Animals and Psychedelics by Giorgio Samorini
Originally published in Italy in 2000 under the title ‘Animali che si Drogano’, this English Translation of Giorgio Samorini’s ‘Animals and Psychedelics: The Natural World and the Instinct to Alter Consciousness’ was published by Park Street Press in 2002. The author is an ethnobotonist, ethnomycologist and the editor-in-chief of the scientific journal ‘Eleusis, Plants and Psychoactive Compounds’.
In the introduction the author tells us that the connection between animals and inebriation is a hugely under-researched field. Samorini cites Ronald K. Siegal’s Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise (1989) as being an important precursor because Siegal observed and researched the connection in both the laboratory and the field. According to Samorini: “[W]hat I am try to draw attention to here—natural and intentional behaviour interpretable as drug use in the animal world—is something that is, even now, underestimated, for the most part accorded little value or at the least interpreted in some other way” (Samorini 2002, 16). Understood in this way, one can see then that the object of the text is two-fold. Not only does it seek to compile researches on voluntary animal intoxication in the wild, but by doing so it must begin to formulate a theory that relates the various instances described.
If we observe a goat eat the inebriant beans of the mescal plant and afterward tremble, fall down, and rise up again later, we might well consider the goat to have undergone an accidental intoxication by a psychoactive drugs. But when we observe the same goat return time and again to eat those same beans, manifesting identical symptoms of inebriation each and every time, it must make us suspect an intentional behaviour… (Samorini 2002, 11)
Among the topics of discussion in the book are: Crazed Cows who munch on crazy grass, varieties of which can be found around the globe, and which leads to addictive behavior; elephants and snails seeking out alcohol; Robins binging until “blatantly drunk” on the berries of the California holly; the Manduca quinquemaculata moth living on a diet of Datura meteloides nectar, becoming clumsy, slow and awkward; and, of course, the Fly agaric (Amanita Muscaria) loving reindeer. Natural intentional use is apparently the norm.
Interestingly, the effect of human intervention is taken note of by Samorini. Take cats and catnip (Nepeta cataria) for example, where domestic cats are “losing the capacity” to feel the effects of the drugs. While extremist prohibitionists might see this as a good thing, Samorini cites a study showing how there is just as much happiness and health in catnip loving cats as non-catnip using ones: “Offering your own beloved cats a cat herb means giving them the chance for a relationship with their own ancestral plant” (Samorini 2002, 37). A question of cognitive liberty perhaps? The range of creatures that are covered in Animals and Psychedelics is both fascinating and, strangely, reassuring. When understood alongside the multitude of prohibitionist laws surrounding human use, a great lie is exposed so far as the use of intoxicants is not some degraded behavior, nor morally debased, but is, in fact, a relatively standard natural phenomenon.
The drug problem in modern society is not so much due to the existence of drugs or the natural impulse to take them as to the deculturalization of the human approach to them. To ensure that human drug use does not debase itself and become “bestial,” it is important that it, like all other human behaviors, be mediated by appropriate cultural understanding and knowledge (Samorini 2002, 87)
In conclusion, Giorgio Samorini’s text is a beautiful little object. Not only is the information that it contains fascinating, but also pitched at a level that is very engaging and thought-provoking. The question of intentionality and the natural inclination toward intoxication is neatly crafted together and explored, and gives the impression that this field of study is well worth further investigation by researchers.