No, Coyotes Don't Get High—But These Animals Do
Hallucinogenic mushrooms and catnip, a type of mint, may have mind-altering effects on wild animals, too.
In February, people started calling Lisa Bloch, communications director for the Marin County Humane Society, with some weird observations: Coyotes were attacking cars in the suburb north of San Francisco.
At first, Bloch thought the animals might be suffering from rabies, but as the calls continued to trickle in, she knew it couldn’t be the feared neurological disease. If it were, the coyotes would have long since died. (Related: "Do Animals Get Drunk?")
Then, someone suggested that perhaps the coyotes had eaten some hallucinogenic wild mushrooms. Given that Marin County is known for what Bloch calls “a liberal attitude towards psychedelic substances,” the hypothesis seemed plausible.
Though the theory quickly caught the public’s attention, it's almost certainly untrue.
“It’s likely someone had fed the animals from a car, and when other motorists didn’t feed them, the coyotes got angry and attacked,” she said.
Although California's coyotes haven't been dropping acid, other wild animals have been known to get high.
In Siberia, reindeer (the animal North Americans call caribou) are common—and so is the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria.
Biologists have documented reindeer getting high enough to fly Santa’s sleigh, causing them to act almost as if drunk, running around aimlessly, making strange noises, and twitching their heads.
In fact, a few researchers have argued that the combination of reindeer and hallucinogenic mushrooms is the origin for the Santa story.
Poppy farmers on the Australian island of Tasmania have reported wallabies entering their fields to consume the plants, which are grown as the raw materials for prescription painkillers. Reports did not specify which species of wallaby was indulging its green thumb. (Also see "Why Backyard Birds Are Getting Drunk on Fermented Berries.")
After eating the poppies, the small, kangaroo-like animals would run around in circles before finally passing out, according to a BBC report.
However, scientists have not confirmed this behavior.
In 1995, marine biologist Lisa Steiner was observing a school of rough-toothed dolphins near the Azores (map) when she noticed a few of them pushing around an inflated pufferfish.
Odd behavior, given that pufferfish produce tetrodotoxin, one of the most toxic and lethal substances known on Earth.
Steiner hypothesized in a 1995 research paper that the dolphins were consuming minute amounts of tetrodotoxin to get high.
Garfield had his lasagna, but most house cats prefer the effects of catnip (Nepeta cataria).
A member of the mint family, the catnip plant produces an intoxicating chemical called nepetalactone, which, when inhaled or ingested, causes reactions such as anxiety, hyperactivity, sleepiness, and drooling.
And it’s not just Fluffy that feels the effect of catnip: Lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, and lynxes also respond to catnip, which grows in the wild worldwide. The effect is harmless and generally wears off after about 15 minutes.
Colorado State University emergency vet Tim Hackett sees lots of dogs who have accidentally consumed illicit drugs (or, in the case of marijuana, formerly illicit drugs).
Most of the time, he says, dogs aren’t trying to get high—they just get into food or other items that their humans have left out. (See "'Drunk' Bats Fly Right—Study Surprises Scientists.")
“If they see a platter of brownies, they aren’t going to stop at just one. They’re going to eat until everything is gone,” Hackett says.
The chocolate, butter, and oil in pot brownies, which induce vomiting, are more dangerous to a dog than the drug. But the added marijuana can weaken canines' head muscles and cause them to choke on their vomit.
Hackett is interested in the potential therapeutic properties of marijuana for dogs, but since they seem to metabolize the drug much more slowly than humans, giving Fido a blunt is decidedly not a good idea.
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