Drug use is not what we have been taught it is – and there is a very different story waiting for us, when we are ready to hear it.
While many of us have assumed for years that humans are unique in their use of addictive drugs, it turns out we have a lot to learn from the animal kingdom.
Not only are we not alone but, much like the human experience, animals will gravitate towards mind-altering substances when faced with circumstances causing feelings of shock, loss, or depression.[excerpt]
Why animals eat psychoactive plants
Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, learns about drunk elephants, the stoned water buffalo, and the grieving mongoose.
The United Nations says the drug war’s rationale is to build “a drug-free world — we can do it!” U.S. government officials agree, stressing that “there is no such thing as recreational drug use.” So this isn’t a war to stop addiction, like that in my family, or teenage drug use. It is a war to stop drug use among all humans, everywhere. All these prohibited chemicals need to be rounded up and removed from the earth. That is what we are fighting for.
I began to see this goal differently after I learned the story of the drunk elephants, the stoned water buffalo, and the grieving mongoose. They were all taught to me by a remarkable scientist in Los Angeles named Professor Ronald K. Siegel.
The tropical storm in Hawaii had reduced the mongoose’s home to a mess of mud, and lying there, amid the dirt and the water, was the mongoose’s mate — dead. Professor Siegel, a silver-haired official adviser to two U.S. presidents and to the World Health Organization, was watching this scene. The mongoose found the corpse, and it made a decision: it wanted to get out of its mind.
Two months before, the professor had planted a powerful hallucinogen called silver morning glory in the pen. The mongooses had all tried it, but they didn’t seem to like it: they stumbled around disoriented for a few hours and had stayed away from it ever since. But not now. Stricken with grief, the mongoose began to chew. Before long, it had tuned in and dropped out.
It turns out this wasn’t a freak occurrence in the animal kingdom. It is routine. As a young scientific researcher, Siegel had been confidently told by his supervisor that humans were the only species that seek out drugs to use for their own pleasure. But Siegel had seen cats lunging at catnip — which, he knew, contains chemicals that mimic the pheromones in a male tomcat’s pee —so, he wondered, could his supervisor really be right? Given the number of species in the world, aren’t there others who want to get high, or stoned, or drunk?