Scientists discover fish getting second-hand drug addiction from polluted waters

Trout (Photo from Eric Engbretson/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Everything flushed down the toilet eventually goes into the rivers and seas, affecting ecosystems along the way. This is also true with dangerous illicit drugs such as methamphetamine getting washed into waterways and ending up inside foraging fish. 

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology analyzed the influence of meth water contamination on trout living near cities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. For eight weeks, they observed the behavior of two groups consisting of 60 fish each, one kept in a clean tank of water, and the other laced with 1 microgram per liter of meth, an amount predicted to occur in polluted rivers and streams. 

“Such contamination could change the functioning of whole ecosystems as adverse consequences are of relevance at the individual as well as population levels,” Czech University of Life Sciences Ecologist Pavel Horký said. 

When they transferred the fish back to their natural habitats,  Horký’s team found out that those who lived in meth-laced waters suffered from behavioral problems that could be attributed to withdrawal symptoms for up to four days.

The researchers also subjected the trout to an addiction experiment where they let them choose between a meth-contaminated area or fresh water in a tank. Surprisingly, the fish previously exposed to contaminated water for eight weeks preferred the new area still laced with meth. 

“We predicted/expected that there would be some signs of addiction, however, we were quite surprised by how the whole system worked tightly. Personally, I was mostly surprised by the fact that methamphetamine users can unknowingly cause fish meth addiction in the ecosystems around us,” Horký said.

The findings of the study showed that illegal drugs are carriers of death and destruction wherever they are, whether in human communities on land or thriving ecosystems under the water. 


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