Eels Suffer From Muscle Damage and Hyperactivity Due to Cocaine in Water

June 21, 2018

Wild European eels are a critically endangered species

Because the Earth’s waters are consistently laced with a variety of substances, marine life can often be detrimentally affected by their presence in the habitat. According to a new study, there is an uptick of eels being affected by cocaine in water, causing muscle damage and hyperactivity in the species.

The discovery is alarming in and of itself, but this is compounded by the fact that European eels in the wild are a critically endangered species. Beyond this new problem presented, eels are also being negatively affected by habitat-loss, dam construction, pollution and overfishing.

The new study was conducted by Italian scientists and was published in Science of the Total Environment. The researchers took a sample of 150 European eels (Anguilla anguilla) and divided them into separate tanks, injecting one with 20 nanograms of cocaine per liter, then waited 50 days. This approach revealed several adverse health effects experienced by the eels exposed to cocaine.

During the study, these eels would swim unusually fast, but nothing beyond this indicated any difference to the eels in safer waters. It was not until dissection at the end of the study that the scientists discovered the significant muscle damage experienced by the eels subjected to the cocaine-infested waters. The muscles were swollen and demonstrated signs of fiber breakdown.

Such discoveries mark important steps toward understanding how different marine life are affected by the bevy of substances found in natural waterways as a result of human injection. Humans contribute these either by flushing drugs improperly down the toilet or excreting them through bodily waste.  

The effects of drugs in the water supply extends well beyond eels and other aquatic life as well. It also could have detrimental effects for humans if proper measures are not taken to effectively remove drugs from various water supplies. Even consuming the eels subjected to cocaine in water could mean that humans are unwittingly ingesting cocaine.

Photo 26492457 © Lftan |
Image courtesy Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ).