much more than being something that naturally grows on rocks, it actually contains psychoactive compounds that are known to be well-regarded amongst various species of big horn sheep. And while these animals can’t tell us what they experience, those who have taken lichen (which is usually prepared in a tea after boiling the rocks) say that it is one of the most intense psychedelic experiences they’ve ever had.

Horses Crazy for Locoweed

Horses and other animals that roam the prairies of the southwest United States have a preference for hallucinogenic plants that are commonly known as “locoweed”. While these plants are usually avoided by most, there are accounts of horses coming back to them repeatedly. Once they’ve munched on these weeds, animals have been observed wandering without direction, having impaired vision, and behaving erratically.

Amazonian Jaguars Eat Ayahuasca

In the jungles of the Amazon jaguars are known to munch on the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, which is better known by humans as one of the plants used to make ayahuasca. It’s been speculated that the purging effect this vine offers is eaten because of a natural instinct of the jaguar to rid itself of parasites. However, jaguars that have eaten this vine have been shown to roll around in extreme pleasure after consuming the vine, which makes some believe they are seeking it out for this purpose.

Why Do Different Species Seek Psychedelics?

These are but a few accounts of animals purposely seeking out psychedelic substances in the wild. Scientists who study this particular behavior of animals have found that species throughout the world are purposely intoxicating themselves. Birds are known to seek out cannabis seeds, and it’s well known that cats go crazy for catnip. Rats, mice, lizards, and spiders are all known to be fond of opium. And it’s been reported for hundreds of years that elephants have a taste for the fermented fruits that get them drunk.

So, prevalent is this behavior that some scientists believe animals purposely seek out mind-altering substances. A book written by Ronald Siegel, UCLA psychopharmacologist states that “the pursuit of intoxication with drugs is a primary motivational force in the behavior of organisms.” Could it be that humans aren’t the only ones looking to escape day to day reality with the help of drugs and alcohol?

It’s believed that this drive for intoxication is learned and not something animals are innately born with. And this desire to alter consciousness doesn’t always end well. Cats can develop brain damage from too much nip, and the horses and cows that gorge on locoweed will eventually die.

It seems the desire in animals to purposely alter their minds isn’t much different from humans themselves. Psychologist Edward DeBono believes that the desire for intoxication amongst all species (humans and animals included) is one that is “liberating” and something that frees one from the “rigidity of established ideas, schemes, divisions, categories, and classifications.” And with the desire by many species to experience what psychedelics can offer, including a different dimension of linear reality that touches upon a sense of unity with more than what we regularly experience, it would seem that all species are inherently seeking this profound connection with deeper meaning.