Apes Were The First
To Get High On Drugs
By Roger Highfield
The Telegraph - London
Human beings were not the first to use recreational drugs.
Some apes take stimulants and hallucinogens, sometimes munching roots that now show promise in treating human addicts, say scientists.
Prof Michael Huffman of the Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University and Don Cousins, author of The Magnificent Gorilla, report in a forthcoming issue of the journal African Study Monographs that apes may indulge in drugs - from a pick-me-up of the kind found in coffee to hallucinogens.
Earlier work in the journal Bioscience by Prof Huffman suggested that the practice of medicine began with our hairy ancestors: some chimps swallow bristly, rough leaves to sweep parasites out of the gut, while others suck the bitter pith from the tree Vernonia amygdalina, which contains compounds active against parasites responsible for malaria and dysentery.
Now it seems that apes may use drugs recreationally. African apes eat the seeds of Kola trees which contain caffeine and theobromine, and are legendary for their effect in preventing fatigue. They found that two hallucinogenic plants are ingested by gorillas in Equatorial Guinea and chimpanzees in the Republic of Guinea: Alchornea floribunda and A. cordifolia (Euphorbiaceae).
A. floribunda is used in Gabonese cults where the root has a reputation as an intoxicant and aphrodisiac. It is said to provide a state of intense excitement followed by a deep, sometimes fatal depression. Most intriguing, said Prof Huffman, is how local people claim to have discovered the intoxicating effects of the plant by watching animals, including gorillas, go into a frenzy of fear, as if being chased by invisible objects, after eating the roots.
The apes even resort to a drugs detox. The Tabernan the iboga root has been exploited by gorillas of Sindara on the Ngounie river, South of Lambarene.
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