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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Video: A History of Dosing Animals With LSD


From the 1930s to the 1970s, scientists tested LSD on a bunch of animals—from spiders to dolphins to elephants. Some had better trips than others.

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Ever since LSD was first synthesized in 1938, insects, fish, monkeys, dolphins, and at least one elephant have been dosed with hallucinogenic drugs—all in the name of science. A video from Slate (below) details the history of giving psychedelic drugs to animals, with results ranging from fascinating to tragic to just plain bizarre.

The first critters to take LSD were spiders. Scientists gave them the drug dissolved in sugar water, in order to study its effect on their web-building. Low doses of the drug helped enhance the spiders’ productivity, but when the doses got higher, the webs—unsurprisingly—got really weird (much like the study itself).

In 1964, an aquatic biologist found that giving LSD to fish got them so messed up that some swam backwards and jumped out of the water. A study of reeses monkeys found that, similar to humans, the drug “wreaked havoc” on their short-term memory and color perception. And in his infamous experiments on dolphins in the ’60s, mad scientist John C. Lily reportedly injected the sea mammals with LSD to help them connect with humans (though in one human/dolphin romantic relationship, no LSD was needed). Researchers said the dolphins had “wonderful trips.”

There is no way to know for sure if any of these passive participants enjoyed tripping. But one certainly did not: in 1962, researchers gave LSD to an African elephant in a Chicago zoo to help them learn more about the animals’ mating rituals. The experiment went tragically awry when the elephant had seizures and died.

Since 1970, when LSD became a schedule 1 drug, researchers had to stop dosing animals (at least, on the record). And since the FDA has recently approved the drug again for research purposes, all the test subjects have been human volunteers. This is good news for elephants; and maybe a disappointment for dolphins.