- Can’t wait to get mugged in the street by a fish looking for its next fix.
Substance abuse is a uniquely human problem. Sure, you sometimes hear about birds getting drunk on fermented berries or monkeys stealing pot brownies, but animals don’t usually seek out drugs.
Unless you’re a Central European fish. Then you’ll like your water laced with a healthy dose of meth.
A new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, had found out that trout can become addicted to methamphetamines. And they don’t need to get their fix from seedy dealers behind a gas station – they’re literally swimming around in their drug of choice.
“Our results suggest that emission of illicit drugs into freshwater ecosystems causes addiction in fish and modifies habitat preferences,” the researchers, led by Pavel Horky, a behavioral ecologist from the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, write.
The scientists suggest that the trout’s meth addiction could cause several issues on both individual and population level. The whole thing is caused by human drug problems spilling over into our waterways.
Don’t be too surprised if a trout offers to take your bait in return for some change.
A Preference for Drugs
But how do you test if a trout is addicted to meth? Do you plop a spoon and a syringe into an aquarium and see if they shoot up?
Of course not, that would be silly. Instead, you just set up two aquariums – one with infused with a delicate LaCroix-level touch of meth – and see which one the fish prefer.
At least that’s what Horky and his team did. They placed 40 brown trout into a fish tank whose water contained the same level of meth that’s found in natural streams.
After eight weeks of chilling and getting high, the team moved the fish into a drug-free tank. Every day, they checked if the fish were suffering from drug withdrawal by giving them an option between meth-ed and meth-less water.
They also had a control group of another 40 trout who had been sober their entire lives. The results speak for themselves.
Without exception, the meth head trout went for drugged-up water when given the choice. They were also less active than the regular trout, indicating that they could be struggling with withdrawal symptoms.
The researchers also cut up the fish after the test. They discovered remnants of meth in their brains even after 10 days of exposure.
Whether they ate the fish afterwards, we don’t know. Seems like a waste not to, though.
Mmm, meth-marinated trout…
Extracting Meth from Pee
But what have we learned from this study, apart from the fact that fish can become junkies? And how do the drugs get into the water in the first place?
The answer to the second question is kind of gross. Meth gets into water through the pee and poop of human drug users.
“Where methamphetamine users are, there is also methamphetamine pollution of freshwaters,” Horky said.
When a meth addict uses the toilet, the drugs in their system pass into the sewage. Sure, the garbage water goes through a treatment plant, but they’re not designed to remove prescription drug contamination.
From the treatment plants, the drug-infused water runs into natural waterways, where it starts affecting wildlife. And according to Horky, turning animals into addict-mals isn’t good.
Horky explains that fish with drug addiction could start hanging around water treatment discharges to get their next fix. At the same time, they’ll also be exposed to any number of other dangerous chemicals.
Their addiction could also disrupt the fish’s natural behavior. Who has time to mate or find food when the shakes kick in, after all?
“Such effects could change the functioning of whole ecosystems as adverse consequences are of relevance at the individual as well as population levels,” Horky says.
It’s a Circle of Drugs
Horky also warns that meth is just one of the drugs we pump into waterways. Everything from Advil to Prozac ends up in the same place.
For example, UK researchers have found shrimp with traces of cocaine in their systems. Meanwhile, in the Puget Sound in the U.S., mussels have started testing positive for opioids, like oxycodone, and antidepressants.
When people eat junkie seafood, the chemicals will transfer into them. And so, human drug issues make a full circle, transferring to animals before coming back to us.
Scientists suggest that in the long term, druggie fish could start posing problems not only for the animals themselves, but also to people. As a result, many are advocating for better environmental regulations that would require prescription drugs to be eliminated from water runoff.
We’ll see how that turns out. Meanwhile, how about a nice dish of salmon au méthamphétamine?