So Long and Thanks For All The Pufferfish - Drug Week


By: Jess Goulart

Photo courtesy of Sarah Bellam.

A recent YouTube video sensation shows a herd of dolphins getting high off a pufferfish. These thrill-seeking marine mammals get their fix by chewing gently on the spiky animal to absorb the toxins released by its skin before letting it go, unharmed.

Don’t believe it? See for yourself…

The footage first aired in the documentary, “Dolphin: Spy The Pod.” Rob Pilley, a zoologist and producer of the film, told the British Sunday Times that it “was a case of young dolphins purposely experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating… After chewing the puffer gently and passing it round, they began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection.”

Expert opinions about the credibility of the research vary, as some scientists say they have yet to observe the behavior in the wild, but that it’s a possibility.

That’s probably because dolphins are certainly not the only animals suspected of getting high. For instance, many well-documented cases exist of elephants boozing it up on rice beer, wine, and mahua, a sweet drink made from Mahua tree flowers. They can turn into violent drunks, too. In 2012, intoxicated elephants tore through a village in India, inflicting massive damage in their search for more hooch. A few years before that, there was another Indian village where six elephants stormed in, ransacked it, gulped down massive amounts of beer, and accidentally electrocuted themselves on an uprooted utility pole. Really puts last Saturday night into perspective, right?

Ranchers are warned to look out for locoweed, a naturally occurring weed and mild hallucinogen that horses adore. Unfortunately, it’s also fatal to them, annually claiming about $300 million in livestock deaths. Signs of locoweed consumption include loss of coordination, odd or erratic behavior, and big smiles as the horses slowly die.

Oh, there’s more.

According to a study published in the Pharmaceutical Journal by scientist Andrew Haynes, reindeer purposely seek out poisonous mushrooms to trip. Why? Well, to combat seasonal depression disorder resulting from the bleak life they lead on the white, frozen tundra of the North Pole.

Some animals have found additional benefits from their favorite vices. Capuchin monkeys purposely seek out poisonous millipedes and rub them over their bodies, absorbing toxins that not only act as a natural insect repellent but also give them a nice buzz. These smart little monkeys use plants and other insects to treat illnesses. As a result of this discovery and others like it, zoopharmacognosy, the study of self-medicating animals, is a rapidly growing field.

Ignoring for a moment the shoddy credibility of some of the research here, by sheer volume of reports and the rule of probability, it’s a safe bet that at least a few examples of animal drug usage are legit. It’s also worth noting that the animals suspected of drug use are the most intelligent, socially sophisticated of their kingdom. All of them exhibit complex community units comprised of meaningful relationships. It would appear that, in the same way we use drugs as an escape from environmental stressors, they do too.

So what can we learn from our furry friends regarding drug use? First, given that animals are self-aware enough to purposefully alter their state of consciousness, behavioral theories claiming they have none are inaccurate. As further proof their minds are more complex than we once thought, research suggests that cetaceans (dolphins, whales, and porpoises) exhibit the one trait we have historically used to delineate human intelligence from other animals: the ability to communicate. There are even reports of researchers at The Wild Dolphins Project designing a medium that would allow humans to understand and perhaps speak to dolphins. I just hope their first words aren’t, “So long, and thanks for all the pufferfish.”

Second, it may be a natural animal instinct to alter one’s consciousness. A greater understanding of that instinct could revolutionize the way we culturally perceive drug use and help in encouraging safe substance exploration and the prevention or treatment of addiction.

In his book Animals and Psychedelics, Giorgio Samorini points out that, “The drug problem in modern society is not so much due to the existence of drugs or the natural impulse to take them as to the deculturalization of the human approach to them. To ensure that human drug use does not debase itself and become ‘bestial,’ it is important that it, like all other human behaviors, be mediated by appropriate cultural understanding and knowledge.” (Samorini 2002, 87)

With the spreading legalization of marijuana, the growing prevalence of strong hallucinogens like DMT, and the age for drug experimentation getting younger and younger, understanding the need to alter consciousness as naturally occurring is paramount to our evolving culture of substance use.

Just ask these guys…