Animal Play Behavior

When I was writing The Cartoon Guide to Recreational Drugs I scoured the local libraries and bookstores looking for useful and interesting historical works. Animal Play Behavior is one of my sources.

The parts I generally took notes from were either about the drugs themselves or the prohibition of drugs. You’ll find the information garnered from these books throughout the Prohibition Politics section of this site. It will also have informed some of my own postings stored in the older Prohibition Politics archive.

If you find this information useful, you will want to search out the books themselves to read the text in context. All of the books here are at least moderately interesting.


Robert Fagen’s work is a fascinating survey of anecdotes and studies regarding the desire for animals to alter their consciousness.

In a chapter on drug use, he points out that humans are “the champion drug users of the animal kingdom” and then asks, in an aside, “is this evolutionary progress?” Perhaps it is. Children from a young age use play to cause drug-like effects in themselves. There are similar questions in Ronald K. Siegel’s work.

p. 490

“(3) Play motivation and drug use: Is there a possible relationship? Evidence for existence of play pheromones has been reviewed (Chapter 7). Elephants appear to enjoy the effects of ingesting fermented plant matter (Leyhausen 1973a, Sikes 1971), as do dairy cattle (J. Fagen pers. comm.). Catnip and other plants contain substances that may mimic felid reproductive pheromones (Leyhausen 1973a, Todd 1963). The felid catnip response includes rolling and rubbing, behaviors used in courtship and in soliciting play; catnip also heightens responsiveness to moving or movable objects, “making cats playful” (as advertised). However, evidence to date suggests that humans are the champion drug users of the animal kingdom. Is this evolutionary progress?

‘Does continuance of human motivation for play into the competitive environment of adulthood help explain the tendency of certain humans in certain environments to use mood-changing drugs (including alcohol)? Do such drugs make humans playful? Perhaps someone will pursue this idea to interesting and socially relevant ends.”

Leyhausen, P. 1973a. Addictive behavior in free-ranging animals. Bayer Symposium IV, Psychic Dependence: 58-64.

Sikes, S. K. 1971. Natural history of the African elephant. American Elsevier, N.Y.

Todd, N. B. 1963. The catnip response. Ph.D. diss., Harvard University.