If spiders get high on marijuana, would the webs they weave become more intricate? More creative? More artistic? Or would it become a sloppy mess?
Believe it or not, scientists have been conducting studies on spiders and intoxicants dating back to 1948, when a German zoologist and a German pharmacologist teamed up to study the web-building abilities of arachnids.
In 1995, NASA scientists attempted to replicate the German studies. The space agency used Araneus diadematus (your ordinary, run-of-the-mill house spiders) and supplied them with caffeine, amphetamines, marijuana and chloral hydrate. Depending on the substance, the spiders spun unconventional webs. “The more toxic the chemical,” wrote the researchers, “the more deformed a web looks in comparison with a normal web.”
Here are some of the findings:
- On marijuana: According to NASA’s research, spiders given cannabis became easily sidetracked while web building and left their work unfinished.
- On benzedrine: Spiders weaved their webs with increased energy but without attention to detail. Their webs appeared not to have been planned and were characterized by large gaps.
- On caffeine: Spiders appeared to build webs at random and they grew impatient easily. The “hub” or “spoke” of the web was often missing.
- On chloral hydrate (a sedative): Spiders gave up on building webs at a faster than the cannabis-consuming spiders.
- On LSD: The webs were more geometrically regular and “more orderly” than ones built by sober spiders.
“When a spider’s central nervous system is drugged,” wrote Witt back in 1948, the insect faltered “as a man intoxicated by alcohol weaves an erratic course down the street.” LSD was the lone exception to this rule.
A spider’s skill at spinning its web is so obviously affected by the ups and downs of different drugs that scientists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama think spiders could replace other animals in testing the toxicity of chemicals.
Will this research help humans? Not really. But if there is one thing these studies demonstrate is that some substances can alter dexterity, planning and patience … no matter if you are a human or an arachnid.