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Intoxication: The Universal Drive for Mind-Altering Substances

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  180 ratings  ·  19 reviews
A scientific and cultural exploration of the pursuit of altered states of consciousness in both humans and animals

• Contains myriad studies and examples from the author's 20 years of research

• By the foremost authority on the social and psychological effects of drug use

History shows that people have always used intoxicants. In every age, in every part of the world, people
Paperback, 384 pages
Published March 29th 2005 by Park Street Press (first published 1989)
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Alissa Thorne
I would love to be able to say that this book is a broad survey of psychoactive drugs and the impact on those who use them. I would love to be able to say that it is packed full of information, and that such an expansive work has given me a new perspective on the relationship of mind altering chemicals with our culture, even our species.

And while I am tempted to say those things, I am afraid that the strongest thing I took away from this book was that I cannot trust it.

It was fairly early in the
Jan 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Boy, howdy, this was an eye opener. Siegel first describes intoxicant seeking behaviour in animals, from slugs to elephants, chickens, monkeys, wrens, dogs, ad nauseum (well, I assume they were feeling sick after all that, I do.) Then he describes his human research subjects, including the pot grower who only eats tomatoes. Wrapping up is a detailed description of our presidents' intoxicant use. Oh, yes they did.
Apr 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book provides a very interesting perspective on the idea that humans have a fourth natural drive for altered states of mind and intoxication. I think most of the research in the book was very interesting and provided a lot of knowledge I didn't already have about cultural uses of drugs, some possible alternatives for drugs like cocaine and heroin in terms of effects but with lowered risks, and how addiction occurs with animals just like it does with humans.

For the places it stuck to scienc
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fun book mostly not harmed by its age. Though it didn't have as much broad theory about intoxication as I'd hoped, and the policy section does feel a little dated, it had a lot of information about how intoxicants work in natural environments across the world, plus "What happens if you give fish LSD?" type experiments.
Sep 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Siegel is a behavioral scientist who has spent decades studying the effects of intoxicating plants on animals in the wild, both by observing animals' natural use of intoxicants in the wild and by creating artificial opportunities for intoxication both in the wild and in the laboratory. Much of the book is devoted to studying the effects, how use is controlled, when it occurs, what happens when animals become addicts, etc. There were points when his tactics angered me, because he destroyed the li ...more
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I want to like it and I want to believe, but he’s way too focused on Christianity and the “literal garden of Eden” and then he tried to tell me that dinosaurs died out because they ate too much acid. “Evolution’s slow crawl out of Eden” what is this man on about! I want to enjoy and believe all the stories about animals getting high for fun, but now I think he’s a crackpot.

He even admits we can’t tell for sure if animals are hallucinating then proceeds to tell me what kind of bugs monkeys think
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Less of a scientific survey of psychoactive drugs and more of an esoteric, albeit mystical exploration of humankind's relationship with psychoactive substances. The first half of the book is an overview of the most popular categories of drugs—ie. stimulants, opioids, cannabis, alcohol, etc.—and the second half is a discussion of why it is the natural, instinctual "fourth drive" of human beings to pursue intoxication. The first half of the book includes some interesting summaries of scientific ex ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Siegel's roundup of scientific evidence demonstrates that the drive to alter one's consciousness is not a dysfunction, but rather a healthy impulse shared, so it would seem, by every creature with a nervous system. A pithy rejoinder to America's puritanical attitudes towards drugs and their use.
Ashley Thompson
Interesting stories on animals who use drugs
Kressel Housman
Ronald K. Siegel is not as famous as Oliver Sacks, but they’re very similar. Both are research psychologists who write popular books on the quirks of human behavior and perception. But while Dr. Sacks has written on a wide variety of topics, including his most recent Hallucinations, Dr. Siegel’s main specialty is hallucinations. His two later books are Fire in the Brain, which is all about hallucinations, drug-induced and from other causes, and Whispers, which is about paranoia, again, drug-indu ...more
Kai Palchikoff
Nov 12, 2016 added it
Shelves: science
SOCIAL SCIENCE / DRUGS'Reading Intoxication one becomes conscious of the many different aspects of the drug problem, of the usefulness and dangers of psychoactive substances, and of their role and importance in medicine, in religious rituals, and in daily life. . . . Impressive . . . fascinating . . . 'ALBERT HOFMANN, PH.D., author of LSD: My Problem Child and coauthor of Plants of the Gods 'Compelling . . . fact-packed. . . . The author carefully surrounds any potential pro-drug interpretation ...more
Oct 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: drugs
This is a really interesting book. The author makes the argument that following the human drive for food, sleep, and sex, intoxication is the "fourth drive." He has spent his career studying intoxication, and provides a ton of example of how animals (e.g., birds, elephants) and insects seek out intoxicating substances. Some of the descriptions of his in-the-field observations are fascinating and funny. Good read, and I learned a lot.
Feb 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Eye-opening review of studies on the effects and drive for intoxication across animals, how some groups are able to maintain long-term use at a healthy level, and a historical overview of drug use in America

I was especially surprised by the extensive studies that have already been done (and can't be done anymore because of ethical concerns) on animals and the historical popularity of opium and cocaine in the US
Jason Landau
Mar 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
It is the authors assertion that man's desire to attain a different state of consciousness is just as powerful a drive as the drive for hunger, thirst, and sex. Goes into accounts of various drugs and how it affects us all. That is goes beyond demographics and time, even beyond species as other animals also search for the "high". Interesting scientific discussion
Sep 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I was so impressed by this book I wrote the author and thanked him. He responded with some kind words. I deleted his response to avoiding re-reading it like a child with sticky hands and candy all over his face.
Jun 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Chris, others
speaks for itself, check it out
Jul 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drugs
This contains a lot of interesting information about mind altering plants that is fascinating to read, especially animal behavior and "drug use".
Kozmo Kliegl
Oct 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Proof to me that when we take the organic wrapping of drugs and concentrate them just leads to trouble
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David Kraus
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Aug 28, 2009
rated it it was amazing
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American psychiatrist, research professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (as recently as 2005), and the author of several noted studies and books on psychopharmacology, hallucination, and paranoia.

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“Outlawing drugs in order to solve drug problems is much like outlawing sex in order to win the war against AIDS. We recognize that people will continue to have sex for nonreproductive reasons despite the laws and mores. Therefore, we try to make sexual practices as safe as possible in order to minimize the spread of the AIDS viruses. In a similar way, we continually try to make our drinking water, foods, and even our pharmaceutical medicines safer. The ubiquity of chemical intoxicants in our lives is undeniable evidence of the continuing universal need for safer medicines with such applications. While use may not always be for an approved medical purpose, or prudent, or even legal, it is fulfilling the relentless drive we all have to change the way we feel, to alter our behavior and consciousness, and, yes, to intoxicate ourselves. We must recognize that intoxicants are medicines, treatments for the human condition. Then we must make them as safe and risk free and as healthy as possible. Dream with me for a moment. What would be wrong if we had perfectly safe intoxicants? I mean drugs that delivered the same effects as our most popular ones but never caused dependency, disease, dysfunction, or death. Imagine an alcohol-type substance that never caused addiction, liver disease, hangovers, impaired driving, or workplace problems. Would you care to inhale a perfumed mist that is as enjoyable as marijuana or tobacco but as harmless as clean air? How would you like a pain-killer as effective as morphine but safer than aspirin, a mood enhancer that dissolves on your tongue and is more appealing than cocaine and less harmful than caffeine, a tranquilizer less addicting than Valium and more relaxing than a martini, or a safe sleeping pill that allows you to choose to dream or not? Perhaps you would like to munch on a user friendly hallucinogen that is as brief and benign as a good movie? This is not science fiction. As described in the following pages, there are such intoxicants available right now that are far safer than the ones we currently use. If smokers can switch from tobacco cigarettes to nicotine gum, why can’t crack users chew a cocaine gum that has already been tested on animals and found to be relatively safe? Even safer substances may be just around the corner. But we must begin by recognizing that there is a legitimate place in our society for intoxication. Then we must join together in building new, perfectly safe intoxicants for a world that will be ready to discard the old ones like the junk they really are. This book is your guide to that future. It is a field guide to that silent spring of intoxicants and all the animals and peoples who have sipped its waters. We can no more stop the flow than we can prevent ourselves from drinking. But, by cleaning up the waters we can leave the morass that has been the endless war on drugs and step onto the shores of a healthy tomorrow. Use this book to find the way.” 1 likes
“Medieval Muslim society...labeled as intoxicated anyone “whose orderly speech is confused and who spills his hidden secret...” 0 likes
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