The Fish That Gets You High
By Sarah Bellman / Vice
People love good food and getting high. From mushroom tea to weed brownies, whipping up a special dish containing mind-altering ingredients is an age-old tradition. For some who live off the Indian Ocean, their drug of choice is served up as a nice bowl of curry fish stew.
On the most recent episode of VICELAND's Hamilton's Pharmacopeia, we met Jean Pascal Quod, an esteemed marine biologist who specializes in studying neurotoxins found in tropical fish. Quod spends much of his time researching the unique marine life found on Réunion Island.
Located in the Indian Ocean in Africa, Réunion is home to various fish containing mysterious psychoactive substances that locals consume to get high, hallucinate, and have intense dreams—or nightmares. However, not much is known about these "dream fish," which have only been found in the Indian Ocean and possibly the Mediterranean Sea, but not documented in similar climates like the Pacific Ocean or Caribbean.
We called Quod to find out more about these perplexing fish and what curious diners should know before digging in themselves.
VICE: Why does consuming this species of fish produce mind-altering effects?
Jean Pascal Quod: I'm quite sure it's from the food diet of the fish, but we have no idea yet about the source because no one's done scientific studies on the exact toxins that are involved. Most of the people who are consuming it now are doing it for fun—it's very rare that people are accidentally poisoned by eating these fish. It's quite unclear now if it's because of a bacteria, or microalgae, or macroalgae. It's still a mystery for me.
Is it common for people to eat these psychoactive fish?
When you have carnivorous fish—which are the most common kinds of fish people want to eat, there's no way to find these psychoactive compounds. This compound only occurs in the herbivore fish, which people usually don't like to eat because they aren't very tasty and smell of algae. People who are eating this kind of fish are poor people, or those who want to try it out to get the effect. Of course, the people who are doing it for fun don't want to talk about it.
How dangerous is it to eat the fish?
It's not dangerous because it's only psychoactive compounds. The human cases I've heard about in Réunion are mainly people having nightmares—they think their house is burning, or they're going nude in the road. They could possibly get into an accident or something, but the compound by itself is not dangerous. I haven't heard about people dying because of it.
How would you recommend people try this out for themselves?
It's impossible to know if you're affected by the compound before you eat the fish. In Réunion or elsewhere, some people know exactly where to go and catch them, but you can eat the fish in many parts of the Indian Ocean and have no symptoms. If people want to test it, they should go to fishermen who know where to get toxic fish.
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