Posted on Sat, Jan. 29, 2005
Catfish licking: a new high?
It's said that fish's slime is hallucinogenic
By Tony Bridges
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER
It could be the strangest thing anyone ever asked Tolly Van Brunt.
He was at a boat basin in Franklin County, waiting for a buddy who'd
gone to the bait shop. They were headed out to the Gulf for some
A boy, maybe 17 or so, sidled up to him on the dock.
The kid wanted to make a deal. He'd buy any catfish the anglers caught
"I told him they weren't any good to eat," Van Brunt said. "And he
says, 'Yeah, I know that, but we'd like to get some. We've found a way
to get high off the slime.'"
Recreational use of fish goo? That has to be a joke, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Turns out, a story's been going around for years about hallucinogenic
properties in the slime of a certain kind of saltwater catfish. But
whether fact or urban legend is not exactly clear.
"I've heard of people licking them and getting zonked like they're on
LSD," said Dr. John Hitron, with the Florida State University marine
lab in St. Teresa Beach. "I'm not sure how true it is."
OK, first a few basics on the fish.
Most people call them gafftops or sailcats.
They're bottom-dwellers, comfortable in mud, usually sticking to bays
and the shallow water along coastlines. Not too big, but feisty.
They have regular catfish whiskers and long, sharp spines on top. When
hooked, they produce great big gobs of mucous that coat fishing lines,
anglers and anything else that gets close.
And apparently, they're less than tasty.
So, what about this whole licking thing?
It's hard to tell where or how the story got started, but plenty of
folks have heard it. Usually, the friend-of-a-friend version.
The anglers down at the Lanark Village Mart - a combination boat dock,
bait shop and convenience store near Carrabelle - said last week that
they all knew the tale. Same with the C-Quarters Marina, where the
annual Big Bend Saltwater Classic is based.
Jack Rudloe's heard it, too.
He's the director of the Gulf Marine Specimen Lab in Panacea. A "hippie
friend" was the first to tell him.
"He said, 'Hey, I hear there's a real business there in licking
catfish,'" Rudloe said.
The story's even on the Internet, especially the message boards where
fishermen from around the Gulf of Mexico gather.
And Hitron, the FSU scientist, said he's heard it all over the country.
In New England, the Pacific Northwest, the Florida Keys.
Not everyone's a believer.
"It's just hype," said Amy Noegel-Cohoon, whose husband runs a towboat
service out of Carrabelle. "If it wasn't hype, they'd be a hot item."
Any evidence it's true?
Rudloe was curious enough to give it a taste - in the interest of
science, of course.
Nothing happened to him, but he did make a discovery.
He said the mucous of most sea life, including snails and other fish,
has a fairly bland taste. The gafftop was markedly different.
"It really had a strange chemical kind of taste to it," he said.
Franklin County fisherman Mark Nolton said he did the same thing after
reading something about the slime in Florida Sportsman magazine.
"I was out about a year ago, and I thought, 'I'm gonna try that,'" he
said. "I put a little bit on my tongue, and it went numb instantly."
Hitron said it's possible the slime - a defense mechanism that helps
protect the fish from injury and disease - has some neurotoxic
qualities, as most fish with spines do.
But whether that means the stuff can send someone on a mind-altering
trip, he couldn't say.
"I'll find out if you want me to," offered Van Brunt, who declined to
provide catfish to the teenagers. "The next time I catch one, I'll put
some in my mouth."
© 2005 Tallahassee Democrat and wire service sources. All Rights