The desire to experience altered states of consciousness is something that has united virtually every human culture and civilization since the dawn of man. Yet we aren’t the only species to seek out mind-bending substances, and several animals have shown a similar propensity for drugs, whether for medicinal purposes or simply for the thrill of it.
In fact, legend has it that the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and his flying herd-mates originates in Siberia, where the highly hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom grows in abundance. Containing the hallucinogenic compound muscimol, the red and white speckled toadstool can be toxic to humans, but is safely metabolized by reindeer.
The animals have often been seen acting high after ingesting the shrooms, giving birth to the notion of Santa’s flying reindeer. Some Siberian shamans are even said to drink the urine of these intoxicated creatures, as it provides a less toxic source of psilocybin.
The idea of Santa's flying reindeer may be rooted in the animals' tendency to get high on magic mushrooms. Shebeko/Shutterstock
Many animals also have a taste for alcohol, with boozy bees being a prime example. When the sugar in nectar is fermented by natural yeasts, it becomes intoxicating to the insects that collect it, causing bees to fall into a drunken stupor.
However, returning to the hive drunk is a major faux pas, and the workers guarding the entrance to the comb will often refuse entry to anyone trying to enter while under the influence.
Another animal that feeds on fermented nectar is the pen-tailed shrew. However, unlike bees, the shrew is able to metabolize this alcohol into ethyl glucuronide, which is then incorporated into its fur.
Vervet monkeys, meanwhile, developed a taste for booze after being transported to the Caribbean from Africa several centuries ago. The early arrivals regularly got completely trolleyed on fermented sugar cane, and recent studies found that most monkeys now prefer alcoholic solutions to sugary water when given the choice.