Lobsters get stoned for science and, shhh, a more humane way to boil them alive

In a preliminary study, scientists set out to find out whether or not exposing lobsters to cannabis smoke would ease their deaths.

A crisis of conscience led restaurateur Charlotte Gill to start hotboxing her lobsters. Footlong lobster rolls may have put her Maine restaurant,

Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound

, on the map, but she began to question the cost to animal welfare. In hopes of easing crustacean suffering, she arrived at “a lobster bong”: a sealed, plastic container, partially filled with seawater, with a straw poked in the lid to blow hits of pot through.

The idea was, if she could get lobsters stoned, they would be under less stress when she plunged them into boiling water to cook them. In assessing Roscoe, the first lobster she dosed, Gill thought he looked calm and sedated after several minutes in the hotbox. She released him a few weeks later, “

for his contributions to science

,” and proceeded to carry out the experiment “40 or 50 times.”

“We looked at tail flips and we also looked at, when we cook the lobster, is there a reaction when you put it into the boiling water? And we were seeing no reaction, or very minimal reaction,” Gill told

Modern Farmer

. “Versus what you see if you don’t have any sedation, which is they’re shooting their claws off. They’re climbing over each other to try to get out of the boiling water. It was a dramatic difference.”

Gill didn’t serve any of her hotboxed lobsters to customers, but she and her father taste tested them, finding the meat to be “sweeter and lighter” than usual.

Her “high-end” lobster project went viral in September 2018 and provided the impetus for scientific research. In an effort to get to the bottom of her crustacean sedation experiment, scientists at the University of California San Diego; Colorado College; the Scripps Research Institute and the University of Washington recreated it in a lab.

For their new preliminary study on preprint server


, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, the scientists examined the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — on lobsters. They found that the dosed lobsters slowed down noticeably, and tissue samples taken after the animals were euthanized revealed that they did indeed absorb THC.

“The 2018 minor media storm about a restaurant owner proposing to expose lobsters to cannabis smoke really was the starting point,” Dr. Michael A. Taffe, study author and professor adjunct at the Scripps Research Department of Neuroscience, told


. “There were several testable claims made and I realized we could test those claims. So we did.”

Researchers studied the effect of cannabis on

Homarus americanus

, a North American species of lobster found on the Atlantic coast, mainly between Labrador and New Jersey (a.k.a. American, Atlantic, Canadian, Maine, northern or true lobster). They looked at how much and how fast the lobsters moved, both before and after they were dosed with THC; whether being exposed to THC had any effect on how they reacted to different temperatures; and if they were able to absorb THC at all.

Using wild Maine lobsters from the supermarket and a similar setup to Gill’s (which the state of Maine asked her to cease using in 2018; she now administers valerian root instead), the team kept lobsters in a sealed chamber for 30 to 60 minutes. They pumped in four 10-second puffs of THC vapour with an e-cigarette every five minutes for a period of 30 to 60 minutes.

“For these studies, animals were obtained, dosed and euthanized for tissue collection within four to six hours,” the researchers wrote.

When Gill conducted her experiments, it was unknown if lobsters could absorb THC. Along with any discernible behavioural effects, this is one of the questions the researchers aimed to answer. Through tissue samples, they confirmed that THC was taken up by gill respiration; it was present in the lobsters’ claw and tail muscle, brain, heart, hemolymph (the invertebrate equivalent of blood) and liver.

They found that while THC slowed the lobsters down, contrary to Gill’s experience, it didn’t appear to soothe them when exposed to hot water. The findings suggest that lobsters can indeed get stoned, as Gill believed, but more research is needed, the scientists say, in order to determine if THC lessens lobsters’ anxiety.

The question of whether or not lobsters experience pain is also still up for debate.


erred on the side of caution and banned the practice of boiling lobsters alive in 2018, ordering that they must be stunned before being cooked.

Researchers didn’t submit live lobsters to a boiling hot pot in the study, but they did gauge their reactions to 48 degrees Celsius water (close to the hottest water from a tap). When their tails were immersed in warm water, they exhibited an escape response: thrashing their abdomens, legs and claws. Submerging their claws or antenna “resulted in a distinct movement to remove the appendage from the water,” the researchers wrote.

While they didn’t boil live crustaceans, they did cook a post-euthanization lobster claw to determine if THC was still present in the tissue. It was, Dr. Arnold Gutierrez of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Diego told Jackie Bryant in her cannabis culture newsletter,


, but in levels too low to be intoxicating to eaters.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques