Disclosure: Some links may be affiliate links. If you buy an item via links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
When you think about taking substances, you’d usually imagine that it was something humans do for recreational purposes (and not always legally.) But this behavior isn’t limited to humans, and there are many creatures in the animal kingdom that are known to get high!
Animals Known to Take Psychedelic & Psychoactive Substances
Many of the substances that are taken by humans, such as cannabis, cocaine, and opiates, are derived from natural sources. Given the prevalence of psychoactive compounds in the natural world, it’s not surprising that animals also encounter and interact with them.
One might assume that animals, once exposed to these substances, would be deterred from consuming them again. But the reality is that creatures all throughout the wild are regularly consuming substances that induce altered behavior and states of consciousness.
1. Dolphins & Pufferfish
You’ve probably heard horror stories about eating an improperly prepared pufferfish which could contain harmful toxins. While humans want to keep well away, dolphins have actually been observed purposefully interacting with pufferfish to force them to release toxins. However, why they do this is still largely unknown.
There are some theories as to why dolphins may behave in this way, including the suggestion that they may actively be looking to affect their state of consciousness. Other scientists believe that they’re simply trying to play.
Pufferfish toxins contain a neurotoxin known as tetrodotoxin. When consumed in high amounts, this could pose a serious risk to the health of the dolphin. However, in smaller doses, it may produce effects like lightheadedness, vocalizations, and tingling.
The first example of this behavior was noted in 1995 in the Azores and a group of rough toothed dolphins; many examples have since been observed. In South Africa, juvenile dolphins were seen playing catch with a pufferfish and even biting it to release the toxins and enjoy the effects. What’s interesting is that this isn’t something that all dolphin populations engage in, which suggests that there may even be culture surrounding it.
In the case of the South African dolphins, it was amazing to note that while the dolphins would take the fish in their mouths, they were extremely gentle and careful not to kill them.
2. Jaguars & Yagé
Deep in the Amazonian rainforest, there are jaguars that seek out a psychoactive plant known as yagé. The plant is actually used by humans to make a traditional South American psychoactive drink known as ayahuasca and it seems that these jaguars also enjoy the effects.
Scientists have observed a change in the jaguars’ behavior after consuming the substance, which can be displayed as increased vocalizations, unusual movements, and even enhanced senses. However, it is suggested that jaguars aren’t actually looking to get high but rather cleanse their digestive systems and make themselves more alert for hunting.
In fact, it was this behavior that inspired humans to start using the plant for their own benefits. In shamanic rituals, ayahuasca is taken and the intoxicated shaman will often take on the personality of a big cat.
3. Siberian Reindeers & Fly Agaric Mushrooms
The fly agaric mushroom contains psychoactive compounds and is often accidentally consumed by humans who mistake it for a puffball. This usually results in hallucinations, but Siberian reindeers have special adaptations to their metabolism that allow them to detoxify these compounds. This is thanks to their four stomachs that digest food in a very unique way. But this doesn’t stop them from experiencing the effects.
In fact, reindeer that have been observed consuming fly agaric mushrooms have been seen to appear drunk. They make seemingly aimless movements and strange noises, and there’s even a suggestion that the story of Santa and his flying reindeers was inspired by this very behavior.
What’s more, in Siberian and Arctic regions, shamans used to deliver bags of these ‘magic’ mushrooms to people’s homes in December as a way of connecting with the spiritual world. So, it’s not hard to make the Christmassy connection.
4. Cats & Catnip
You can buy cat toys filled with catnip, and it’s something that a lot of pet owners don’t even think twice about.
Nepeta cataria, more commonly known as catnip, is part of the mint family and contains a substance called nepetalactone, which can have a profound effect on cats’ behavioral state. Although, it’s worth noting that this compound only affects around 50-70% of domestic cats. Other substances that may have similar effects include honeysuckle and silver vine.
The way this works is that the nepetalactone interacts with the receptors found in the animal’s nose which causes a sensory stimulation and has an effect on the central nervous system. The result can be everything from increased purring, rubbing, and playfulness, but it can make some cats more aggressive. However, these effects only usually last around 15 minutes.
And it isn’t just domestic cats that might feel the effects. It’s been reported that large cats like tigers may also have similar experiences. In any case, these felines will chew, nibble, claw, and rub at the plant.
While catnip isn’t dangerous to cats, they can become desensitized to its effects if they have too much exposure.
5. Wallabies & Opium Poppies
The medicinal pain killing drug, morphine, is derived from opium poppies, and it’s from morphine that the recreational drug, heroin is made. In humans, taking heroin can result in devastating addiction, but while wallabies may seek out opium poppies, they don’t become addicted in the way that humans would.
That’s because wallabies process the compounds within opium poppies in a very different way to humans. And it’s not just wallabies, poppy farmers have even reported sheep consuming the plants and then acting very weirdly!
In Tasmania, an island off the coast of southern Australia, there have been several reports of wallabies getting into poppy fields to consume the plants and then acting ‘drunk.’ It’s even been observed that they’ll go on drunken rampages, leaving crop circles behind where they’ve been hopping around! Although sometimes, the effects can be quite different and may result in the animal becoming very lethargic.
6. Black Lemurs & Poisonous Millipedes
The black lemur usually feeds on fruit, which is thought to make up around 78% of its diet. However, they are also known to purposefully aggravate poisonous millipedes in order to get them to release their toxins, which contain cyanide!
But they don’t do this to get high. They’re actually doing it as a way of protecting themselves from insects by rubbing the toxins all over their fur. Of course, there are some rather interesting side effects to this, including rolling, scratching, and excessive salivation as well as a blissful state that they seem to enjoy. However, the toxins aren’t harmful to the lemurs.
It isn’t just any millipede that has the power to cause these effects. Black lemurs, on the island of Madagascar, have to seek out those from the Desmoxytes genus if they want to be successful.
7. Bighorn Sheep & Lichen
Sheep are generally very placid animals, but their behavior can be affected by certain substances and this is very true in the case of the bighorn sheep.
Bighorn sheep are found in the Canadian Rockies, and this is a harsh environment where certain plant species would struggle to grow. But there is a specific type of slow growing lichen that covers rocks where nothing else could, and bighorn sheep go crazy for its narcotic effects.
In fact, it’s been reported that these sheep will actively seek out the lichen and will even ditch their flock in order to find it. It can become something of an addiction, and as they use their teeth to shave the lichen from the rock, some individuals have even been known to grind their teeth down just to get their fix.
8. Horses & Locoweed
Horses have been reported to have been eating Astragalus spp, a species of locoweed and this can have an effect on their behavior. Changes that have been noted include a change to the horse’s gait, coordination issues and disorientation as well as extreme lethargy.
While there are over 300 species of locoweed, not all are toxic. Usually, horses (and other animals) will avoid toxic plants, but some individuals may develop a taste for them. In this case, a horse may consume a large amount of locoweed, and it may take weeks before signs of poisoning become apparent.
Over consumption of locoweed could potentially be very dangerous to a horse since the compound, swainsonine, can cause changes to the bodily tissues, which may result in long-term health conditions and a disease known as locoism. This may result in issues with metabolism as well as neurological problems. Sadly, the effects of locoism are difficult to recover from, and most horses will never return to full function. What’s more, it’s reported that previously poisoned horses may be more prone to future recurrences. The only viable way to prevent this is to remove the plant from their grazing areas.
9. Pygmy Three-Toed Sloths & Mangrove Leaves
If there’s any animal that looks as though it’s taken something, it’s the sloth. But there are many species, and it’s the pygmy three-toed sloth that would fit the aforementioned description perfectly. That’s because, on the Panamanian island of Escudo de Veraguas, they feed mainly on a diet of red mangrove leaves.
This might not sound too exciting at first, but when you learn that these leaves are packed with tannins, it starts to get a little more interesting. You see, tannins can have varying effects, including sedative and psychoactive. By eating a lot of these leaves that are comparable to valium, an animal may experience slower movements and periods of rest, both of which are associated with the sloth.
These are traits we see in all sloth species, but in the case of the pygmy three-toed sloth it could be as a result of its diet. It’s thought that these plants developed tannins as a way of deterring herbivores, but that doesn’t stop these sloths.
Sadly, the pygmy three-toed sloth is critically endangered and only found in a tiny area of around 1.54 square miles (4 square kilometers). At the last count, it was estimated that as few as 79 individuals remained in the wild.
But their diet won’t be what ends these sloths’ existence because their extremely slow rate of metabolism means that they’re better able to process the tannins and detoxify the leaves, so they don’t have such a dramatic effect.
10. Bohemian Waxwings & Fermented Berries
You’re probably familiar with the concept of fermentation and how yeast converts sugar into alcohol; it’s something that humans have been doing for thousands of years and today, breweries are big business. But it seems that it’s not only humans that are enjoying a tipple thanks to fermentation.
Bohemian waxwings are a species of passerine bird from North America. But while they are known to consume berries that have fermented because of exposure to frost, the effects aren’t good. In fact, it’s been reported that these drunk birds are flying into windows and walls.
As a result of this inebriated behavior, local wildlife enthusiasts have had to take action which comes in the form of an avian drunk tank. Anyone who finds an intoxicated bird is invited to take it to Environment Yukon where it’ll be safely housed in a cage until it sobers up.
Sadly, this isn’t something we’ll be able to prevent as, at this time of year, the birds are feeding heavily on berries in order to gain fat to survive over winter. The good news is that the effects don’t last long, and the Bohemian waxwing’s metabolic system is easily able to process the small amount of alcohol.
11. Pen-Tailed Tree Shrew & Bertam Palm
Like many of the other animals I have talked about in this article, the pen-tailed tree shrew has a unique metabolic system that allows it to process substances and remove toxins where other animals might suffer ill effects.
These Malaysian creatures are omnivores that feed on a variety of fruits and insects. However, they have often been observed eating the sap from the bertam palm which is fermented and, as a result, contains a small amount of alcohol.
Amazingly, even though the shrew is no bigger than a golf ball, it can consume the equivalent of 9 glasses of wine and not show any signs of intoxication, despite the alcohol content of the sap being the highest ever found in nature.
12. Bees & Nectar Containing Nicotine and Caffeine
We all know that bees eat nectar and use it to make honey, but did you know that, depending on the plant, that nectar could be laced with substances like caffeine and nicotine? Both of these are psychoactive substances, and while they may have mild effects on humans, the effects are quite interesting in bees.
In fact, bees that seek out nicotine or caffeine-rich plants not only have a change in behavior, but it’s reported that the insects may even have an increased learning capacity whilst ‘high’. Even more interesting is that scientists believe that plants may have adapted this way in order to get bees addicted. The plants benefit when bees keep returning as they’re pollinators.
What’s more, since taking these substances enhances the bees’ learning, this may also have a positive effect on their foraging abilities as well as making them more efficient pollinators. However, too much of these substances could have health repercussions for the bees, and it is reported that plants with an overly high caffeine content could actually have a reverse effect and deter pollinators.
13. Vervet Monkeys & Sugar Cane
The vervet monkey is found throughout Africa and in some regions, these primates have been seen to be eating over ripe sugar cane. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? That is until you learn that when sugar cane gets too ripe, the process of fermentation begins and that results in the product becoming slightly alcoholic.
These critters are also found on the Caribbean island of St Kitts, and there are even reports of them trying to get a sip of tourist’s cocktails; it seems they’ve developed a taste for a tipple. What’s more, since these monkeys have been consuming fermented sugar cane for so long, it appears that their bodies have become more tolerant to it.
This voluntary consumption of alcohol has been studied by scientists and it was discovered that age and sex played a role in how much alcohol any individual vervet monkey drank. For example female and juvenile monkeys were more likely to take more than their older, male counterparts.