Why Researchers Are Getting Zebrafish High AF

By Andrew Ward on September 16, 2018

Studies into hallucinogens like ayahuasca have been on the rise in recent years, and apparently zebrafish make for excellent test subjects. South American tribes have long used the prohibited brew for spiritual purposes, and it's picked up steam lately as a possible aid for people suffering from mental health issues, addiction and other afflictions.

A recent Brazilian and Portuguese study tested ayahuasca on zebrafish embryos to determine how ayahuasca impacted developmental and behavioral effects as well as locomotor activity, and the minnow relatives didn't fare so well. The study found that ayahuasca exposure caused "significant developmental anomalies" in embryos, including decreased locomotor activity. Other adverse effects included "hatching delay, loss of equilibrium, edema and the accumulation of red blood cells." The takeaway? Pregnant parents probably shouldn't give hallucinogens to their unborn babies even if the embryo seems to dig the Phish playlist.

Studies involving zebrafish in general have continued to rise in recent years. Like other animals often used in research, they share several similarities to humans. While not to the levels of rats or mice, 70 percent of human genes are found in zebrafish in addition to vital pathways that could, in theory, model any type of change-causing diseases in humans. The similarities with humans is also why drunk frat guys should probably stick to just swallowing goldfish.

What other drugs are getting zebrafish high? Ketamine, for one. A 2016 analysis had similar traits to the ayahuasca study, where researchers tested changes in locomotion, behavior and socialization in zebrafish embryos that were exposed to varying concentrations of the drug. While far from groundbreaking, the study found that early-life exposure to ketamine could lead to developmental risks.  

In 2018, ketamine was once again the focus of a zebrafish study that delved into the role of the drug on aggression. The study sought to determine if ketamine induced pro-psychosis and hallucinogen effects. The analysis claimed to have expanded the use of zebrafish for the purpose of studying aggression and sub-anesthesia level concentrations of ketamine.

Can a zebrafish enter a K hole? Still to be determined.

Overall, zebrafish could find themselves the test subject of numerous studies going forward. As a cheaper alternative to mice and rats, they could be the center of more studies around ayahuasca, ketamine, shrooms, MDMA and future (or current?) products like cannabis-infused fish food.

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