The effect of drugs on spiders webs. Photo: NASA

The effect of drugs on spider webs. Photo: NASA

Spiders on Weed

So you already knew that the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis is bad for dogs (but the cannabidiol, CBD, is good). If you watch Orange is the New Black, you’d know that deer enjoy cannabis as a snack and forest rangers have observed deer under the influence to be ?abnormally high-spirited? and ?unusually frisky.? So what is the impact on spiders?

Birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and even some invertebrates possess cannabinoid receptors, making them prone to the drug. The effect on spiders is evident from the strange-looking webs they subsequently spin.

Who studied it first?

Science first took an interest in cannabis and spiders in 1948, when German zoologist HM Peters attempted to study web-building behaviour but found that spiders kept inconvenient hours, mostly doing webs between 02:00 and 05:00. He approached his friend, Peter N Witt, a pharmacologist, hoping to find out about a chemical stimulant that could coax the spiders into a more agreeable schedule.

Amphetamines didn’t change when the spiders did their business but did make webs more haphazard. Over the subsequent decades, Witt experimented with all manner of psychoactive substance, such as caffeine, cannabis, mescaline, peyote, scopolamine (it’s used to treat motion sickness, post-operative nausea, and vomiting) and LSD. With a bong not being an option, the drugs were dissolved in sugar water or injected into flies which were fed to the spiders. Peters, who had been hoping to make a documentary, gave up, but Witt maintained an interest.

Why bother?

Cannabis influenced the size and shape of webs, the number of spirals and the regularity of thread placement. From this could be deduced the effect on the motor skills and other behaviour of spiders. Sadly, the information had no obvious practical applications, so experiments tailed off. In 1995, NASA looked into the matter, now with the benefit of modern statistical tools and image processors. This showed that spiders could be used to test the toxicity of chemicals on spiders rather than ?higher animals? like mice, saving time, which is, as Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, famously stated, the same as money.

What effect do drugs have on spiders?

Witt eventually used only zilla x-notata spiders and females at that; they constructed webs less often. Cannabis-crazed spiders were easily distracted, leaving webs unfinished, and if given too much dope, they were just useless in this respect. Spiders on benzedrine, a stimulant popularly known as ?bennies,? were energetic, even frantic, but exhibited a lack of planning and attention to detail, resulting in large gaps in their webs. Spiders given caffeine made webs that were smaller but wider. Spiders delivered with the sedative, chloral hydrate, gave up on web-building even faster than those on cannabis. And spiders given LSD produced webs that were more geometrically regular.

In Spiders, Webs and Drugs, which he produced in 1954, Witt lamented that humans were ?moody, complicated and variable,? and spiders were ?much simpler subjects.? Another benefit is that testing on other animals is governed by law, but nobody’s going to complain if you do it to spiders.

The cannabidiol in cannabis is good for dogs

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