What Else Makes Us Human?
Drug Use in the Animal Kingdom

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Whilst writing the series on “What Makes Us Human?”, I started thinking about less obvious, less traditional ideas of what traits are truly human, and human alone. One characteristic occurred to me that seemed obviously to be unique to humans: recreational drug use. It seemed implausible that animals in the wild were indulging in drug abuse purely for their own entertainment, and I wondered if this could give some perspective on what it means to be human. But, as it turns out, I was wrong.

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One comment on “What Else Makes Us Human?
Drug Use in the Animal Kingdom

  1. The Truth Behind the Myths:

    When writing this article I was able to find a huge variety of weird and wonderful drug-seeking behaviour, apparently observed in across the animal kingdom. Being a scientist, though, I took this with a pinch of salt and decided to check the examples I wanted to use were actually true. Even I was surprised by how few of the numerous examples, many of which appear repeatedly across the internet, actually have no (or nothing that I can find!) accompanying peer-reviewed journal article to back it up. Most information that is readily available on the web about what animals take what drugs and when is based on folk law and anecdotal reports from remote tribal villages. Instead of remove all the examples from my article, however, I simply underlined the ones for which we have proof. Most of these corroborate the use of medicinal plants by a range of animals. This, at least in part, probably reflects a bias in what science is being done, and being funded. It may well be that some of the examples that come from legend and folk law are true – the absense of support in the literature is merely a reflection of the lack of scientific effort being put into testing the theories. So, we certainly have some definitive proof that animals are taking drugs, but not nerely as much as many people would have you believe.

    One particularly pervasive story comes not only without any empirical support, but also with a pretty damning article against it. I am sad to say, elephants apparently DO NOT get drunk. If anyone can find evidence to the contrary, I would love to see it. I’ve searched high and low.

    Finally, I was unable to verify the reindeer/fly agaric story, which I have been aware of for years now and is a particular favourite. If anyone finds and proof that this is true, then please send it to me! I will be a very happy meerkat.

    Morris, Humphreys and Reynolds (2006) Myth, Marula and Elephant: An Assessment of voluntary ethanol intoxication of the African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana) following feeding on the fruit of the Marula Tree (Sclerocarya birrea). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 79 (2) 363 – 369 http://www.bio.bris.ac.uk/research/morlab/Morris%20et%20al%20%5BPBZ%5D%202006.pdf

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