The Mind-Expansion of Creatures Like Cats and Cows and Spiders

Catnip, nicotine, booze, pufferfish, poppies, magic mushrooms, and cannabis.

Big cats, apes, elephants, dolphins, wallabies, reindeer, cows, and humankind. Even arachnids.

Some animals just like revelry. Maybe others have innate knowledge that a plant or substance therein is useful for them. Perhaps, like us, they’ve passed it down through ancestral generations. Regardless of the rationale, terrestrial and aquatic animals enjoy mind-altering substances.

The American psychopharmacologist Robert Seigel said, “almost every species of animal has engaged in the natural pursuit of intoxicants.” He reported in his book Intoxication: The Universal Drive for Mind-Altering Substances, that “Birds gorge themselves on inebriating berries, then fly with reckless abandon. Cats eagerly sniff aromatic ‘pleasure’ plants, then play with imaginary objects.” And apparently, captive monkeys have been smoking cigarettes since 1635.

A perplexing 1998 study reported that 5 cows ate approximately 77 lbs of cannabis due to a mistake by the farmer. [1] It turns out that the farmer mistook 10 bales of dried cannabis leaves for hay. Four of the cows died within three days. Apparently, the farmer had deemed this “hay” unfit for animal consumption, so he tossed it into a paddock where the five cows resided. They were already unhealthy animals and weren’t being provided much to eat.

Not only did the cows eat the cannabis leaves, but they also ate the plastic bags holding it. Of the four deceased cows, the postmortem evaluation of three was impeded by advanced stages of postmortem autolysis where cells start to breakdown and self-digestion occurs. Of those three, toxicological examination revealed delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in one calf and one adult. The author concluded that the cows died from “marijuana poisoning,” which seems a little suspect, since only 2 of 4 dead cows contained THC. Also, the cows ate leaves, which are not known to have high levels of THC compared to cannabis flowers. Additionally, the quantified THC represents total THC since gas chromatography was used, which decarboxylates acidic cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). So, the ingested molecule would have been THCA and likely very tiny amounts of THC, if any, which becomes important when assessing molecular toxicity.

In 2016, flock of sheep ran amok after eating cannabis plants in Wales. And in 2017, New Zealand police found a couple of cows chewing cannabis plants. So, livestock seem to like cannabis.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration conducted a study to evaluate the effects of different mind-altering substances, like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or cannabis, on spiders. They did this to evaluate substance toxicity based upon the patterns of the webs. Caffeine produced erratic webs; those made after ingesting cannabis seemed to start out right but were abandoned. Perhaps the spider found something better to do. Webs designed on LSD looked normal but were broader in size.

We are rekindling our relationship with cannabis, psychedelics, and a host of other medicinal plants. While we once knew of their power, human concepts like lobbying, politics, religion, racism, or money intervened. Were there truncations in the usage of such natural chemicals in the evolutionary course of the animal kingdom? Probably not.

The take-home message is that many earthly creatures can benefit from substances like cannabis. While we may be unable to verbally communicate with other creatures to hear firsthand why they have chosen these substances, given the similarity of genetic codes, would their rationale really be expected to be vastly different from our own? In the words of Robert Siegel, “We share the same motivation to light up our lives with chemical glimpses of another world.”


[1] Driemeier, D. “Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) Toxicosis in Cattle.” Veterinary and Human Toxicology, vol. 39, no. 6, 1997, p. 351-2. Times Cited = 4

Image Credit: Cracked, Georgia Straight, Science Alert

About the author

Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.

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