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,
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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?”

  1. 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.

  2. Why do we get high?
    Cuz Im tired of being low.
    Sobriety is killing me.
    I Don't suffer from addiction.
    I enjoy every moment.

  3. Not feeling successful in life? Tired at 11pm like normal people. Want to make grand plans with strangers in bars that will never come to fruition?

    Try Cocaine!

    Side effects may include bloody nose, loss of motivation when not using cocaine, felony records and heart failure.

  4. I'm human, and I don't like to get high. Neither do my friends. I think humans who like to get high don't get satisfaction from sober life.

  5. Something must be wrong with me. When I have smoked pot in the past, it does not feel good to me. I can't wait till it's over. There's no "high". Am I an alien?

  6. The EXACT reason that I watch this channel is because… most people say things that they don't know for sure. Screw that! I watch THIS channel because they KNOW about that which they willingly flap their gums, so to speak. Science, math, biology, whatever it is… I trust this channel. And I love it.

  7. caged monkeys will self administer all sorts of stuff that even the most desperate human addicts wont touch more than once unless there is literally nothing else available and they are in an extremely boring and/or stressful situation like prison for example, (drugs like anti psychotics, ssris, nutmeg and deliriant antihistamines stuff that wont for the vast majoratory of people make you feel good but will at least let you temporally escape your miserable situation this is probably also true for the monkeys) to be clear im not talking about more enjoyable drugs like cocaine or morphine here, which i at least would almost never turn down if i could afford the price. it would be interesting to test self administration rates in animals for a lot of different drugs in a moderate stress/bordem environment to more accurately represent the conditions of the avarge human drug user.

  8. Do acid with a primate that knows sign language and interview them during and after. Boom. Question of whether or not animals like being high answered.

  9. Can't it come from the same pressure that gave us a taste for spices? Fermentation and such are used to keep food from spoiling. So just like hot pepper (meant to be a poison to keep animals away) can be quite addicting and pleasuring. If I'm not mistaken, drugs coming from herbs are on hot zones (just like spices) and the fermentation/alcohol in the temperate zone (just like the art of smoking).

  10. Weed is basically just an amplifier for life. It makes everything more. Movies are better emotional things are more emotional happy is more happy fun is more fun good food tastes better your knees don’t hurt, etc.

  11. A better question would be why some of us like to eat spicy foods. Spices are a defence mechanism some plants evolved to DISCOURAGE animals from eating their seeds. Humans naturally respond by engineering spices to be STRONGER.

  12. Because of low iq? Our welfare system rewards people that lacks the skills to think things through. Drugs, tattoos, and piercing are some of the things people do without thinking of the consequences like lack of job opportunities which leads to no money for food, home, and more drugs which then leads to committing crimes to attain money for more drugs.

  13. Humans are the only extant species to use advanced intelligence to solve problems. Psychoactives may allow us to explore other ways to think, resulting in discoveries and behaviours advantageous to similar gene-types.

  14. At the very least, chimps and bonobos are people, just not human people.
    Light beer was beneficial to survival. It was easier to get than clean drinking water.

  15. Except for the vast majority of the entertainment industry, psychoactive drugs are bad, also various belief systems have the use of psychoactive drugs in the practice. Clearly it would be hate speech to ignore the behavior of so many belief systems. Also, it would be just plain ignorant to mix up use, psychological addiction, and physical addiction. Intentionally mixing up those 3 different things is is a tool of propaganda. To have a lot of science, then mix in some intentional ignorance that intends to guide behavior is classic manipulative behavior. I'm not accusing Hank and the writing staff of anti-religious hate, but with the words in this video don't be surprised that every religious person who uses psychoactive substances in their practice thinks there's some intentional ignorance. I am, obviously, accusing SciShow of being intentionally ignorant in this video. I'm a Rastafarian, so please keep your fake snowflake arguments to yourself.

  16. It's been my experience that the worse your life is, the more you're going to want to get high. NOT everyone will do this, but a substantial number of people do. As Jim Jefferies said, 'We drink because we have to, to get through all the aggravation and depressing things we experience in our every day lives'. So now I understand. It's not just a few drug addicts and drunks. Some don't use substances, they jump off of cliffs with wings for the adrenaline rush that alters their feelings. But the vast majority of the population uses something or other, to help them feel better, when their life is seemingly miserable and it's out of their control to make it better again.

  17. Giant leaf on the video. Didn’t talk about the leaf. Shoulda had a monkey with a drink and a rat pill f’d.
    Read chasing the scream.

  18. someone i know went to a party and ended up drunk … and pregnant! so ability to enjoy alcohol seems like an evolutionary advantage!

  19. Might our brains have become what they are with use of psychoactive substances?
    Psilocybin and lsd change how the different parts of our brains communicate with each other. They change how we perceive music, our reflections, other people and their motives, and lessen our fear of our own mortality. Those are just a few examples. We make connections where before we couldn't. Leaps that may never have occurred.

  20. some good weed helps amplify the creative side of the brain. if a person is logical while on some good pain killing pot it just opens up the creative channels you never knew you had before 🙂 where it is legal of course.

  21. animals that eat psychedelic food may of had a jump in the creative imagination via hallucinations. makes the mind grow. creatively 🙂 and has been native to man. to get closer to god.

  22. So I'm picking up a hard vibe from this vid…. it seems the only way to test this is 2 go out 2 nature or some farm , get a bunch of different kinds of animals and just start hanging out and getting high with them and see what happens….

  23. If i could get blasted with any animal I'd choose yellow jacket wasps, irukanji jelly fish or porcupines….. great for cuddling

  24. Getting high stimulates the learning centers of the mind. We like to learn but only when its fun. Learning about nothing is fun when the mind is in the right state.

  25. Ummn.. Possible consciousness experience. Our habitat is where our habit's at. Just depends on location/ influence/ motivations. We ae also intelligent humans so we cannot directly compare our influece on drugs directly to animal experiences. We are complex and have more than one active consciousness going on that affect our decisions. The value of life is different from person to person, theres something for everyone. People react to drugs differently just how ppl have dif favorite foods. Could just depend on genetic compatibility.

  26. alcohol, marijuana and opiates from poppies have been used by humans for tens of thousands of years. as a person who has struggled with substance abuse, i sincerely believe that human evolution over this relatively short span has developed an ability to "deal with" the short term negative effects because there is an inheritance in our biology that understands that the reward is worth dealing with the side effects.

  27. ALSO: You should do an episode about the beta arrestins and herkinorin, a very powerful opioid that does NOT activate the proteins known as beta arrestins 1 + 2, which are responsible for the physical addiction aspect of opioids. It is a TRAGICALLY under reported new scientific development based out of the university of Iowa.

  28. I like getting drunk because it makes me feel like I can actually be myself. When I have 2 or 3 beers It feels like I can be myself and enjoy the music I like, and watch the videos I enjoy. When I’m sober I’m empty, I lose all emotional feeling and enjoyment. When I’m like that I don’t play games or listen to music because I like it. It’s just something to pass the time

  29. It is to ease the chronic pain of the condition of the world that any sane person could not bear. Tis is a very complex issue as it covers so many of the worlds problems which are not just self perpetuating, they amplify with each generation. I have the cure and rather than trying to convince people with words I am going to walk the talk. At nearly 59 years old I am younger and stronger than many younger men in the 20's. Not talk as I am proving to anyone that actually see's me as I dance my way through supermarkets and so on. I can't WAIT for 70. By then it should e completely undeniable to any that see me proving the words I say.

  30. 1:52 I know it’s “better” to do scientific studies on mice, than it is to do them on people, but I can’t help feel bad.

  31. I like the feeling of drugs
    I figured out where to get barbiturates
    Online,,,very real, old but strong!
    Oh my nothing gets you that high

    Cocaine and Xanax, oxys and MS contin
    Oh my goodness
    I don't like coming down
    I usually of on barbs if I have them I take them…
    All
    I sometimes drink on Xanax and it's tough but I love drugs
    I miss them

  32. Alcohol is not evolutionary trap, it helps guide evolution as dumbass alcoholics become smelly, homeless, unemployed, and get diseases that cause them to die off, freeing up planet for the non dumbasses. Drink less, toke more. Your brain will thank me.

  33. did shrooms didint even halucinate just had a suppperr long supperr strong high i couldent snap out of and it was me just trying to survive lol dont do drugs unless its weed or something light.

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