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What Does Marijuana Do to Spiders?

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Jason mentioned the other day that he and his wife were watching the new series Orange is the New Black, wherein one of the characters talks about how deer were eating her marijuana plants. The factoid checked out. Deer really are a problem for pot growers because fresh growth on the plants makes an excellent snack. 

According to forest rangers who were led to a hilltop grow site by under-the-influence animals in Italy, deer who’ve consumed marijuana plants are “unusually frisky” and “abnormally high-spirited.” This got us wondering what kind of effect marijuana had on other animals. 

Cannabinoid receptors have been found in non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and even some invertebrates, so there are plenty of animals that react to marijuana. Most of those reactions aren’t that surprising, or all that interesting, though. Dogs and cats act kind of funny and groggy after eating weed (please don’t feed them your stash, no matter how YouTube famous you want to be, though—the stuff can be toxic to them, especially dogs), and monkeys exposed to THC keep wanting more.

Spiders, though, are infinitely interesting when they get stoned because the effects of the drug are clear in the odd-looking webs they build afterwards. 

Getting spiders high for science started in 1948, when German zoologist H.M. Peters got fed up with trying to study web-building behavior in spiders who wouldn't do him the courtesy of working on his schedule. His garden spiders tended to build their webs between two and five a.m., and he asked his pharmacologist friend P.N. Witt if there might be some chemical stimulant that would coax the spiders into building their webs at a more reasonable time. 

Witt tried giving the spiders some amphetamine and, while they kept building at their usual hour (to Peters' dismay), the two scientists did notice that those webs were more haphazard than normal. Over the next few decades, Witt continued to dose spiders with a smorgasbord of psychoactive substances, including marijuana, LSD, caffeine and mescaline, to see how they reacted. Since spiders can’t use tiny bongs or drink from little mugs, Witt and his team either dissolved the drugs in sugar water or injected them into flies and then fed the spiders with them.

The drugs affected the size and shape of the spiders’ webs, the number of radii and spirals, the regularity of thread placement and other characteristics. By comparing photographs and measurements of normal and “drug webs,” Witt and other researchers could see how the different substances affected different aspects of the web and, by extension, the spiders’ motor skills and behavior. 

The line of study didn’t have many practical applications at the time and was eventually discontinued. In 1995, though, NASA repeated some of Witt’s experiments and analyzed the webs with modern statistical tools and image processors. This allowed them to quantify the differences between webs, and they suggested that comparisons like this could be used to test the toxicity of different chemicals on spiders instead of “higher” animals like mice, saving time and money. 

What a web they weave

This is your web.

This is your web on drugs.

Specifically, this a web on marijuana. It was made by one of the NASA spiders, which appears to have given up on it halfway through. NASA says the spiders that were given marijuana were easily sidetracked while building and left their webs unfinished. 

The spiders on benzedrine, a stimulant also known as “bennies,” weaved their webs energetically, even frantically, but without planning or attention to detail. Their webs were characterized by large gaps. 

Caffeinated spiders made smaller, but wider webs, characterized by threads meeting at wide angles, disorganized cells and a lack of the normal “hub and spoke” pattern. 

Spiders given the sedative chloral hydrate gave up on their webs even faster than the ones who’d had a little pot. 

Finally, spiders given low doses of LSD actually maintained more geometric regularity than they did when they were stone sober.

All images courtesy of NASA.

For a funny take on this experiment, see this video.

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Roadside Bear Statue in Wales is So Lifelike That Safety Officials Want It Removed
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Wooden bear statue.

There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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10 Scientific Benefits of Being a Dog Owner
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The bickering between cat people and dog people is ongoing and vicious, but in the end, we're all better off for loving a pet. But if anyone tries to poo-poo your pooch, know that there are some scientific reasons that they're man's best friend.

1. YOU GET SICK LESS OFTEN.

Dog snuggling on a bed with its person.
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If cleaning commercials are to be believed, humanity is in the midst of a war against germs—and we shouldn't stop until every single one is dead. In reality, the amount of disinfecting we do is making us sicker; since our bodies are exposed to a less diverse mix of germs, our entire microbiome is messed up. Fortunately, dogs are covered in germs! Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found "dog-related biodiversity" is especially high on pillowcases). In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people—especially children—with cats or no pets.

2. YOU'RE MORE RESISTANT TO ALLERGIES.

Child and mother playing with a dog on a bed.
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While dog dander can be a trigger for people with allergies, growing up in a house with a dog makes children less likely to develop allergies over the course of their lives. And the benefits can start during gestation; a 2017 study published in the journal Microbiome found that a bacterial exchange happened between women who lived with pets (largely dogs) during pregnancy and their children, regardless of type of birth or whether the child was breastfed, and even if the pet was not in the home after the birth of the child. Those children tested had two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, that reduce the risk of common allergies, asthma, and obesity, and they were less likely to develop eczema.

3. YOU'LL HAVE BETTER HEART HEALTH.

Woman doing yoga with her dog.
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Everything about owning a dog seems to lend itself to better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers heart rate and blood pressure. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, while other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.

4. YOU GET MORE EXERCISE.

Person running in field with a dog.
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While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means that many dog owners are getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease.

5. YOU'LL BE HAPPIER.

Woman cuddling her dog.
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Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Even for those people who are clinically depressed, having a pet to take care of can help them out of a depressive episode. Since taking care of a dog requires a routine and forces you to stay at least a little active, dog owners are more likely to interact with others and have an increased sense of well-being while tending to their pet. The interaction with and love received from a dog can also help people stay positive. Even the mere act of looking at your pet increases the amount of oxytocin, the "feel good" chemical, in the brain.

6. YOU HAVE A MORE ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE.

Large bulldog licking a laughing man.
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Not only does dog ownership indirectly tell others that you're trustworthy, your trusty companion can help facilitate friendships and social networks. A 2015 study published in PLOS One found that dogs can be both the catalyst for sparking new relationships and also the means for keeping social networks thriving. One study even showed that those with dogs also had closer and more supportive relationships with the people in their lives.

7. YOUR DOG MIGHT BE A CANCER DETECTOR.

Man high-fiving his dog.
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Your dog could save your life one day: It seems that our canine friends have the ability to smell cancer in the human body. Stories abound of owners whose dogs kept sniffing or licking a mole or lump on their body so they got it checked out, discovering it was cancerous. The anecdotal evidence has been backed up by scientific studies, and some dogs are now trained to detect cancer.

8. YOU'LL BE LESS STRESSED AT WORK.

Woman working on a computer while petting a dog.
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The benefits of bringing a dog to work are so increasingly obvious that more companies are catching on. Studies show that people who interact with a pet while working have lower stress levels throughout the day, while people who do not bring a pet see their stress levels increase over time. Dogs in the office also lead to people taking more breaks, to play with or walk the dog, which makes them more energized when they return to work. This, in turn, has been shown to lead to much greater productivity and job satisfaction.

9. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY.

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The kind of dog you have says a lot about your personality. A study in England found a very clear correlation between people's personalities and what type of dogs they owned; for example, people who owned toy dogs tended to be more intelligent, while owners of utility dogs like Dalmatians and bulldogs were the most conscientious. Other studies have found that dog owners in general are more outgoing and friendly than cat owners.

10. YOUR KIDS WILL BE MORE EMPATHETIC.

A young boy having fun with his dog.
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Though one 2003 study found that there was no link between pet ownership and empathy in a group of children, a 2017 study of 1000 7- to 12-year-olds found that pet attachment of any kind encouraged compassion and positive attitudes toward animals, which promoted better well-being for both the child and the pet. Children with dogs scored the highest for pet attachment, and the study notes that "dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior." And, of course, only one pet will happily play fetch with a toddler.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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