We investigate the effects of varying the cosmic ray ionization rate in chemical models of dense interstellar clouds. In the absence of such ionization, a scenario which may be applicable to dark cloud cores, we find that chemi-ionization is able to drive a limited ion-neutral chemistry. Models of clouds in starburst galaxies, which may have enhanced cosmic ray fluxes, are also investigated and enable an upper limit to be derived for the cosmic ray ionization rate in M82. The derived value, which is about 700 times the typical value for Galactic molecular clouds, is in good agreement with that necessary to explain the recent observations of Ci in this galaxy. Key words: molecular processes - ISM: clouds - cosmic rays - ISM: molecules - galaxies: abundances.