When we lived in southern Bohemia and had various animals at home, we often saw our cats or rabbits looking at the sunset in the evening and being immersed in a special state of consciousness. It was like meditation. The cats sat in the garden in a place with the best view and gazed intently at the setting sun. In the same pose and with the same expression that we can see on Egyptian statues of sitting cats. Sometimes we sat next to them and tried to “tune ourselfs into them“ and share these moments with them. These were remarkable moments of “immersion in oneself” and at the same time “connecting with nature and the sun.” On other occasions, we also saw that some dogs meditatively watched the sunset. And even after the sun had set and the animals started doing something different, they were apparently still in a slightly different state of consciousness.
I have also repeatedly noticed that various animals are often in a state of a peculiar drowsiness, somewhere on the border between sleep and wakefulness. Later, I found out that especially in Asia there are meditation techniques in which a person remains precisely in this “border state” and experiences something between lucid dreaming and holotropic states of consciousness. In the Indian tradition, it is called “yoga nidra” and in Tibetan Buddhism, it is called “milam” or “dream yoga”. In Russian folk tradition, this technique has been preserved as “gusli sleep” – I wrote about all of this in my first book. All of these ways of contemplation can be described as “meditative drowsiness”. According to Wikipedia, yoga nidra is even used in the U.S. Army to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. So obviously, this state of consciousness has strong therapeutic effects.
If it works like this for humans, then it naturally leads to an interesting thought that it is probably the same for animals. That they are not “just sleepy”, but that they meditate in an altered state of consciousness in this way. A skeptical reader can certainly say that all of this is just my projection. This is possible, but on the other hand, there is also a lot of evidence that animals know and purposefully seek out plants that cause altered states of consciousness. So it is likely that they naturally know about other ways to achieve these states of consciousness as well.
Some people believe that the use of psychoactive substances and the pursuit of holotropic states of consciousness is just a strange obsession of certain strange individuals, and that it is otherwise completely unnatural, and especially that nothing like this exists in nature among animals. However, in the first book, I discussed how even our everyday food is highly psychoactive. Therefore, the claim that we are “clean” is just a kind of collective pretense. In fact, we seek psychoactive effects wherever we can. So let’s take a closer look at whether animals also use any psychoactive substances.
The answer is “yes, they do, and it seems to be intentional and quite frequent.” For example, dolphins have recently been filmed playing with the poisonous fugu fish. This is the fish that can inflate into a large spiky ball and releases poison for self-defense. And this poison is apparently psychoactive for dolphins. On the footage, the dolphins are seen teasing the fish with their mouths until it releases its poison. The question is how the dolphins absorb it – either through their mouth or skin. But in any case, they enter into a trance and then “dance” remarkable “figures” underwater. These shots were published in a unique BBC documentary. According to scientists, dolphins are highly intelligent animals, so they certainly know what they are doing. Later, I also saw videos of the songs and “dances” of whales, and their behavior also indicated that they experience different states of consciousness than usual.
Or the footage of lemurs from Madagascar who “get high” from chewing millipedes. This video is definitely worth seeing. The lemur catches a millipede, puts it in its mouth, bites it lightly, and then quickly pulls it out, licking the millipede and rubbing it repeatedly on its fur. As a defense mechanism, the millipede secretes a fluid containing various toxins. Other predators are deterred by this, but for lemurs, this secretion apparently has a psychedelic effect. The lemur repeats the whole procedure several times, gradually begins to drool heavily, and clearly enters a trance. It then drops the millipede and simply enjoys this altered state of consciousness. The footage is truly delightful, and according to researchers, lemurs do this repeatedly and willingly, with the millipedes usually suffering no harm in the process…
And these are by no means the only examples. Italian independent researcher in area of psychedelics, Giorgio Samorini, published a small book in 2013 called “Animali che si drogano” – it is also available in English as “Animals and Psychedelics”. In it, he summarizes his research and observations on the question of whether animals also use psychoactive substances. His results unequivocally show that they do, and they do it purposefully. But he also points out that there is a strong tendency in biology to deny reports of animals using “drugs”. Because we tend to idealize nature as “pure”, whereas psychoactive substances are currently perceived as entirely negative. But according to anthropologists, it seems most likely that natural societies learned about these substances just by observing the behavior of animals. Samorini, for example, describes his personal experience with goats in the Italian Alps, who actively seek out psychoactive mushrooms and fiercely defend them against others. And according to legend, people in Ethiopia discovered coffee also because of the behavior of goats that were eating the fruit of this plant.
Let’s take a look at a few examples from Samorini’s book. For example, gorillas apparently know how to find the iboga bush and can dig up its roots from the ground. This has been repeatedly documented. Gorillas are able to recognize iboga among an incredible number of other plants in the rainforest and decide to eat these extremely bitter roots specifically to experience the exceptional psychoactive state induced by the alkaloids present in this plant.
Reports from Ireland indicate that local sheep can recognize hallucinogenic mushrooms called “liberty caps” and deliberately eat them. Farmers say to have a lot of fun watching tripping sheep. Samorini also describes his experience in the Italian Alps, where he went to collect samples of psilocybin mushrooms for research. Local goats watched him intently and he, without suspecting anything bad, showed them the mushrooms he was collecting. Shortly after it, he was very aggressively attacked by a billy goat and forced to run. However, he forgot his paper bag with the mushrooms on the spot. From a safe distance, he then observed how the goats pounced on the bag, tore it open, and ate all the mushrooms from it. Apparently, they knew what kind of mushrooms they were.
It is well known that cats love catnip. This plant has hallucinogenic and aphrodisiac effects on them. Cats first sniff the plant, then start chewing it, occasionally freezing and staring into space while chewing. After a stronger dose, they show signs of strong excitement and start behaving erotically provocatively. Similar behavior has been filmed in nature among other feline predators. The BBC documentary showed a jaguar eating the leaves of yage, also known as Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis Caapi). The video can be found on YouTube. After eating a few leaves, the animal rolls on its back and dreamily gazes at the trees and sky with a peculiar trippy expression in its eyes.
In Africa, there are also several types of palm trees whose fruit contains a lot of sugar and quickly ferments after ripening in a hot climate, containing up to 7% alcohol. Giorgio Samorini states that it has been observed that elephants, for example, actively seek out fallen fermented fruit and consume it, or intentionally shake it from trees. Their behavior when searching for fruit shows that they choose these fermented pieces and try to consume as much as possible.
These pieces of information have been disputed in various ways, but mainly based on the fact that “scientists don’t believe in something” or “consider it unlikely”. I found only one study on this topic, but it shows that nobody really knows. We do not yet know the extent of the activity of ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase) in elephants. If they have low ADH activity or if the fruits contain some ADH inhibitor, then they would need very little to become “drunk”. Additionally, the authors speculate about the possibility that insects living in the fruit could have a psychoactive effect on elephants – similar to Spanish flies on humans.
Anyway, there is more information about elephants being able to detect the “smell of alcohol”. Newspapers report that elephants have invaded a village and rushed into a local store to get alcohol supplies, or they have “sipped” on fermenting mash in the local distillery. Witnesses describe that intoxicated elephants become very excited, jump around, and make unusual noises, and a herd of intoxicated elephants can be very dangerous to people. Moreover, the reports state that elephants often fall asleep anywhere they want after being drunk. Similarly, some species of monkeys reportedly consume fermented fruits containing alcohol.
There are also many documented reports of birds consuming seasonal psychoactive berries and becoming disoriented and crashing into homes and even people. In some cases, it appears that flocks of birds intentionally fly to areas where these fruits grow, specifically to enjoy the “berry high.” And they do it repeatedly, so it’s not possible to say that they ate them “by accident.”
The author also notes an interesting fact about the old european tradition to kill flies using Fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) soaked in milk. Although it’s an old folk tradition, practical experiments have shown that the fly agaric mushroom doesn’t actually poison flies. This mushroom is not toxic at all. If flies accidentally do not fall into the milk, they eventually wake up. However, this doesn’t discourage them from repeatedly drinking the fly agaric mushroom milk. Most likely, they enjoy the psychoactive effect of this mushroom. Samorini also speculates on the origin of the English name for the fly agaric mushroom, “toadstool.” It’s not entirely clear whether the fly agaric mushroom attracts flies and other insects in nature, but it’s likely. If so, and if there were frogs in the area, then fly agaric mushrooms would be an ideal place for them to easily catch insects. The meaning of the name would then be immediately clear.
These are just a few examples that show that animals deliberately seek out psychoactive substances to achieve altered states of consciousness. There are certainly many more, but research in this area is not very common because our Western civilization has not yet known how to deal with these states of consciousness and has therefore rejected them as being negative. However, there is a lot of evidence that ancient cultures and natural tribes deliberately used these altered states of consciousness. As I mentioned at the beginning, it is very likely that humans simply continued in what they saw in the surrounding nature as completely normal and natural…