Animals and Psychedelics: The Natural World and the Instinct to Alter Consciousness
Inner Traditions, 2002
I had heard good things about this book, which apparently is pretty well unique in its field (not a surprise there). It’s really more of a long academic paper in paperback book format, but it’s worth the read.
The first part of the book is dedicated to defining what a drug is and what its inherent functions are. He also introduces us to the basic idea of animals deliberately seeking out specific plants (even carnivorous animals) to meet certain ends beyond nutrition–to aid in healing, or to alter the state of consciousness the animals are in.
The bulk of the book is composed of specific examples of animals drugging themselves. More well-known examples, such as cats getting high on catnip, or elephants seeking both natural and manmade alcohol, are cited. However, Samorini also discusses California robins gorging themselves on holly berries, caribou and reindeer devouring Amanita muscaria, and drunken slugs. It would seem that drug-induced altered states are found from insects to mammals, from the Arctic to the savannah, and are definitely not limited to the human animal.
The final chapter is where the author really shows off his ideas. These can be summarized thus: that animals do, indeed, intentionally drug themselves, and that the resultant altered states of consciousness are a part of evolution. While I agree with the first half of this, there’s much evidence lacking in the second. We have yet to show a definite connection between animal intoxication, and the changes in a species’ behavior, which he postulates. However, in Samorini’s defense, this is such a niche area of research that only has a handful of people studying it that this particular book is pretty much the first one to focus exclusively on it, or so he says. I’m inclined to agree, as it’s the only book I know of either on the topic or–for that matter–by this author.
Overall, I really enjoyed this brief but good read. While the final evidence isn’t complete, this is understandable in light of the limited research available. However, it is a groundbreaking text, IMO, in the area of chemognosis, as it supports the idea that seeking altered states through drugs is natural, rather than an unhealthy human compulsion that inevitably leads to ruin. The inclusion of cases of animals being addicted to alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, right along with marijuana, datura and psilocybin mushrooms, is also useful for showing that intoxication doesn’t discriminate on the basis of human choices.
Four and a half pawprints out of five.