Why Do Humans Like to Get High?

Why Do Humans Like to Get High?


This episode of SciShow is sponsored by Brilliant. Go to Brilliant.com/SciShow to learn more. {♫Intro♫} There are all kinds of anecdotal cases of
animals getting stoned or tipsy—like, the ones we talked about in our list show
of high animals. But as we noted for the dolphins getting high on pufferfish or the elephants having a nightcap of marula fruit, pretty much every case we’ve examined closely has found that there isn’t any evidence that these animals consume mind-altering substances
because they feel good to them. Which ultimately makes it appear that the
fondness for psychoactive drugs is, pretty…human. And it raises questions about why. What is it about humans that makes us so attracted
to these substances? Totally upfront here, we don’t have a solid answer to that question. If that’s what you’re looking for, you
can go watch videos where they say things without knowing them
for sure. The internet’s full of them. You might think we do. You might have heard that these drugs hijack our mental reward systems, so obviously,
we seek them out because our brains have this inherent weakness for them. But some scientists have pointed out that
that whole idea doesn’t hold up as well as you might think. And by digging deeper into how our closest
relatives and our laboratory proxies interact with mind-altering substances, we can get
a better understanding of what might really be setting us apart. The simple answer to why humans like drugs
appears to be quite obvious: they feel good. In neurological terms, that means that they
activate the parts of our brain that signal rewarding experiences. And this seems pretty clear when you look
at drug use in lab animals. Mice and rats are used to model many human
illnesses, so it makes sense that they’ve been used to study why humans seek out drugs,
too. And we know that they can become addicted
to almost anything: nicotine, alcohol, cocaine… you name it. Left to their own devices, rodents will often
self-administer drugs until they become very intoxicated or even overdose. This has allowed scientists to study the genetic
basis and brain chemistry of drug-seeking behaviors, as well as test ways of treating
addictions. And such research seems to support the idea
that drugs are just really good at hijacking mammalian brains. But these studies don’t actually confirm
that non-human animals would do drugs under normal circumstances, or that they are something
the animals enjoy. You see, the whole setup is pretty artificial. In many cases, researchers use what are called
self-administration models, where the animals end up at least somewhat controlling how much
of the drug they get. But to convince lab animals to take the drugs
in the first place, researchers do all kinds of strange things—like starve them. That’s all well and good if you want to
get a rat hooked on something so you can see what happens to their body or brain when they
are. But they aren’t seeking that drug because
they like it—they’re motivated by a real biological need like hunger. Or the animals may be put in a situation where
they’re so bored that doing anything seems better than nothing. And that might be why all you have to do to
disrupt their drug-seeking behavior is to make their environment more ecologically realistic. Lab animals often reduce their drug use or
even lose their addiction when you make their lives more interesting—like, if you give
them friends to hang out with or place toys or running wheels in their cages. If these animals were truly seeking the drugs
for the feeling of being high, or the drug’s effects were powerfully rewarding on a neurological
level, it shouldn’t be so easy for them to just say no. Of course, as we often say here on SciShow,
mice and rats aren’t people. Neither are apes and monkeys, but they are
at least primates and therefore a lot more closely related to us, so they might give
us more insight into why humans seek out highs. And there are cases of other primates that
choose to intoxicate themselves—like, on the island of Saint Kitts in the Caribbean. There, vervet monkeys are infamous for stealing
tourists’ cocktails almost right out of their hands. This has become a bit of a joke, but the monkeys
actually inspired a series of scientific studies beginning in the late 1980s. One found that seventeen percent of Caribbean
monkeys brought into the lab preferred a mix of alcohol and sugar water over a drink of
just sugar water. And it seemed like the drunk monkeys were
behaving pretty much like drunk people—falling off of perches, getting cozy with other monkeys,
or just sitting alone with a bottle in the corner. But, we can’t really tell from early experiments
like this what’s motivating the monkeys to drink. While they eagerly consumed booze, it seems
unlikely they were seeking out alcohol for its intoxicating effects. Some scientists
think that, instead, they may have fallen into an evolutionary trap. That’s where a trait that was useful for
the survival of a species is now harmful instead. See, the taste and smell of alcohol may be
similar to ripe fruit, which is more likely to contain a lot of sugar and, therefore,
calories. And when there’s lots of competition from
other fruit-eaters, and relatively little fruit, those monkeys want to make sure they
get as many calories as they can per bite to ensure they get the nutrients they need. So the monkeys may have thought the presence
of alcohol indicated a high-quality food. In fact, when the Saint Kitts monkeys were
first brought to the island around three hundred years ago, they were often seen feasting on
sugar cane, particularly the fermenting kind that contained alcohol. Seeking out that tasty, sweet treat might
have later led to going for drinks that smelled or tasted similar, like a tourist’s fruity
cocktail. But, the cocktails aren’t great for the
monkeys nutritionally-speaking. Also, that is true for the tourists. But getting drunk
puts the monkeys in risk of harm in all sorts of ways. So an evolved attraction to booze that was
meant to help them survive may have turned on them when stronger doses of alcohol became
available. Then, they simply weren’t able to learn that the booze is harmful. But, it’s also important to note that only
17% of those monkeys preferred the alcoholic beverage. So even if an evolutionary trap
explains their preference, it’s not a trap all of them are falling into. There are other primates that consume alcohol
which we can consider—like the group of chimpanzees in Guinea that regularly steals
fermenting raffia palm sap. But the chimps in question don’t really
help us figure out if primates are prone to this kind of evolutionary trap, because they
live in an area where people have all but destroyed their habitat and natural food sources. If humans weren’t destroying these animal’s
homes and providing concentrated alcohol, the animals might not go for the calorie-laden
liquid. In fact, in lab studies, most chimps prefer
non-alcoholic fruits over fermented ones, which isn’t what you would expect if drinking
was something universally enjoyable to them or they had evolved to associate alcohol with
better food sources. Now, it’s possible humans have fallen into
an evolutionary trap of some kind when it comes to psychoactive drugs. But the prevailing hypothesis isn’t that
they were once a signal of something good, and have since become bad for us—it’s
that they trick our brains’ into making us think they are awesome for us, even though
they aren’t and never have been. The basic idea is that the neurological pathways
we use to evaluate things that are good for us developed in the absence of psychoactive
substances. You see, our brains’ reward system is supposed
to identify things we need to survive—like food—and when it activates, it can either
block or overwhelm feelings that tell us something is bad, like pain. It’s possible drugs just so happen to trigger
this system even though they aren’t something we need to survive. And if, evolutionarily speaking, they’re
a new thing, then we wouldn’t have had time to evolve countermeasures so that we don’t
get fooled. But that idea doesn’t hold up as well as
you might think. It’s not clear when this magical time was
where these substances weren’t around, for example. The entire lineage of humans—the hominins—evolved
enzymes to detoxify alcohol some ten million years ago. It would be pretty weird for that trait to
have just evolved if we weren’t regularly being exposed to booze. And the main group of enzymes that we use
to neutralize plant toxins date back even further. Cytochrome P450 haemoproteins have been detoxifying
the compounds found in plants like tobacco and coca for us and our other animal kin for
about four hundred million years. And, really, it doesn’t make sense that
these chemicals would accidentally affect our brains so positively anyway. Plants produce things like nicotine, morphine,
and cocaine to be toxic and stop us and other plant-eaters from consuming them. Some scientists have pointed out that it doesn’t
really make sense for toxins meant to fend off creatures like us to accidentally encourage
significant consumption instead. Scientists refer to this evolutionary mismatch
as the paradox of drug reward. One intriguing explanation for this paradox
is that the triggering of reward systems isn’t accidental at all—we’ve actually evolved
to find them rewarding because they have medicinal value. See, popular drugs like caffeine or nicotine
do what the plant evolved them to do: they harm animals. And there are cases where we want to harm
animals inside us—specifically, parasites. And we see evidence for this idea in human
studies. For example, a study of the Aka, Indigenous people of the Congo Basin, found
that men who smoked more tobacco had a lower parasite burden, and they were less likely
to be reinfected with a parasite one year later. Many other psychoactive drugs also have antiparasitic
effects. If eating these plants helped us survive in
the past by getting rid of nasties inside us, our brains could have evolved to reward
us for eating them. Or, our affinity for mind-altering substances
could somehow stem from our minds. Basically, some researchers suggest that there
are complex social or psychological benefits to psychoactive substances and that those
are what drive our attraction to them. So, it’s not that the drugs “hijack”
our brains… it’s that our brains exploit drugs to maximize their benefits and downplay
their costs. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, for example.
That’s why people call it “liquid courage”. And if, say, you became more talkative at
a party the first time you drank alcohol, then even if you felt physically terrible,
the reward you got from the social behavior might have made the overall experience a positive
one. There could also be psychological benefits
to drugs. Like, cocaine might give you a temporary cognitive boost. If the reasons we find drugs rewarding are
social or psychological, then it wouldn’t be so surprising if they were unique to humans. After all, our socialness and cognitive abilities
are somewhat extreme when compared with our fellow animals. And we might be uniquely capable of learning
how to use psychoactive substances to our advantage, and not to our detriment. But that’s a hard hypothesis to test, in
part because it’s just really hard to study the motivations of animals that can’t tell
you what they’re feeling or thinking. The bulk of research on animals and drugs
is to understand the mechanisms of addiction. Which makes sense, because it’s a big public
health problem. And to be clear, none of these hypotheses
about why we started using psychoactive substances really speak to that side of drugs. The neurological basis of addiction—like,
that the over-use of substances which trigger the reward system can lead to a chemical dependence
on them—holds whether that reward is an accident of evolution or not. Which is why models like rats and mice are
still useful because if you want to study the biology of addiction, it doesn’t really
matter how the animals get hooked, just that they are. But if you want to know if there are other
animals that truly enjoy being high, rodents can’t tell you much. Even studying non-human primates has ultimately
left us with more questions than answers. In the end, we don’t really know why our species is so enamored with mind-altering things. But the more we look into it, the more we
learn about our complex relationship with psychoactive substances—and the closer we
get to some real answers. It’s going to take a lot of research and
problem-solving to get to the bottom of this. And if that sounds like your cup of tea, you
might want to check Brilliant’s Daily Challenges. Every day, Brilliant releases new challenge
questions that cover fields from computer science to statistics. Recently, for example,
they had one about how to win at Twenty Questions. Which is my kind of challenge. You can access the Daily Challenges for free,
but if you sign up to become a Premium member, you’ll get access to the whole archive.
So whether you’re chilling on the bus home from or just want to brush up on your skills,
you’ll have plenty of content. Also, if you really like a challenge and want
to learn more about the subject, there’s a related course that explores the same concept
in greater detail. You can learn more about Brilliant.org/SciShow.
And if you’re one of the first two hundred people to sign up there, you’ll get twenty
percent off an annual premium subscription. {♫Outro♫}

100 thoughts on “Why Do Humans Like to Get High?

  • Go to http://Brilliant.org/SciShow to try their 60+ courses in math, computer science, and scientific thinking. The first 200 subscribers get 20% off an annual Premium subscription.

  • I can tell you as soon as you have a healthy respect for the body and start to associate it more as a "body temple" rather than a simple meat suit then you will not even notice alcohol or drugs you will be more interested in cool things like sci show !!

  • 3:08
    wow, he just told how to beat the war on drugs.
    and the gov only took decades to not even come close. oh wait a minute, they are funding the cartels

  • it's because human sapiens is the only intellectually developed enough species to understand how miserable life is
    dolphins are close second

  • For me it’s because I want to explore, I don’t care about feeling good, I care about the experience… learning from it. I wouldn’t do drugs to escape but to explore, think of it like this… you have a door in front of you with no clue what’s behind it, but you know what’s outside of that door and thats reality, I don’t go past the door to get out of the outside or reality but instead to see what’s behind the door

  • our intestines are not the same as the monkeys also. They might not like fermented stuff, but our acestours would fement food all the time to conserve them and that would make good bacteria profile to a non edible food. Like we can't digest fiber, so our intestine rely on good bacteria to do so. Mnkeys can digest their fiber cause they have the enzymes to do so. We don't have that. And eating fermented vegetables would help with oxalates. I think we like fermented stuff cause of ancestors lived on it for most of our existance and it helps our digestion, has nutritional value and all of that makes us feel good. But alcohol doesn't have any of that, so it just gives us the sensation of getting that without actually being good for us. Idk why we seek the high feeling but my guess is that it is associated with whatever fermented stuff we used to eat that make us feel really good. I think this is true just cause high meat is a thing and if you just keep meat in a bottle it will taste good and make you high

  • Because we built a life of boredom in our jobs and daily lives. Work, work, work. Boring jobs and boring home lives. Drugs cure boredom, anything to kill the routine of life.

  • Maybe some sort of psycho active substance helped us evolve and that made us evolve to seek them out
    Stoned ape theory anyone?

  • I live in the uk cannabis is illegle but i have noticed it helps balance my mentle health that olanzipine and mitazapine

  • You know the research I would love to see is stopping the bulk of american society from spending and shopping on unnecessary merchandise. Now that would be some serious "withdrawal" symptoms to witness!!

  • Doesn't really matter why. The Ego may make us feel guilty about it or cause others to judge people that do drugs. Get over it. It's been happening for 1000s of years and is not going to stop any time soon. Live in the now.

  • plants evolved to have their seeds spread beyond their local realm on water, air and on animals. a kind of symbiosis at it basic form. hand in hand even after man. we will crack your sidewalks and crumble your tarmac you smug bastards. hahahahaha. hello, ergot rye, peyote and St.Peter. food of refugees and death marches. to all saints; skin 'em alive
    Signed Barthol.

  • I can't speak for other drugs but weed allows me to view my beliefs and preconceptions from a different angle. The longer I wait before I decide to smoke again the stronger this effect is. It allows me to be aware of the lies I tell myself. At least, some of them.

  • How can you say there’s no evidence proven animals use mind altering drugs because they feel good??
    Have you watched animals while/during usage?? They look to be enjoying themselves very much, in fact dolphins get very excited when they come across a puffer and alert the pod..so I disagree, they enjoy the sensation however new research shows there are amazing bacteria in psycho Active drugs so there could be 2 uses..

  • well…as well as fruit provide transport of seeds, reward triggering substances could have same role…to ensure survival

  • Animal: im hungry let's eat those alcoholic fruit. Wow, its not just heal our hunger but give us high feel
    Human: i have 100 Bucks to buy food for a week, but let's buy a botle of Vodka to get high forget about what would we eat tomorrow

    So animal more logic than most human i think

  • Personally, I wasn't ever attracted to drinking alcohol. It is more of a cultural thing, so I may drink it 5-6 times in a year, usually during parties or celebrations.

  • Humans realized that fermented things could alter how we felt and we decided we liked that. Primates could've done the same thing, ( making their own fermented drinks) but they didn't. That should be clear enough that they don't treat alcohol the same way we do.

  • Wait. "Scientists have pointed out that it doesn't really make sense for toxins meant [to] fend off creatures like us to accidentally encourage significant consumption instead". Um ok. It doesn't have to make sense. It's nature. Not taking sides here, just pointing out myself something that doesn't really make sense — that quote.

  • Look…we have an intuition that many social inhibitions are unfounded. Some people accept that more readily than others… Drugs of all flavors IN MODERATION help us transcend those inhibitions. And we find that makes life more interesting. But some people are happy where they are no matter how unfulfilling their life may really be… They are afraid of stepping out of line… There will always be a discretionary boundary for some people. Everyone else will learn to just enjoy every moment as much as possible

  • Even thou they have a cannabis leaf as their thumbnail they knowingly left out cannabis out of this video(and psychedelics also) as those substances clearly doesn’t fall into any reasoning they used in this video

  • The elephants getting drunk on marula fruit is a complete myth and comes from one documentary make by Jamie Uys where they film an elephant eating the fruit and acting drunk, but they fed it quite a bit of alcohol before that scene. It would take about 1400 marula fruit to get an elephant even slightly drunk.

  • I think it may not be so complicated anymore. In our society we expect a huge amount of rules an behaviors to be followed, if you go outside these rules, you either loose reputation and prestige or simply get shunned by the society.
    But if you get drunk, high or in some other mean, not able to officially control yourself, you are "allowed" to be free and let go of the norms."I am sorry, I was drunk" or "don't mind him, he's just high". You do also often hear "I can't remember, I was drunk", all a "legal" and accepted escape that let you do things without being less of value afterward.

  • Well, I can tell ya MY reasons (all I use is cannabis, and have since the 60's.) First: it's the only thing that really helps with my chronic back pain, and fights cancer at the same time. Second, it elevates one to a higher level of consciousness (when properly used and respected!) There's a reason it's called getting HIGH. I consider cannabis to be a genuinely Sacred Herb, and treat it as such.

  • I find the notion that drugs affect us the way they do because of some evolutionary advantage, especially in conjunction with our complex culture and society, very intriguing. There's this popular notion that drugs are inherently bad, but we can see them being used as tools throughout our history and into today. Opioids to numb the pain. Psychedelics to learn about ourselves and process heavy emotions. Stimulants to improve productivity, etc. This applies to human communities both rudimentary and complex.

    Drugs are of course, very much a double edged sword. We know how destructive addiction is. And the mass production and consequential availability of psychoactive substances means it's a lot easier for us to ingest large quantities our ancestors may not have had access to. Nevertheless, the harm drugs cause inevitably diverts our attention away from the reality that drugs are being used to solve people's day to day problems and improve lives on a regular basis. While in many cases the benefits are temporary, there's plenty of others where the drug use is brief, or controlled, and never leads to major problems down the line.

    Bottom line, I think the reality with drugs is comprehensively nuanced. Any blanket proposition that psychoactive substances are insalubrious is myopic.

  • Stop animal testing.
    Non-humans are not responsible for our health and wellbeing.
    Each animal has the right not to be property.

  • If you think about it it could be the other direction, tobacco could have been growing the psychiatric compound so that we would reproduce them more. Well, not exactly, maybe tobacco made people feel good a tiny bit so over time people started farming it and replanting the best of the plants overtime thousands of years ago. Evolution doesn't try to make an animal survive, it tries to make an animal reproduce viable offspring. So if sacrificing itself means could you sing multiple offspring that will be taken care of by humans on a farm, is that not beneficial?

  • Mice that get addicted to cocaine stop using cocaine when they are placed in more interactive, social environments with other mice and a good supply of various foods to choose from.

    So maybe people's addiction can be helped? Maybe that's why people in poverty use drugs more, and people who get better jobs often quit using drugs on their own…

  • They know damn well why. Silly asses. If we had never been exposed to "drugs" or "substances" we wouldn't even be hooked to anything from the very beginning. It's the same old song and dance. Create something and spread it to the masses get them hooked and dependent then make it a crime to have it. And at the very least make it so where their bodies and brain chemistry will never be the same again. This is exactly what's happened, and I could go into waaaay more scope and depth over this but all one needs to do is look up pharmakeia/sorcery the cutting of herbs plants and roots. The book of Enoch tells a great story of how this all even came about from the start BUUUUT with this being a mainstream jewtube channel I highly doubt many here will ever take to the time to read it and even if they do they'll just scoff and mock and laugh at it. Drugs are drugs period. They were never intended for us, but here we are, almost all hooked to something be it even caffeine. This is all intentional.

  • "To convince lab animals to take the drugs in the first place, reserchers do all kinds of sTrAnGe things, like starve them." You.. You mean abusive things..?

  • I'm more curious about the age of interest.
    Why is it that kids are generally more interested in drugs, but as soon as people generally get to about 14-16 they lose interest, and grow out of it?

  • We constantly are attracted to something more than what we mundanely have. Therefore it is a natural response to prefer a feeling higher than we already are.

  • solid aswer to why we humans like to get high … reality really sucks. You know you're gonna die and that sucks. You know whatever it is you like to do, you won't be able to do after about 70 years. that sucks. You also have to get up every morning to go do something you hate just to get enough money to eat. That sucks.

  • No way, those dolphins passing around that pufferfish and only gently biting it to get the substance is definitely a sign they know exactly what they are doing

  • I’ve smoked so much weed that I don’t like it anymore but still want to. Addiction. I am pretty bored with life. I have to replace the addiction with a healthy hobby.

  • They stimulate us passively and Because we humans love simulation more than anything, literally we humans will literally seek pain as an escape from boredom.

  • the only real high that is the greatest thing on earth,it is a real life changing high,it will give you a great forever life with JESUS in heaven it is the baptism of the HOLY GHOST AND FIRE, the way to get it is to follow acts2;38 , very simple but it is real and it works i dare you to try it, and then speaking in the heavenly voices of heaven .

  • Saying doing drugs because theres nothing better to do explains the drug surge in urban area and suburbs where your either too poor to afford to do things that excite our large human brains or your too far from anything explains alot

  • Honestly? It's capitalism. Our economic system is so Hellish that we use drugs to escape it. That's why we get high and why we (often) drink on our off days.

    Getting up to work SUCKS, so we self-medicate. We get high. Capitalism kills. Socialism will save us!

  • Since humans have more advanced and complex brains that basically any other species on Earth it would seem to make sense that mind-altering drugs alter our minds more significantly than other species and in ways the same substance can't affect a simpler brain.

  • well, if fruits taste good so that animals eat them and spread seeds. then why would a plant not evolve to be consumed by an animal and encourage cultivation of its species, which ensures its progression.

  • I saw a cannabis plant , I clucked because I was curious about it, ended up learning more about alcohol, cocaine and coffee on animals instead of cannabis..but awesome video

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