Lobsters given marijuana before boiling to see if it eases pain and anxiety

The owner of an American lobster restaurant went viral for suggesting that giving lobsters cannabis before they’re boiled can help ease their pain – so a team of biologists put it to the test.

A coalition of researchers from four US universities built a sealed lobster cage that was pumped full of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) vapor, the active ingredient in cannabis.

The lobsters remained in the vapor-filled boxes for 30 or 60 minutes – enough time for their bodies to absorb the THC.

But the scientists found that while the lobsters movements slowed, there were no signs that it shielded them from the pain of boiling.

Scientists observed that when the lobsters were lowered into the 118.4 degrees Fahrenheit (48°C) water, the crustaceans flicked their tails, antennas and claws around – an apparent sign of an unwanted stimulus.

‘Tail immersion resulted in a clear response of legs and claws and/or a strong flick of the tail,’ the researchers wrote.

‘This latter is the escape response of lobsters (and crayfish) and confirms the noxiousness of the stimulus. Immersion of the claws or antenna resulted in a distinct movement to remove the appendage from the water.’

The findings run contrary to the viral claim from Charlotte Gill, owner of Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound, in Maine, that having the lobsters consume cannabis would ease their pain and anxiety.

However, researchers only tested one of the ‘claims’ that went viral – the study wasn’t designed to test if consuming THC reduced the lobsters’ anxiety.

The study also aimed to find out if lobsters could absorb THC at all, which hadn’t been previously scientifically proven.

‘Can air exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive constituent of cannabis, produce significant tissue levels of the drug in lobsters? If so, does it have any discernible behavioral effects,’ the study’s authors wrote, pre-printed in online journal bioRxiv.

The team used wild Maine lobsters bought from the supermarket for the experiment, which saw the lobsters sit in a sealed box with four puffs of THC vapor for 10 seconds, every five minutes.

Afterwards, tissue samples were taken from the lobsters’ gills, claw, heart, brain and liver, which allowed scientists to see if the lobsters absorbed the THC drug.

‘For these studies, animals were obtained, dosed and euthanized for tissue collection within 4-6 hours,’ the researchers wrote.

‘Lobsters were exposed to THC vapor for 30 or 60 minutes, then removed from the chamber and rinsed with tap water.’

The only noticeable effect researchers could find from the lobsters was a dramatic slowdown in movement speed.

‘Hypolocomotion is a canonical feature of THC exposure in rats and mice, at least at higher doses, thereby confirming a similarity of effect across vertebrate and invertebrate organisms.’

Further tests were needed to fully investigate other behavioural outcomes, like anxiety.

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