When You Give A Fish Some Meth

It never ceases to amaze me what scientists get paid to do. Torment preschoolers with marshmallows. Intimidate infants with mean-spirited puppets. Set babies on a high elevated platform to see if they’ll crawl across a “virtual cliff” of clear see-through glass to get to their mothers. Cut the heads off worms and then send them into outer space to see if (and how) their heads will grow back (I kid you not). Or like this latest group of researchers: feed fish meth until they become addicted.

Scientists in the Czech Republic put 60 brown trout into a large holding tank and then gave them meth…1 microgram of meth per liter of water, to be exact. I know what you’re thinking…what a waste of perfectly good meth. But believe it or not, there’s actually rhyme and reason behind this nonsense.

You see, meth, like other drugs, enters into sewage systems when users piss it and flush it. Since sewage treatment doesn’t filter it out, this meth makes its way into streams and waterways. Downstream of wastewater plants in Czech and Slovak, the concentration of meth in waterways is typically around this 1 microgram of meth per liter. So scientists wanted to see how this contaminated water was impacting fish behavior.

The answer: meth-addicted fish. After 2 months in the meth-laced water, these fish became junkies. They tended to congregate in the areas of the tank dosed with meth, classic signs of addiction. When placed in a new freshwater tank, they were lethargic, moved more slowly, and showed obvious impairments compared to a control group of unaddicted fish. Plus they kept meandering about looking for a dragon and asking their buddies if they could spare $20 bucks.

Although most of these behavioral changes wore off after 10 days of detox in a freshwater tank, the drug could still be detected in their brain. Thus, we now know, fish “will develop addiction” to meth just like humans do, and may choose to “reside near waste-water treatment effluent discharges,” the researchers say. (*1) Hmm…doesn’t it put you in the mood to do a little fishing for tonight’s dinner? Forget about concerns over mercury. We really should be asking whether our salmon is sewage-laced and meth-addicted.

In grade school I learned the answers to some all-important questions in life, like what happens if you give a mouse a cookie. Later I did some of my own experiments to find out what happens if you cover your little sister in honey and send her off into the woods to hunt for bears. (The answer: one really annoyed mother, which is just as fearsome as any bear.) And now I know what happens if you give a fish some meth. Yet we still don’t have answers to a number of other important questions, like…What happens if you give a sloth a speedball? Come on scientists, stop slacking! The world needs to know!

1. The Week, “Fish hooked on meth,” Aug. 6, 2021, p. 21