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Psychedelics Across the Animal Kingdom
Many animals in the natural world display a surprising behavior: seeking out and consuming substances with mind-altering properties. This phenomenon extends beyond human influence, with various species independently finding and using these natural intoxicants. Observations suggest that some of the substances familiar to us, like caffeine and alcohol, are also encountered by animals in their environments.
What motivates these animals to seek such experiences, and how do these substances affect them? Join us as we explore the intriguing world of four mammalian species that interact with natural psychoactive substances and delve into the impacts on their behavior and biology.
Why Do Animals Consume Psychedelics?
Across various ecosystems, scientists have observed animals interacting with naturally occurring psychoactive substances. Bees are drawn to the intoxicating nectar of certain orchids, elephants consume fermented fruit, and goats have been known to eat magic mushrooms.
This widespread behavior has led researchers to suggest that these animals might actively seek out these experiences. The preference for intoxication seems to be a learned behavior rather than an innate one. However, engaging with these substances is not without its risks, a factor seen in many species.
Determining the exact effects of hallucinogens on animals is challenging, as interpretations are largely speculative. Some observations suggest that these substances may induce a state of relaxation or an apparent mood enhancement in animals.
Experts theorize that while initial encounters with psychoactive plants might be due to curiosity, hunger, or chance, there’s evidence to suggest that animals return to these sources by choice, indicating a more complex interaction with their environment.
4 Animals That Consume Psychedelics
Here are four well-documented examples of animals that enjoy exploring new highs.
1. Dolphins Get High off Their Scavenged Supply
Dolphins have surprised humans with their intelligence at every turn, and they’re smart enough to get high, too.
Researchers have observed the mammals carrying pufferfish in their mouths on multiple occasions. This behavior differs from their notorious hunting method, which involves them sadistically playing with their food before consuming it.
Pufferfish emit tetrodotoxin when threatened, one of the deadliest poisons in the world. While larger doses of the chemical kill, scientists believe smaller quantities can be mildly hallucinogenic.
They hypothesize dolphins bite the fish to release tiny bursts of the neurotoxin before passing it among other group members. The mammals then appear to enter a trance-like state, hanging around with their noses at the surface while mesmerized by their reflections.
Dolphins seem to specifically seek the puffers and handle them with expert care to enjoy a psychedelic rodeo rather than lethal poisoning.
2. Red-Fronted Lemurs Nibble on Hallucinogenic Millipedes
Madagascar’s red-fronted lemurs have a secret stash from nature’s medicine cabinet.
The primates habitually rub foreign objects over their bodies, often massaging toxic millipedes over their nether regions. Observers think the apes take advantage of the leggy critters’ poisonous secretions to ward off pests.
They chew on the arthropods to produce an orange mixture of saliva and millipede emissions. The lemurs then rub their genitals, anuses, and tails with the concoction. Many group members also swallow the crushed critters after nibbling on them.
A 2018 study on lemurs suggests the animals eat millipedes because they secrete benzoquinone, known to repel mosquitos. Their actions might also help the primates cleanse themselves of gastrointestinal parasites and skin irritation.
It’s unclear whether millipede toxin is hallucinogenic, but the substance may induce a pain-killing effect and a high. Regardless of why lemurs ingest the arthropods, the apes are outstanding examples of using the environment surrounding them for healing.
3. Bighorn Sheep are Mad for Narcotic Lichen
A rare, narcotic lichen species grows in some of the most difficult-to-reach parts of the Canadian Rockies. Reports claim the organism takes one hundred years to cover just a square inch of surface.
Bighorn sheep traverse the region’s narrow paths and dangerously steep ledges to satisfy their addiction to the plant. They deviate from their usual foraging territory and herd to find the green and yellow patches that supply their next hit.
The mammals ingest their favorite drug by scraping the lichen off rocks using their teeth. Their compulsion for the high is so strong they often grind their gnashers down to the gums while getting their fixes.
Locals note these bighorn sheep display strange behavior compared to their sober counterparts. As the lichen they ingest has no nutritional value, it’s safe to assume the woollybacks eat it purely to get high.
4. Reindeer Fight Over Magic Mushrooms
Reindeer are hardy animals that can eat all vegetation to survive the harsh tundra. Their preferred choice is Amanita muscaria, commonly called fly agaric mushrooms, frozen beneath the winter snow.
These bright red and white fungi are close cousins of the deadly angel and death cap varieties. While they contain toxins, they’re not harmful and are only known to cause a trippy experience.
The deer forage for the shrooms and display drunken behavior after feeding. Witnesses claim the animals run aimlessly, twitch their heads, and make strange noises. Those in a state of intoxication often separate themselves from the herd, making them vulnerable to predators.
Ingesting the mushrooms infuses the reindeer’s urine with psychoactive agents. Group members fight amongst each other to access the bodily fluid of herd mates who’ve eaten the psychedelic.
It appears the animals love these exploits, and researchers believe the deer seek the fungi to occupy themselves during long winters. Could the truth behind the story of Santa and his flying reindeer be magic mushrooms?
The Wonders of Wildlife and Natural Psychedelics
The natural world is full of surprises, and the animal kingdom is no exception. From the depths of the oceans to the heart of the forests, various species exhibit a captivating array of behaviors with naturally occurring psychotropic compounds. These interactions highlight a fascinating aspect of wildlife behavior, offering a glimpse into the complex ways animals interact with their environment.
Those interested in learning more about psilocybin and exploring different states of consciousness should check out our blog. We provide a wealth of in-depth information on magical fungi.
All of the content and images on our site are for informational reference only. The cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms is federally illegal in the United States. We do not promote the cultivation of psilocybin “magic” mushrooms under any circumstances. Do not contact us asking for advice related to this subject. Any products found on this site are for microscopy and taxonomy purposes only. None of the psilocybin mushroom spores we offer are for consumption or cultivation. We do not sell any products containing psilocybin.