GOLDEN HOOKAH WINNER: Dope-Smoking, Menstruating Monkey Study Got $3.6 Million in Tax Dollars

June 9, 2011 - 3:35 PM
Rhesus monkey

Rhesus Monkey (AP photo/Renee Barth)

(CNSNews.com) - The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a division of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), has spent $3,634,807 over the past decade funding research that involves getting monkeys to smoke and drink drugs such as PCP, methamphetamine (METH), heroin, and cocaine and then studying their behavior, including during different phases of the female monkeys’ menstrual cycles.

The study also uses “interventions” as “treatment models” for monkeys who have been taught to use drugs.

NIDA wins CNSNews.com's "What Were They Smoking Award"—symbolized by The Golden Hookah (see video)—for sponsoring an outrageous government spending program that sends taxpayer dollars up in smoke.

Precursor research on drug-using monkeys, also funded by NIDA, discovered that after smoking cocaine monkeys exhibited “dilated pupils and slightly agitated, hyperactive behavior”—which helped researchers conclude that the “physiological effects” of cocaine on monkeys “were similar to those reported in studies of human subjects.”

In yet another federally funded study of drug-taking monkeys, the monkeys were sometimes given “trail mix” after “their daily experimental sessions.”

Back in 2001, the NIH gave $328,364 to a project called “A Primate Model of Drug Abuse: Intervention Strategies.” The principal investigator for the project was Dr. Marilyn E. Carroll, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.

The description of the grant published by NIH said: “Goals of the proposed research are to use a rhesus monkey model of drug abuse, to study factors affecting vulnerability to drug abuse and to evaluate behavioral and pharmacological treatment interventions. Routes of administration that have been developed in this laboratory will include oral drug self-administration and smoking.”

“Vulnerability factors to be examined,” said the NIH description, “are sex and phase of the menstrual cycle as well as patterns/duration of access to drugs.”

“The drugs that will be studied,” the NIH said, “are cocaine, ethanol, heroin, methadone and phencyclidine (PCP).”

“The use of nondrug reinforcers as a behavioral treatment will also be compared in male and female monkeys and during 3 phases of the menstrual cycle,” said the description.
“Potential treatment medications will also be examined in male monkeys using a behavioral economic approach.”

A decade later, the NIH continued to provide federal funding to the “Primate Model of Drug Abuse: Intervention Strategies” project at the University of Minnesota. On March 31, the federal agency gave the project its latest award, $386,907 in tax dollars.

A description posted by the NIH for the 2011 version of the project says the first aim of the study is: “To examine the effects of sex and menstrual cycle phase on the reinforcing strength of orally-delivered PCP and METH, and a nondrug control substance, saccharin, as well as smoked COC [cocaine], HER [heroin], and METH.”

“The main objective of this research is to develop nonhuman primate models (rhesus monkeys) of critical aspects of addiction that will yield useful information for the prevention and treatment of drug abuse,” says the description.

“The proposed experiments are designed to evaluate vulnerability factors in drug abuse, such as sex and phase of the menstrual cycle (hormonal status), that are related to the development and persistence of drug abuse,” it says.

“Nonhuman primate models of oral drug self-administration such as phencyclidine (PCP) and methamphetamine (METH) and smoked drugs such as cocaine (COC), heroin (HER), and METH will be used, and behavioral and pharmacological interventions will be applied as treatment models in males and females and in females during different phases of the menstrual cycle,” says the NIH description.

Dr. Marilyn E. Carroll, the principal investigator, explains her research on her webpage at the University of Minnesota.

“My research is directed toward developing behavioral and pharmacological methods of reducing and preventing drug abuse,” she says. “Animals are trained to self-administer drugs that humans abuse, and several phases of the addiction process are modeled, such as acquisition, maintenance, withdrawal, craving, and relapse.”

In April 20, 1990 article in Psychopharmacology (“Cocaine-base smoking in rhesus monkeys: reinforcing and physiological effects”), Carroll and three University of Minnesota colleagues—Kelly Krattinger, Daniel Gieske and Daniel A. Saddoff—described earlier federally funded research (supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse) involving monkeys. This research, they wrote, was “designed to establish a primate model of cocaine base smoking.”

“Four rhesus monkeys were trained to smoke cocaine-base under a progressive ratio (PR) schedule with ten smoking trials available each day,” the researchers wrote. “Subjects quickly learned to suck or inhale on the smoking tube.”

“Observations of the monkeys after each trial,” the researchers said, “revealed dilated pupils and slightly agitated, hyperactive behavior. These findings indicated that smoked cocaine-base was rapidly established as a reinforcer for monkeys, and the physiological effects were similar to those reported in studies of human subjects.”

“The animal model will be useful for pursuing research questions regarding the abuse of smoked cocaine-base,” the federally funded researchers concluded.

In an August 26, 2006 article in Psychopharmacology (“Reinforcing effects of smoked methamphetamine in rhesus monkeys”), Dr. Carroll and University of Minnesota colleague Jennifer L. Newman described additional NIDA-funded research with monkeys.

Explaining the rationale for this research, they wrote: “The occurrence of methamphetamine (METH) use by the smoking route is increasing. A nonhuman primate model for examining the reinforcing effects of smoked METH would be valuable for testing potential interventions for treating METH abuse disorders.”

The researchers said that this particular study used five monkeys who had a history of cocaine and heroin use—and that these monkeys were given “trail mix” after their “daily experimental sessions.

“Five adult male rhesus macaque monkeys … served as experimental subjects,” the researchers wrote. “All subjects had extensive histories of self-administering drugs (cocaine, heroin) via the inhalation route (mean 172.6 months; range: 129-213 months). For present studies, they had mostly been maintained on a cocaine smoking baseline. Monkeys were maintained at 85 percent of their free-feeding weights, and they were fed measured allotments of monkey chow … and fresh fruit and/or trail mix after their daily experimental sessions.”

CNSNews.com asked the NIH the following question: “The Census Bureau says the median household income in the United States is $52,000. How would you explain to the average American mom and dad--who make $52,000 per year--that taxing them to pay for this grant was justified?”

In an e-mail, the NIH responded that the research would help create better drug treatment models, alleviating the financial burden on society caused by drug addiction.

“Drug abuse and addiction are a major burden to society; economic costs resulting from tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug abuse are estimated to exceed $600 billion dollars annually in the United States--including health, crime-related costs, and losses in productivity,” said the NIH.

“Behavior therapy is the cornerstone of drug addiction treatments, particularly those in cases where FDA-approved medications do not exist (e.g., cocaine),” said the NIH. “Unfortunately, such treatments have been only partially successful, suggesting that additional research is needed so that we can develop more effective treatments. The results of this study will inform this process.”

CNSNews.com contacted Carroll by telephone and e-mail with the same question, but did not receive a response.

The project is now scheduled to run through March 30, 2012.