How Animals Get High

October 2, 2014 | Backdoor Pharmacist

Everyone likes to get high. Whether from your morning cup of coffee, taking 2C-I to trip balls, or a surge of endocannabinoids after doing exercise, we love the feeling. This is rooted in a common chemistry that all creatures share.

Scientists and cat toy makers have long known that animals too enjoy the fruits of our shared biology. They go for the chemical shortcut to fun times as much as we do. Here are just a few.


These perennial internet favorites seek out a certain chemical in catnip (Nepeta cataria), called nepetalactone. The mechanism of action is unknown at this time, but what is well known is how cats react when they sense it nearby. They want it.

Once cats notice catnip, they rush over to the stuff. They begin pawing at it, chewing, licking, and generally rolling around like a happy cat. Cats have scent glands on sides of their heads and their paws. So by rubbing it and rolling around, they are claiming that pile of catnip for themselves while also showing affection.

Afterwards, you’ll see classic symptoms of being high as fuck including laying around, drooling, sleeping, jumping around excitedly, growling, purring, biting, and meowing at unseen objects. This isn’t limited to the housecat — big cats like tigers, ocelots, panthers, also love the stuff.

Around a third of domestic cats can’t experience the good vibes. Stupid recessive genes.


Our other best friend at home also enjoys getting high. Dogs enjoy licking the toxic secretions of the cane toad (Rhinella marina). Dogs will repeatedly seek out the cane toad, bother them so they produce a milky-white secretion containing bufotenin or 5-HO-DMT, and lick it up. That’s right, THAT DMT.

After consumption, dogs may lie down and experience pupil dilation. They also become agitated and seem very euphoric, while tracking unseen objects or even chasing and attempting to catch whatever they see. It’s a serious problem in Australia, where the cane toad was introduced to control beetle populations and has become a successful invasive species.

The problem comes when the dog gets too hooked. If they eat the toad or lick up too much, they may have a seizure and could fall into a coma. If you’re a total square and find your dog chasin’ the toad, wear gloves, remove the toad, then use paper towels to try and wipe away as much toxin as possible. But if you got a junkie dog, it’s time to install a mesh fence that goes at least half a foot or 15cm into the ground. Bufotenin is illegal in many places, but I doubt the police will arrest your hippie dog.


Speaking of Australia, did you know Australia is the world’s largest legal producers of opium poppies for medicinal use? Well, the local wallaby population had certainly noticed. Farmers report that the wallaby eats the poppy pods, and then becomes so excited and happy, they jump around in circles until they fall over in exhaustion, producing crop circles.


Originally getting their fix from fermented sugar cane, the green vervet monkeys of St. Kitts have found a better way to get drunk — stealing the unattended drinks of human tourists. They will sneak in and snatch the brightly colored cocktails. But the most interesting part of it is that they drink like we do.

Some will drink a little bit; some will drink steadily; others will drink themselves to the point where they pass out. A few monkeys will refuse to drink altogether, only liking soft drinks. Like frat boys, their eusocial habits seem to give more respect to those who can drink the most. Sadly they have yet to discover beer bong technology, showing our superior intelligence.

Analysis of our dopamine pathways involved with our “reward mechanism” has found that what is true in people, is true in the green vervets. They may end up being extremely useful in our studies of alcoholism. It’s not exactly possible to root around the skull of a human alcoholic without finding yourself on the news as the “Beast of Brighton Beach.”


The green vervet monkey isn’t the only intelligent mammal that enjoys getting crunk — the elephant too loves alcohol. While the stories of them eating fermented fruit or using their own stomachs as fermenting pots have proven to be a myth, that doesn’t mean they don’t want a drink. Like the monkeys, they steal ours. But the monkeys only deliver a small painful bite, while these multi-ton creatures can kill.

The destruction of the elephants’ native habitat means they are more and more likely to run into people and notice that our food is pretty tasty. The problem comes when the local farmers are brewing rice beer. The elephants smash huts to steal food, wash it down with beer, and then go on drunken rampages. After stealing homebrewed rice beer a group of elephants destroyed a village. In another case, three people died after a raiding party of drunk elephants trampled them to death.


This is a frustrating area because it deals with an unusual creature that’s not normally thought of at all — the lichen. Lichen are composite organisms, consisting of photosynthetic algae and/or cyanobacteria and fungus living in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. The fungus relies on the algae or bacteria to produce food, while the algae or bacteria relies on the fungus to provide it with a safe home in inhospitable environments. They’re immensely successful, found nearly everywhere on Earth.

Bighorn Sheep are said to leave the safety of their normal bedding or feeding areas to find a certain variety of lichen. Since lichen can live anywhere, they always seem to end up on perilous cliff sides where the bighorns scramble up to scrape them off. They so much enjoy scraping the lichen, they can erode their teeth to nothing and starve. They may even fall to their deaths in their pursuit. Indigenous peoples later discovered the lichen were “narcotic”.

It’s not unusual to hear of fungi producing hallucinogenic chemicals. With so many other animals perfectly happy to eat hallucinogens, the only crime is that this is such a poorly researched area. There’s only scant references in literature to indigenous peoples using lichen for this purpose. No one seems to have done the needful and tried to capture whatever mystery molecule is so compelling.


Deep in the Siberian tundra of Russia’s Far East, reindeer would search for fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) mushrooms to eat. After eating them, they would behave almost drunkenly. Running around aimlessly, twitching, and making unusual sounds. However, the fly agaric mushroom contains other toxic alkaloids, making it unpleasant and unsafe to consume straight. But there’s a way around that.

Reindeer seem to be able to eat them safely, and like some other drugs, the active ingredients pass mostly unchanged in the urine. Although, the more toxic elements seem to have been eliminated. Shamans would occasionally drink this urine to enter trance like states, and their followers would drink the shaman’s urine to trip. It’s said it can make you feel like you’re flying, which some people have immediately tied to the myth of Father Christmas or Santa Claus and his flying reindeer. Sadly, that too seems to be a double-myth.


We don’t typically think of ants as anything but industrious drones. They have a complex social life despite being tiny and it seems that another insect has taken advantage of what seems to be a universal drive for intoxication. Lomechusa strumosa beetles live in ant colonies themselves. They have evolved trichomes, yes just like the trichomes on cannabis plants, which secrete some sort of aromatic, volatile oil. The ants lick these up so enthusiastically that it is called “lomechusa-mania.” They even treat the beetle larvae better than their own larvae, sometimes rescuing beetle larvae first. Whole colonies can be devastated by this obsession.


Like the wallaby, we enjoy consuming the opiate laced seed pods of the poppy. Like the green vervet monkeys, we sometimes use alcohol as a way to show our dominance over our peers. We go on drunken rampages as well as elephants do, though we have to make do with drink driving to do the same degree of damage since we ourselves do not weigh several tons. Like the dog, we enjoy chemicals related to DMT and may follow imaginary objects. Meth addicts extract the drug for consumption like the shamans did for the mushrooms of the arctic circle. Like the bighorn sheep, we risk life and limb to get high. And like the ants suffering from lomechusa-mania, we may lead our entire family to ruin for it.

God is lazy. Given the entire toolkit of physics and chemistry, we see the same few chemicals reused over and over again. Nature’s bounty means that when you get enough brain cells together, they will inevitably be affected by a reused molecule somewhere else, hijacking that response. Seeking to get high, is natural, and the fact that we are refusing to acknowledge it is. Once we acknowledge this biological and medical fact, we can start to have a better world and quit this failed War on Drugs.