Do Wild Animals Intentionally Get High?

Do Wild Animals Intentionally Get High?


[♪ INTRO] Although, of course, not every person likes
to get drunk or high, there’s no doubt that, as a species, we
do have a bit of a fondness for mind-altering substances. You find them in every human culture that
has ever existed. And it seems like our feathered and furry
friends also partake from time to time. You might have read the news about wallabies
getting high on poppy flowers, or perhaps you’ve watched the hilarious
video of a New Zealand wood pigeon hanging upside down after eating too much
fermented fruit. Stoned or tipsy animals – they are internet
gold, but, as you might expect, most of these cases are anecdotal. In fact, most examples of animals regularly
seeking out intoxicants kind of fall apart when researchers look closer. Even some of the oldest and most well-known
examples — like cats on catnip—don’t hold up to scientific
scrutiny. So let’s take a look at four infamous cases
and see what science says is really going on. In 2013, the internet went berserk over a
video showing dolphins apparently getting high by passing around an inflated
puffer fish and “milking” out its toxins. After a few chews, the dolphins drifted motionless
at the surface of the water like they were super stoned, or just “fascinated
by their own reflection,” as one zoologist said. Observations of this weird behavior actually
go back to 1995, when researchers described it in rough-toothed
dolphins. But there are a few reasons to think this
drug-seeking story is a bit… fishy. Like, for example, the main toxin in the fish’s
arsenal is tetrodotoxin or TTX, and TTX is perhaps the worst choice for a
party drug ever. It works by binding to sodium channels in
muscle and nerve cells and immobilizing them. Anything more than a few micrograms of the
stuff and mammals experience headaches, vomiting, muscle weakness,
and paralysis. Too much leads to heart or lung failure. There have also been cases of people going
into a deep coma where they’re still fully conscious but
can’t move— which is not fun sounding… super terrifying. I don’t like it! The same could be said for a whole bunch of
recreational drugs— most have toxic effects if taken in high enough
doses. But milligram for milligram, TTX is more than
2000 times as deadly as cocaine, so there isn’t a lot of room for error here. Some animals, like garter snakes, soft-shell
clams, and the pufferfish themselves have developed resistance to the
compound. But it’s unlikely dolphins have, because
no mammals appear to be immune to the stuff, and scientists know that dolphins
can be killed by similar compounds. So a more likely scenario is that the dolphins
were simply playing with the puffer. A puffed pufferfish is basically an underwater
beach ball, and dolphins have been known to be playful
animals. There are other observations of dolphins toying
with living things— like, there was a pod of dusky dolphins off
the coast of New Zealand that passed around an octopus in the very same
way. It’s fun for them – less fun for the octopus. And that zoned-out chilling at the surface
afterwards? It’s called logging, and it’s what dolphins
and whales do to rest— like they might do if they were tuckered out
after a bunch of playing with like an ocean beachball… that’s actually
a living thing. Even if the logging was toxically-induced,
there’s no guarantee the animals were enjoying the experience or
desired to repeat it. They might have been chilling at the surface
because they were not, like, feeling good. So although it is possible dolphins are doing
their own version of the puff, puff, pass, there is not any empirical
evidence. And a lot of reasons to think that it’s
not what’s happening. Tales of drunken elephants go back to 1839
when a naturalist reported that Zulu guides told him they’d seen elephants
get all weird and aggressive after eating fruit from the marula tree. The naturalist figured the fruit had spent
too long on the ground and had fermented. And it was pretty clear to him that the elephants
ate this alcoholic fruit because they, like us, enjoy getting tipsy—it
just so happens they’re pretty mean drunks. These stories are still told today. But it turns out they are just tall tales. It’s true that elephants have a pretty varied
diet which includes leaves, grasses, tree bark, and fruit. That fruit includes marula fruits, which will
ferment if they fall and aren’t eaten. And these fruits can sometimes become an elephant’s
favorite food. They’re a good source of carbohydrates,
and there are lots of them around in the dormant season, when trees have shed
their leaves and high-quality calorie sources are scarce. But, there are a couple of reasons this whole
drunken elephant story doesn’t hold up–and they were outlined
in a 2006 paper in the journal Physiological and Biochemical
Zoology. First of all, elephants usually go for the
ripe fruit on a tree’s branches, not the fermenting, alcoholic fruit lying
on the ground. But most importantly, the math does not add
up. Fermented fruits don’t contain a ton of
alcohol. Assuming the fruit contained around 3 percent
alcohol —which would be like a really weak beer-— an elephant would have to eat 4 times its
maximum daily amount of fruit to get drunk. Being generous, we might try the calculations
saying the fruits get up to 7% alcohol, because that’s the maximum percentage of
alcohol captive elephants willingly drink. Apparently we’ve done that study. But even then, there’s no way an elephant
could eat enough fruit to get the 27 liters of giggle juice it would need
to become tipsy. Elephants are very big! So, I’m sorry, these giants are not using
marula fruit as their night cap. And the overlap between their strange behavior
and the fruiting season probably has a lot more of a straightforward
answer. The elephants could be acting aggressively
because they don’t want some lanky apes stealing their prized marula
fruit. If you’ve ever really watched cows—especially
around here in Montana, or in several other western US states—you
might have noticed they sometimes just look a little… out of
it. Like, they just stare off into space, their
head drooping, or they’re staggering around like they’re
on something. Well, it’s possible they’ve been hitting
the locoweed. That’s the common name for the poisonous
plants from the legume genuses Astragalus and Oxytropis that
produce the chemical swainsonine. Swainsonine is a toxin that acts by inhibiting
enzymes inside of cells which normally break down
other molecules. When those enzymes are inhibited, the molecules
build up, and that can have some pretty nasty effects. The animals stop eating and waste away, become
less fertile, miscarry or have babies that are malformed,
or die of heart failure. And because cows and other livestock eat these
plants despite all those negative effects, some have
suggested they’ve become addicted. But scientists have figured out that idea
is also loco. For example, a study from 1987 published in
the Journal of Range Management showed that cows born and raised on a paddock
containing locoweed eat similar amounts of the plant as newly
introduced cows. So experienced cows—ones that could possibly
be addicted— don’t tend to eat any more than the cows
that have never seen the stuff. And, in a 1991 study on sheep, ewes that were
loco-ed in the past didn’t seek out the plant a year later when
they were given an area with lots of room and different plants to
graze on. What’s probably happening instead is that
these livestock animals are munching on locoweed when there are few
other plants available. Locoweed species grow early in the spring
before other plants and regrow in the fall, after many plants
have died back. Some varieties of locoweed actually taste
pretty gross to cows, but if there’s not much else to eat, they’re
kind of forced to go for it. And scientists think they may get used to
the taste. Then, they can pass this habit on to others. In a 1994 study, cows that hadn’t seen locoweed
before increased how much they ate of it after spending time
around cows that had been trained to eat it. So, in this case, it’s not a drug habit
– it’s just a “eat whatever you can get your mouth on
and also what everyone else is eating” habit. Which is the same thing I have. Now it’s no secret that cats go bonkers
for catnip— hence the perpetual market for catnip toys,
sprays and treats. And way back in 1962, researchers at Harvard
described what they called the catnip response: that
characteristic 10-ish minute reaction where the cat goes from sniffing and licking
to rubbing their face in the stuff and rolling around and looking cute and all
whacked out. Later, some scientists went on to conclude
that cats were experiencing hallucinations, like seeing butterflies, and even likened
catnip’s effects to how people respond to LSD or marijuana. And from a chemical point of view, catnip
could make sense as a feline party drug. The active ingredients in catnip and other
cat-attracting plants— molecules like nepetalactone or actinidine—might
turn on some of the same brain pathways that many hallucinogens do. So it might seem like cats are a definitive
case of drug-seeking behavior. But… No one has actually shown that catnip makes
cats hallucinate. That’s just how a few scientists interpreted
some pretty standard pawing or rolling behavior. It’s not like they asked a cat to sit nicely
in an MRI machine for a brain scan or gotten them to paint their weird trips. And the reactions to catnip are all behaviors
the animals naturally do in a sexual context. Like, all that rubbing and rolling over is
how cats tell other cats that, like, they’re into them. In fact, scientists have gotten cats to perform
the same behaviors by exposing them to extracts of male cat urine. So it seems like those catnip compounds are
chemically similar to feline social odors —enough so to fool cats’ noses, at least. And that would mean all that licking and rubbing
is them reacting to what seems like the sudden, strong scent
of another cat— with no visual dazzle or “high” feelings
involved. If it is a case of olfactory overlap, that
could explain why only two-thirds to three-quarters of cats seem
to care much about catnip. It’s long been thought that some cats are
just immune to the stuff. But research in 2017 says that’s not true—it’s
just that some cats don’t react as overtly. Instead, they just kind of chill out in a
sphinx-like posture, which may be because they aren’t interested
in the smell of a potential mate, or are too young for that kind of thing. But, when you get right down to it, cats and
catnip isn’t a great example of animal drug-seeking behavior because they
don’t seek it. Researchers say it’s unlikely that wild
cats self-administer the stuff. If they did, you might expect there to be
more wild cats hanging around areas where catnip naturally grows. Basically, if they really needed a hit, they
wouldn’t mind traveling a bit to get it. But that’s not the case. There’s no correlation between where cat-attracting
plants grow and where wild cats are found. So, although most cats respond to catnip,
their relationship to it isn’t the same as humans and mind-altering drugs. There are lots of other potential cases of
animal drug use which could be explored. But so far, scientists haven’t really found
any evidence that wild animals seek out chemical highs. And that raises the question of why humans
definitely do. But to answer that, we have to dig deeper
into how our closest relatives and model organisms interact with mind-altering
substances. And that is an episode for another day. Thanks for watching! If you want to learn more about how other
animals interact with drugs, let me recommend our episode breaking down
what happened when scientists gave animals drugs in the
lab. And if this episode has you hooked on SciShow,
be sure to click on that subscribe button! [♪ OUTRO]

100 thoughts on “Do Wild Animals Intentionally Get High?”

  1. I'm calling for a source citation on "No correlation on where cat attracting plants are found and cats"
    Going around my local area any out of the way place that a cat might consider a bathroom is teaming with catnip and this is a rural area, almost nobody is going to be letting their beloved pet wander around out here just to become a coyote snack or roadkill, these are feral cats spreading catnip in their feces and I don't know how it got there if they didn't seek it out.

  2. I had a cat that was petrified of catnip. We brought him some home one time and he hid under the couch until we threw it away. Like we literally had to get it out of the house before he came out. If it has to do with sexual activity that might explain it. He wasn't full grown at the time and it may have mirrored the smell of a more dominant male.

  3. Pigs can be drunk. I work with pigs and they can kill the piglets after giving birth. The vet gave us the tip to give them alkohol. She told us that one farm did this. First gave 6 strong beers. It did not work so they get a bag in box wine. They are three litres. That did not work. So they got a bottle of one litre of vodka. That did work. The sow was a bit unsteady under her feet. What will we do with the drunken pig? What will we do with the drunken pig? What will we do with the drunken pig early in the morning? Way hay and up she rises, Way hay and up she rises, Way hay and up she rises early in the morning.

  4. Cows dont look stupid and out of it because they're on drugs. They look stupid and out of it because of centuries of inbreeding.

  5. I know that a lot of cat toys now advertise a mix of catnip and Silver Vine and I have saw a video once that was implying that wild cats seek it out.

  6. I once bought catnip from a plant fair and left it under my car port, the next day a cat had clearly demolished my poor baby catnip plants and rolled in them all over my driveway 🤷🏼‍♀️😻 So that cat was clearly into it.

  7. I recall a documentary segment on Lemurs sucking on poisonous insects… and… I have no idea what excuse they could have had other than they were doing it recreationally.

  8. the first time we ever gave out cat catnip, she flailed in it and ate it for 10 minutes and then sat for nearly half an hour 3 inches from a wall staring at it blankly. no sound, light or movement could distract her, she was purely transfixed on the wall. she was fixed before she went into her first heat so likely it wasn't sexual. If that is not a high, than i don't know what is. Now when we give it to her, after she is done rolling in it and eating it she lies on the floor on her back motionless for half an hour.

  9. Wild cats will go after catnip. Our neighbor took pity on an abandoned female cat and started feeding her. Our neighborhood was half year round residents half summer homes. every year after the city people went back there would be new strays. Jack fed them and they lived outside as ferral animals. My mom had an herb garden to produce her own cooking ingredients one year she planted cat nip to see what would happen. Within a day of planting the nip they wild cats dug it up and took it somewhere, we never found the plant. She tried 5 more times and every time the plant was dug up and never seen again.

  10. Tbh animals accidentally getting messed up seems a lot funnier than doing it intentionally. Especially dolphins, just being playful/a-holes, batting a puffer fish around until they start feeling sick. The pufferfish just watches them floating on the surface after like "huehuehue who's the superior species now bastards?"

  11. i remember reading elephants stomp a palm trunk and it ferments and they drink the sap that pools on top. maybe BS

  12. My ma’s cat has the catnip reaction to my feet when I visit and take my shoes off. This video implies Mittens has a foot fetish. It could explain why she bites my feet.

  13. but remember this: your dogs and cats do not wanna get stoned with you, and if you blow smoke in your pets’ face then you’re literal trash.

  14. My cat used to love to eat a paper plate full of catnip, then lie on his back for an hour looking all spaced out, with wide eyes, and sometimes slowly pawing at the air. From a behavioral point of view, he acted very different when he was on catnip..

  15. There are also many videos of chimps and monkeys drinking alcohol from glasses and smoking cigarettes (both of which have no survival benefit, and would likely be unpalatable to primates..since they are generally unpalatable to most humans lol). Check out this funny video of smoking primates https://youtu.be/GAmQUp-JZ7c

  16. Hahaha 3% “a really weak beer” welcome to Utah where if it’s over 4% they can only sell it in the liquor store😂😂

  17. so the dolphins were 'logging' due to them being tired from playing with the pufferfish? Not because of the effects of tetrodotoxin?

  18. Regarding the drunk elephants, what about being drunk without actually enough alchohol? I mean it happens to us right? getting seemingly drunk for some other biological or psychological reason

  19. Damn your title and question mark in it for leading me to think that the video was going to be about something else. Lol

  20. "Cats don't seek it", eh? Tell that to all four of my kitties whenever we open the catnip bag. They are all also fixed xD.

  21. It doesn't seem to make a difference whether or not a cat is spayed or neutered if it's related to mating behavior

  22. Haha maybe tmi but I'm literally taking a shot and a bong rip (oregon is legal) and this video comes up 😂😂

  23. I had watched the movie 'animals are beautiful people' recently… And it had mentioned the morula fruit… A whole lot of animals including elephants were getting tipsy after eating the fermented fruits laying on the ground… The elephants did not show any aggressive behavior… It had a bit of difficulty in walking… Yet you say that the elephants couldn't possibly get high on eating the rotten or fermented fruit

  24. Greetings from Suriname, South America. Down here, it is common to find many cane toads in your yard. The family dogs accidentally discovered that they get high from bufotoxin by placing the frogs in their mouths. Nowadays when its the right season and the frogs are all out, they proactively look for them like kids at an easter egg hunt and gently without killing the frogs hold them in their mouths for a short time. Afterwards, they produce extra saliva that drips from their mouths and they behave in a sedated, and euphoric state. I can only imagine what kind of doggie hallucination these junkies are experiencing. Even though we try to rid the yard of cane toads and relocate them outside, they keep comin back and the dogs get their "fix. Luckily, this is not a repetitive behavior, and only happens during the rainy season when cane toads are out so the dogs, i believe, have developed no chemical dependancy to bufotoxin.

  25. My grandmother had sliding glass doors that opened out to her front porch. She also had holly bushes around her front porch. Birds would wait till the holly berries became overripe and started to ferment. The birds would then eat the berries, get drunk, and make a thumping sound as they drunkingly fley into the sliding glass door. I'd upload the video to prove it, but this was back in the mid 90s, before the existence of YouTube.

  26. This first bit reminds me of the video of the seal that slaps a guy with an octopus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxRAVxkfrOs

  27. I wish this video went like "do wild animals intentionally get high!!!?" -no, thanks for watching, see ya next time.

  28. Would an animal associate weird "highs" or hallucinations with something they ate in the past? I mean, beyond the taste or any immediate response if an animal started tripping out 30 mins after they ate something they might not "know" what did it and as a result not "seek" it out.

  29. I do have to contradict the conclusion you make about "Cats NOT seeking out the catnip"… One of my 2 cats actively seeks to access the container unless I store it in the refrigerator (presumably the scent becomes too faint or masked). Thanks for interesting clips!

  30. I'm curious about bears. I've watched a bear sift through fruit at the bottom of an apple tree and pick out the fermented ones to eat first before, although I don't know if it was looking for a buzz or if fermented fruit has some extra nutritional benefit.

  31. I came here to justify my stoner ways by saying it was natural. I'm very disappointed… mostly in myself 😂😫

  32. what about primates & monkey? I have heard that they will seek out fermented fruit. Monkeys seeking out poisonous centipedes. Please tell me are these tall tells as well?

  33. We are human, therefore we think. We think, therefore we become disillusioned. We become disillusioned, therefore we get high. Not complicated.

  34. Cows could be trippin on dmt from reed canary grass too. The shear volume of plant matter they eat means they inevitably ingest a lot of monoamine oxidase inhibiting antioxidants

  35. Yeah you are wrong about elephants. They might not get drunk by eating the fruit, but there have been several incidents where elephants have gotten wasted and caused a ruckus.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/03/elephants-drunken-rampage-india

    https://myfox8.com/2012/11/07/50-drunken-elephants-ransack-village-in-india-drink-130-gallons-of-moonshine/

  36. Hmmff… the cat nip stuff here is kinda all wrong! When I was young (like 16 years in 1992) I adopted a kitten. I went out to my Dad’s herb garden and grabbed a handful of fresh catnip. I held my new kitty in one arm while I microwaved the catnip with my other hand. I thought that would dry it, but it just made the catnip more pungent and steamy. The smell and steaminess wafted out of the micro right into that kittens face. It just hit him like a brick wall! His head and shoulders did this slow, weird twist & spin move, then he just collapsed in my arms but with his eyes wide open. That little dude was stoned out of its mind, on catnip! I think he finally truly relaxed after we played for just a few minutes, then he needed to nap & was comfortable enough to lay on my lap. I just wanted my kitten to be happy…. I know this was probably a bad thing to do, but I really didn’t know any better at the time. I felt so bad as soon as I opened that microwave. But at the same time, maybe it was awesome for him! (?)

  37. I couldn't read through this many comments to see if this question was already asked so……..what about koalas? I heard that they eat eucalyptus to get high. Is this true?

  38. You left out biding horses. Clear example of an animal getting high on purpose and becoming so addicted that they will stop eating and do nothing but knock themselves out all day.

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