Pet Science

Can Dogs Benefit from Psychedelics? Here’s What the Latest Science Says

Giving psychoactive substances to dogs isn’t new but the research on it is scant.

Little boy and his dog in a wildflower field
madisonwi/E+/Getty Images
Pet Science

Catnip, also known as “kitty pot” or even “meowijuana,” in moderation, is a fun and harmless substance for our feline companions. But if you’ve ever tried to give your pup some of the relaxing herb, not much will happen: Dogs, just like humans, don’t really gain a benefit from the plant. But does that mean dogs are totally left out of the experience? Recently, scientists have been researching the effects of other psychoactive drugs not just on humans, but on our puppy pals too to see if there is a catnip equivalent for our canine friends.

Psychedelic research on dogs is even more in its infancy than it is in humans, according to Carlo Siracusa, a veterinarian and professor of clinical behavior medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Siracusa works on a collaborative team at UPenn, called the Penn Psychedelic Collaborative, which investigates how psychedelic drugs work across disciplines; he’s focused on how these psychoactive drugs affect dogs.

Giving psychedelics to dogs isn’t new. Siracusa says the substances have been used to enhance the performance of hunting dogs, as “they are believed to improve their sensory perception,” he tells Inverse. Shuar and Quichua people in Ecuador have been known to feed their dogs psychoactive plants for this reason.

A 2015 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology studied 43 plant species the Shuar and Quichua people in Ecuador give their hunting dogs to better understand the drugs' effects on the animals, and why they might provide a hunting advantage. The authors suggest that the drugs might be working on the dogs’ serotonin receptors, which are involved in mood and perception and might be leading to enhanced smell, hearing, and visual senses. Siracusa agrees on serotonin’s importance, confirming that we know psychedelics act on these receptors.

But there’s still a lot we don’t know and many mechanisms that must be figured out to know all the ins and outs of how these drugs work in dogs. And many of these substances can be dangerous in dogs. For example, dogs that have ingested psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, display a lack of coordination, barking, aggression, and an increased body temperature. Siracusa says dogs that have eaten psilocybin have also been observed to run in circles, shake their head, run, bark, and ignore humans.

There’s a potential risk of serotonin syndrome, a toxic buildup of the neurotransmitter, in dogs who take psychedelic substances as one 2023 review in the journal Veterinary and Animal Science describes.

So while it might be tempting to give your dog an herb they can enjoy just like you do with your cat, there doesn’t yet seem to be a catnip equivalent for dogs — at least that we know about.

Related Tags