The Museum of Hoaxes
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A collection of strange and curious science miscellanea brought to you by the author of Elephants on Acid and Electrified Sheep
Elephants on Acid
Electrified Sheep






Elephants on Acid
imageWhat happens if you give an elephant LSD? On Friday August 3, 1962, a group of Oklahoma City researchers decided to find out.

Warren Thomas, Director of the City Zoo, fired a cartridge-syringe containing 297 milligrams of LSD into Tusko the Elephant's rump. With Thomas were two scientific colleagues from the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine, Louis Jolyon West and Chester M. Pierce.

297 milligrams is a lot of LSD — about 3000 times the level of a typical human dose. In fact, it remains the largest dose of LSD ever given to a living creature. The researchers figured that, if they were going to give an elephant LSD, they better not give him too little.

Why did they do it?

Thomas, West, and Pierce later explained that the experiment was designed to find out if LSD would induce musth in an elephant — musth being a kind of temporary madness male elephants sometimes experience during which they become highly aggressive and secrete a sticky fluid from their temporal glands. But one suspects a small element of ghoulish curiosity might also have been involved.

What happened

Whatever the reason for the experiment, it almost immediately went awry. Tusko reacted to the shot as if a bee had stung him. He trumpeted around his pen for a few minutes, and then keeled over on his side. Horrified, the researchers tried to revive him, but about an hour later he was dead. The three scientists sheepishly concluded that, "It appears that the elephant is highly sensitive to the effects of LSD."

In the years that followed controversy lingered over whether it was the LSD that killed Tusko, or the drugs used to revive him. So twenty years later, Ronald Siegel of UCLA decided to settle the debate by giving two elephants a dose similar to what Tusko received. Reportedly he had to sign an agreement promising to replace the animals in the event of their deaths.

Instead of injecting the elephants with LSD, Siegel mixed the drug into their water, and when it was administered in this way, the elephants not only survived but didn't seem too upset at all. They acted sluggish, rocked back and forth, and made some strange vocalizations such as chirping and squeaking, but within a few hours they were back to normal. However, Siegel noted that the dosage Tusko received may have exceeded some threshold of toxicity, so he couldn't rule out that LSD was the cause of his death. The controversy continues.
References
  • West, L.J., C.M. Pierce, & W.D. Thomas (1962). "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: Its Effects on a Male Asiatic Elephant." New Series, Science 138 (3545): 1100-3.
  • Siegel, R.K. (1984). "LSD-Induced Effects in Elephants: Comparisons with Musth Behavior." Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 22(1): 53-56.
Posted By: alex | Date: Mon Jul 04, 2011
Category: Animals, Elephants, 1950-1979, United States, Narcotics,
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