Fish can get addicted to crystal meth and other illegal drugs that wash into rivers and lakes, to the point where they start needing their next fix, according to a new study in the Czech Republic.
Researchers performed lab experiments with the brown trout (salmo trutta) in waters contaminated with the illegal drug scientifically known as methamphetamine.
The drug’s presence in the water caused changes that had “unexpected adverse consequences” to individual fish and population levels, researchers said.
Around 269 million people worldwide use drugs each year, most of which end up in sewers as broken-down chemicals. These chemical components have similar effects to the drugs themselves that end up in bodies of fresh water, even after filtration.
Behavioral ecologists looked into what effect this is having on fish populations. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
Researchers placed 60 trout in a drug-free holding tank and another 60 in a tank laced with one microgram of crystal meth per liter of water.
The drugged fish soaked in the meth-tainted water for two months — a step meant to simulate the effects of persistent drug exposure that might occur in a polluted river.
The researchers then transferred the drugged fish into a clean tank for 10 days. If the trout had grown dependent on crystal meth, they would begin to show symptoms of withdrawal after losing access to the drug.
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“Our results suggest that emission of illicit drugs into freshwater ecosystems causes addiction in fish,” said researchers at the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague.
In humans, methamphetamine causes increased activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and a pleasurable sense of wellbeing or euphoria.
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The new trout study suggests that methamphetamine cravings “could overshadow natural rewards like foraging or mating,” which could seriously disrupt food chains and the ecology of waterways.
This drug addiction could potentially drive fish to congregate near unhealthy water treatment discharges “in search of a fix,” researchers said.
Another 2018 study by Italian researchers found that cocaine flushed into rivers was making eels “hyperactive” and that even low rates of exposure could damage their skeletons and muscles.
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