Animals and drugs
3 min

Who Would Have Thought It? Animals Take Drugs Too!

3 min
News Research

Monkeys, flies and birds are among some animal species, that seem to react to and even hunt down drugs, such as alcohol, in order to feel its effects. Some animals even take mind-altering substances as part of a standard diet, and have developed resistance over time.

Humans are not the only members of the animal kingdom, that actively seek out naturally occurring substances in order to create an altered state of consciousness. It turns out several species forage their environment for substances, that provide a high. Other animals develop tendencies to indulge in psychoactive drugs when exposed to them in laboratory settings. It is fascinating to see, that humans are not alone in this mysterious and age-old activity.

Both ancient and modern hunter gatherer cultures, along with members of modern civilizations, use a variety of substances to induce an altered state of mind, for a diversity of reasons. Many tribal cultures use visionary plants in ceremonies and utilise them as important sacraments. The recent surge of psychonauts and psychedelic exploring in western societies is another display of the apparently undying connection between humans and the desire to seek and explore both physical and mental realms.

So what other species have a relationship with psychoactive compounds? And what kind of substances are they drawn towards?


A study found, that the Malaysian pen-tailed treeshrew survives off of a diet, that almost entirely consists of alcohol. It’s beverage of choice is fermented nectar produced by the flower buds of the bertam palm. This fermentation is initiated by yeast present on the flower buds. This nectar is said to contain an alcohol content of up to 3.8 percent, which is quite strong considering how small the Malaysian pen-tailed treeshrew is. Although they indulge in copious amounts of booze, these animals show absolutely no sign of intoxication. Researchers believe they have developed a trait, that allows them to deal with such high quantities of alcohol.


Speed addicted rodent

Mice were found to develop profound brain changes after being administered massive doses of amphetamine, or speed, in an attempt to mimic the amount of meth used by human drug users in the throes of a binge. The results showed, that cravings for the drug are still present months after withdrawal from the drug has taken place.


It has been found, that certain pharmaceuticals can affect the behavior of certain fish species. Researchers involved in a study exploring this stated, “the study of animal behavior is important for both ecology and ecotoxicology, yet research in these two fields is currently developing independently. Here, we synthesize the available knowledge on drug-induced behavioral alterations in fish, discuss potential ecological consequences and report results from an experiment, in which we quantify both uptake and behavioral impact of a psychiatric drug on a predatory fish (Perca fluviatilis) and its invertebrate prey (Coenagrion hastulata)”.

The researchers explain the behavioral modifications, that took place, “we show, that perch became more active, while damselfly behavior was unaffected, illustrating that behavioral effects of pharmaceuticals can differ between species”.

However, unlike our shrew friends who voluntarily hunt out their substance of choice, many aquatic creatures are exposed to drugs, such as antidepressants, that modify their behavior due to polluted waters.


Beer drinking macaque

Macaques are medium-sized monkeys. There are about 20 species, that are mostly found living in Southeast Asia, Indonesia and India. Macaques can now be found living among cities alongside human inhabitants. Although their typical diet consists of fruits, berries, seeds and even bark, they have been known to indulge, and quite wildly, in alcohol. Studies have found, that when left to their own devices with alcohol, female macaques will consume so much booze, that they stop ovulating.


Squirrel monkeys may have quite a liking for marijuana, in particular the psychoactive cannabinoid THC. A study found, that monkeys with no exposure to drugs learned to press a level that doses them with intravenous THC, displaying, that THC might act as an effective reinforcer of drug-taking behavior in monkeys.


Coke munching caterpillar

The caterpillar species Eloria noyesi includes in its diet the leaves of the coca plant. The coca plant is the source of cocaine. However, some people chew the leaves alone to boost physical performance and to relieve fatigue. However, just like the alcohol-resistant shrews, this species of caterpillar has been found to have a strong resistance to the active substances within the leaves.


A study demonstrated, that fruit flies, that were turned down by females were much more likely to opt for food containing alcohol, then male, that were able to mate. Dr. Markus Heilig of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse commented, “reading this study is like looking back in time to see the very origins of the reward circuit, that drives fundamental behaviors like sex, eating and sleeping”.


  Luke Sumpter  

Written by: Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter is a journalist based in the United Kingdom, specialising in health, alternative medicine, herbs and psychedelic healing. He has written for outlets such as, Medical Daily and The Mind Unleashed, covering these and other areas.

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