Author and neuroscientist David Linden’s book on animals getting stoned in the wild by eating naturally occurring psychoactive substances on purpose, The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good, was recently released by Viking Books. From the book’s website:
Animals in the wild will also voluntarily and repeatedly consume psychoactive plants and fungi…
But do we really know whether these animals like the psychoactive effects of the drug, or are they just willing to put up with them as a side effect of consuming a valuable food source? After all, fermented fruit is a tasty and nutritious meal. While it’s hard to dissociate these motivations in animals, many cases suggest that the psychoactive effect is the primary motivator for consumption. Often, only a tiny amount of plant or fungus is consumed, so while its nutritional effect is minuscule its psychoactive effect is large.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of nonnutritive animal intoxication is found among domesticated reindeer. The Chuckchee people of Siberia, who are reindeer herders, consume the bright red hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria as a ritual sacrament. Their reindeer also indulge. Having discovered the mushrooms growing wild under the birch trees, they gobble them up and then stagger around in a disoriented state, twitching their heads repeatedly as they wander off from the rest of the herd for hours at a time.
Heh. Aside from anecdotes and examination of animals getting totally fucked up on shrooms in the wild, the theme of interaction between pleasure, addiction and the human brain is explored throughout The Compass of Pleasure. Released last month, it currently ranks #81 in Amazon’s top 100 books.