Zebrafish High
3 min

Animals That Love To Get High: Zebrafish

3 min
News Research

From the time we didn't understand what drugs were, all the way up to today, addiction has been something that has affected human lives for a long time. Believe it or not, this research on zebrafish may help us better understand how to treat addiction in humans.

Humans are not the only animals to seek out altered states of consciousness. There are several species that look for substances in their environment to get them high. Mice, fish, monkeys, caterpillars, and even flies have been documented getting high and even developing a dependency on certain substances.

This is very interesting as it may help us humans better understand addiction. Why do so many of us love to get high, even with substances that might kill us?

Since the very first groups of hunter-gatherers, humans have used substances to induce an altered state of mind. This happens for a number of different reasons. Cultures have used drugs in ceremonial and tribal rites and rituals for thousands of years. Only recently has psychedelic exploration become a trend amongst Western cultures. And this too is evidence of our desire to seek alternate experiences.

Because of their genetic similarity to humans, zebrafish have become a great tool to study mental health disorders. These small water creatures share 70% of human genes and have transparent skulls, easing the research.

Zebrafish Genetic Similarity to Humans

With all this in mind, the University of Utah Health used zebrafish to study opioid addiction. The results they obtained are quite surprising.


The researchers devised an automated opioid self-administration mechanism. This made it possible to measure the drug-seeking behaviour of the zebrafish subjects. Zebrafish were placed in a tank with a yellow platform that detected movement in the corner. Every time this platform was triggered, opioids were released. For five days, the fish were kept inside this tank.

After this five day period, researchers placed the fish in a second tank. In this one, the platform was located in a shallower area. Zebrafish don’t usually swim in shallow waters to protect themselves from predators like birds and amphibians.

This behaviour has been in the fish’s DNA for thousands of years. For something to change this behaviour, it would have to be quite influential, and therefore worthy of in-depth analysis.

The research was validated by confirming that self-administration of drugs in zebrafish is dependent on the same molecular pathways as in humans. This is the factor that made the researchers use zebrafish for the study. Identifying the pathways that regulate drug-seeking behaviour could lead to revolutionary methods for treating addiction in human models.


The zebrafish subjects were allowed to swim in the tank with the opioid triggering platform for 50 minutes every day. On the first day, the researchers saw that the fish swam around the whole tank equally. Over the five-day period, however, this changed drastically. On the fifth day, the fish ignored the rest of the tank.

They just swam over the yellow platform. After this, when the platform was placed in the shallow area, the fish who now knew what it meant did not care about the deepness of the water, they swam over it anyway. A control group of fish, however, avoided this shallow area as much as they could.

Zamnesia_Blog_Animals That Love To Get High Zebrafish swam over the yellow platform

Randall Peterson, the study’s co-author is already using this method to test addiction treatments. By giving the fish a substance and analysing their behaviour in the tank, it’s not hard to understand how this can be very conclusive in studying addiction. If it works on a fish, there is a chance it will work on humans too.

As Peterson remarked in an interview with The Verge, “The hope is that those drugs, when we find them, would also be useful in reducing the impulse to seek opioids in humans.”

It is also important to note that the fish showed signs of distress and anxiety with the withdrawal of the opioids. This further demonstrates a similarity to human behaviour.


It is great to see research in this field. Addiction is definitely something that ruins many lives. With more widespread cannabis legalization and decriminalization in US states and countries around the world, medical marijuana is finally experiencing greater comprehensive study.

With this, researchers seem to think that cannabis plants grown from medicinal cannabis seeds may offer a less dangerous alternative to certain drug treatments. A recent paper published in the Journal of Pain explored this issue. It states that chronic pain sufferers will decrease their dependence on opioid-based medicine when given access to cannabis.

Medical Marijuana

The sample group analysed in the study were very happy with the results. Not only did they testify on how they now had a better quality of life, they also agreed that cannabis was more effective in reducing their pain than opioids.

This is astonishing. Opioids are extremely addictive and lead to horrible withdrawal symptoms. If only there was greater access to medical cannabis, the opioid epidemic could perhaps be fought with greater confidence.


The researchers of the above study concluded, “Among study participants, medical cannabis use was associated with a 64% decrease in opioid use, decreased number and side effects of medications, and an improved quality of life. This study suggests that many chronic pain patients are essentially substituting medical cannabis for opioids and other medications for chronic pain treatment, and finding the benefit and side effect profile of cannabis to be greater than these other classes of medications.”

Only further research will tell what the future of addiction treatment will be. Hopefully, rehabilitation clinics will just be a pharmacy in the future. Perhaps this will even be where you purchase your cannabis. It’s already positive to see smart people investing their time and money into such an important issue.

Hopefully, the future will be brighter for addicts, with more access to better resources. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.


Written by: Zamnesia
Zamnesia has spent years honing its products, ranges, and knowledge of all things psychedelic. Driven by the spirit of Zammi, Zamnesia strives to bring you accurate, factual, and informative content.

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