Hallucinogenic fish

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Ingesting the dreamfish Sarpa salpa can result in hallucinations that last for several days.

Several species of fish are claimed to produce hallucinogenic effects when consumed. For example, Sarpa salpa, a species of sea bream, is commonly claimed to be hallucinogenic.[1][2] These widely distributed coastal fish are normally found in the Mediterranean and around Spain, and along the west and south coasts of Africa.[3] Occasionally they are found in British waters.[4] They may induce hallucinogenic effects similar to LSD if eaten.[5] However, based on the reports of exposure they are more likely to resemble hallucinogenic effects of deliriants than the effects of serotonergic psychedelics such as LSD. In 2006, two men who apparently ate the fish experienced hallucinations lasting for several days (an effect common with some naturally occurring deliriants).[6][7] The likelihood of hallucinations depends on the season.[8][9] Sarpa salpa is known as "the fish that makes dreams" in Arabic.[6]

Other species claimed to be capable of producing hallucinations include several species of sea chub from the genus Kyphosus.[6] It is unclear whether the toxins are produced by the fish themselves or by marine algae in their diet. Other hallucinogenic fish are Siganus spinus,[10] called "the fish that inebriates" in Reunion Island, and Mulloidichthys flavolineatus (formerly Mulloidichthys samoensis),[11] called "the chief of ghosts" in Hawaii.[12]

Cause of hallucinations[edit]

Some fish may become hallucinogenic after grazing on Caulerpa prolifera, a species of green alga that forms dense beds on shallow sandy areas.
Also implicated is Posidonia oceanica, a seagrass that lives in meadows along the Mediterranean coast.

The active agent(s) that cause hallucinations in humans, and the origin of these agents, are not clear. Some authors think they could come from toxins associated with macroalgae that accumulate in the flesh of the fish. Toxins from the green algae Caulerpa prolifera in the Mediterranean Sea appear to be implicated,[13] as is the seagrass Posidonia oceanica.[8] When herbivores eat seagrass leaves they ingest algal epiphytes and toxic dinoflagellates that live on the seagrass leaves.[14] The German anthropologist Christian Rätsch thinks that dreamfish might contain the hallucinogen DMT.[15]

A few reporters have eaten the dream fish and described their strange effects. The most famous user is Joe Roberts, a photographer for the National Geographic magazine. He broiled the dream fish in 1960. After eating the delicacy, he experienced intense hallucinations with a science-fiction theme that included futuristic vehicles, images of space exploration, and monuments marking humanity's first trips into space.[15]

Hallucinogenic species[edit]

Fish species reported as hallucinogenic
Diet Family Image Species Common name Max length Reported locations[6] Notes Other sources
Herbivores Clown and damselfishes Abudefduf septemfasciatus.jpg Abudefduf septemfasciatus Banded sergeant
23 cm
Gilbert Islands[16] [17][18]
Rabbitfish Siganus argenteus.jpg Siganus argenteus Streamlined spinefoot
40 cm
Mauritius[19] [20][21]
Siganus corallinus.jpg Siganus corallinus Blue-spotted spinefoot
35 cm
Mauritius[19] [22][23]
Siganus luridus Karpathos 02.jpg Siganus luridus Dusky spinefoot
30 cm
Israel[24][25] [26][27]
Siganus rivulatus.jpg Siganus rivulatus Marbled spinefoot
27 cm
Israel (suspected)[28]
Siganus spinus.jpg Siganus spinus Little spinefoot
28 cm
Réunion island[31] [10][32]
Sea breams Sarpa salpa .jpg Sarpa salpa Salema
51 cm
Sea chub Kyphosus cinerascens Day.png Kyphosus cinerascens Blue sea chub
50 cm
Hawaii[37] [38][39]
Kyphosus vaigiensis by NPS.jpg Kyphosus vaigiensis Brassy chub
70 cm
Hawaii[37] [40][41]
Kyphosus bigibbus.jpg Kyphosus bigibbus Brown chub
75 cm
Norfolk Island[42] Formerly Kyphosus fuscus [43][44]
Surgeon fish Convict Surgeonfish, Acanthurus triostegus.jpg Acanthurus triostegus Convict surgeonfish
27 cm
Hawaii[37] [45][46]
Omnivores Goatfish Mulloidichthys flavolineatus Day.png Mulloidichthys flavolineatus Yellowstripe goatfish
43 cm
Hawaii[47][48][49] Formerly Mulloidichthys samoensis.[50]
Called "the chief of ghosts" in Hawaii[12][51]
Upeneus arge.JPG Upeneus taeniopterus Finstripe goatfish
33 cm
Hawaii[47][48][49] Formerly Upeneus arge [53][54]
Mullet Mugil cephalus.jpg Mugil cephalus Flathead grey mullet
100 cm
Hawaii[47] [55][56]
MyxusLeuciscusFord.jpg Neomyxus leuciscus Acute-jawed mullet
46 cm
Hawaii[47] Formerly Neomyxus chaptalli [57][58]
Carnivores Groupers Coral grouper (Epinephelus corallicola).jpg Epinephelus corallicola Coral grouper
49 cm
Gilbert Islands[16] [59][60]


Ichthyoallyeinotoxism, or hallucinogenic fish inebriation, is a clinical syndrome that refers to a hallucinogenic inebriation of a distressing nature that can arise from consuming hallucinogenic fish. It is characterised by "psychologic disturbances of hallucination and depression. Gastrointestinal disturbance may occur".[61] "Ichthyoallyeinotoxism is a kind of ichthysarcotoxism (fish flesh poisoning) responsible of an unusual clinical feature: it is the unique case of central nervous system ichthyotoxicity. The most frequent signs are dizziness, loss of co-ordination and hallucinations."[13]

Ichthyoallyeinotoxism may result from eating the flesh or the head of the fish where the poison is reputedly concentrated. This biotoxication is sporadic and unpredictable in its occurrence. The poison affects primarily the central nervous system. The symptoms may develop within a few minutes to 2 hours and persist for 24 hours or longer. Symptoms are dizziness, loss of equilibrium, lack of motor coordination, hallucinations and mental depression. A common complaint of the victim is that "someone is sitting on my chest", or there is a sensation of a tight construction around the chest. The conviction that he is going to die, or some other frightening phantasy, is a characteristic part of the clinical picture. Other complaints consist of itching, burning of the throat, muscular weakness and abdominal distress. No fatalities have been reported, and in comparison with other forms of ichthyosarcotoxism, hallucinogenic fish poisoning is relatively mild... Ordinary cooking procedures do not destroy the poison.[62]

Psychedelic fish[edit]

Hallucinogenic fish can be contrasted with psychedelic fish. Fish that look like psychedelic paintings are often referred to as psychedelic fish, while fish that can give you hallucinations if you eat them are often called hallucinogenic fish. Psychedelic fish do not generally produce hallucinations if eaten, but look as if they were the product of a psychedelic hallucination. Hallucinogenic fish do not generally look like psychedelic fish, but can produce hallucinations if eaten.[63][64][65]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Orsolini, L.; Ciccarese, M.; Papanti, D.; De Berardis, D.; Guirguis, A.; Corkery, J. M.; Schifano, F. (2018). "Psychedelic fauna for psychonaut hunters: a mini-review". Frontiers in Psychiatry. 9: 153. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00153. PMC 5992390. PMID 29910745.
  2. ^ Jawad, Laith A. (2017). "Hallucinogenic fish". Dangerous Fishes of the Eastern and Southern Arabian Peninsula. Springer International. pp. 177–185. ISBN 978-3-319-57926-9.
  3. ^ a b Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2013). "Sarpa salpa" in FishBase. October 2013 version.
  4. ^ "Fish that triggers hallucinations found off British coast". The Telegraph. 13 May 2009.
  5. ^ "'Hallucination' fish netted in Channel". The Guardian. 13 May 2009.
  6. ^ a b c d de Haro, L.; Pommier, P. (2006). "Hallucinatory fish poisoning (ichthyoallyeinotoxism): two case reports from the Western Mediterranean and literature review". Clinical Toxicology. 44 (2): 185–8. doi:10.1080/15563650500514590. PMID 16615678. S2CID 41191477.
  7. ^ Clarke, Matt (19 April 2006). "Men hallucinate after eating fish". Practical Fishkeeping. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 31 March 2010.
  8. ^ a b Bellassoued K, Hamza A, Abdelmouleh A, Makni FA, Van Pelt J, Elfeki A (2012). "Toxicity assessment of dreamfish Sarpa salpa from the Gulf of Gabes (Tunisia, Eastern Mediterranean Sea)". Journal of Food, Agriculture and Environment. 10 (2): 1308–1313.
  9. ^ de Haro L, Jouglard DE, Thomas MJ, David JM (1994). "Intoxications de type ciguatera after eating the Sparidae in Mediterranean". In Boudoresque, CF, Meinsez A, Gravez V (eds.). First International Workshop on Caulerpa taxifolia. France: GIS Posidonie Publ. pp. 271–274. ISBN 978-2-905540-19-5.
  10. ^ a b Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2013). "Siganus spinus" in FishBase. October 2013 version.
  11. ^ a b Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2013). "Mulloides flavolineatus" in FishBase. October 2013 version.
  12. ^ a b Thomas, Craig; Scott, Susan (1 June 1997). All Stings Considered: First Aid and Medical Treatment of Hawai'i's Marine Injuries. Hawaii: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-8248-1900-2.
  13. ^ a b de Haro, L., Prost, N., Arditti, J., David, J. M., & Jouglard, J. (1998) "Ichthyoallyeinotoxism: a rare pathology" Toxicon, 36 (12): 1738–1739.
  14. ^ Kitting, Christopher L.; Fry, Brian; Morgan, Mark D. (1984). "Detection of inconspicuous epiphytic algae supporting food webs in seagrass meadows". Oecologia. 62 (2): 145–149. Bibcode:1984Oecol..62..145K. doi:10.1007/BF00379006. PMID 28310706. S2CID 24235492.
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  17. ^ Abudefduf septemfasciatus: Sevenband Damselfish Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
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  22. ^ Siganus corallinus: Blue-spotted spinefoot Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
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  29. ^ Siganus rivulatus: Squaretail Rabbitfish Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
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  32. ^ Siganus spinus: Little spinefoot Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
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  34. ^ de Haro L, Treffot MJ, Jouglard J and Perringué C (1993) "Trois cas d'intoxication de type ciguatérique après ingestion de Sparidae de Méditerranée", Ictyophysiologica Acta, 16: 133–146.
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  38. ^ Kyphosus cinerascens: Blue Seachub Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
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  61. ^ Report of the Seminar on Ichthyosarcotoxism Papeete 1968, South Pacific Commission.
  62. ^ R Bagnis R, F Berglund, PS Elias, GJ van Esch, BW Halstead and K Kojima (1970) "Problems of Toxicants in Marine Food Products: 1. Marine biotoxins" Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 42: 69–88.
  63. ^ "Psychedelic" fish picture: New Species Bounces on Reef National Geographic, 25 February 2009.
  64. ^ The Psychedelic mandarin Archived 2 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine Practical fishkeeping, 4 May 2011.
  65. ^ Department of Defense (2000) Coral Reef Protection Implementation Plan Diane Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4289-1126-0.
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External links[edit]