Charlotte Gill, the owner of Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor, poses with a pair of lobsters. One is holding a prop cannabis joint, signifying her past work with using marijuana smoke to sedate lobsters, and the other has its claw on a bottle of valerian root, which she currently uses at her restaurant. Scientists in California did an experiment to see if lobsters showed levels of THC after being exposed to cannabis vapor. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHARLOTTE GILL

Study examines effect of THC on lobsters

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound lived up to its name when owner Charlotte Gill made international headlines for her attempts to find a more humane way to cook lobsters by exposing them to marijuana smoke. Now, a few years later, there’s some science behind the idea.

In 2018, Gill, with the help of an air mattress pump, funneled smoke from her homegrown marijuana into a sealed container that held a lobster and equal parts water and air. She would then hotbox the lobster for three to five minutes, fully sedating them so the live cooking process would theoretically be less painful.

Unlike non-hotboxed lobsters, when they went into the water, Gill said her lobsters would barely move, indicating to her that they weren’t feeling any pain.

“Our lobsters were completely sedated,” Gill said. “When you lifted them up, they were basically a limp noodle.”  

A team of scientists at the University of California San Diego, building off Gill’s idea, cooked up their own experiment recently, exposing lobsters to vapor from an e-cigarette device for either 30 or 60 minutes.  

They looked to see how much the lobsters moved after they were exposed to THC — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. They also tested for it in the lobsters’ tissues and looked to see if it changed their reaction to temperature.  

The paper, which has not been officially published or peer-reviewed, concluded that lobsters did have THC in their tissue, and they did slow down and move less, supporting Gill’s theory that lobsters could take in and be affected by THC via “atmospheric exposure.” 

But, unlike Gill’s lobsters, the university’s crustaceans still reacted to hot water. Whether lobsters actually get high and relaxed is up in the air, as well, according to the scientists.  

“Further experimentation would be required to fully investigate other behavioral outcomes, including anxiety-like measures,” the paper concluded.

The American was not able to reach one of the scientists in the study for comment.

Gill was glad that there was some science backing her idea that lobsters can be affected by THC but said the fact that the scientists’ lobsters still reacted to the hot water did not disprove her experiments. 

She was not happy that people were claiming the university “debunked” her theory and she pointed to several major differences between the UCSD experiment and hers.  

The university did lower doses for a long time, emitted via e-cigarette vapor. Gill did high doses for short periods from the smoke of a whole bud.  

She compared the low-dose, long-exposure method to giving someone a small amount of novocaine for a root canal.  

“You’ve got a completely different experiment here,” she said.

Gill’s hotboxed lobsters were not sold to the public, but she said that the meat was sweeter and softer because the lobsters were less stressed than their non-sedated counterparts.  

Being an animal lover her whole life, she wanted to show people there could be a better way to cook the state’s iconic dish. Gill studied philosophy in college and the seafood business brought a line from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” to mind.

“Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature … and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?” she recited during an interview.

The line has stuck with her for the last 30 years and, with marijuana off the table for customers, she’s moved on to other methods, which have governmental approval, to sedate the lobsters.  

She tried CBD, but that took too long for the effects to take hold and wore off too fast. Valerian root had much better success.  

The root works in only a few seconds and lobsters love the flavor of it, but Gill estimated that it only has about 75 percent the effectiveness of cannabis. 

Gill hoped her work with marijuana lobsters would not be discredited and discarded by this new research and she wanted to see her methods tested out to find a more humane way to cook lobster. 

“I feel that was crucially important work that we did,” Gill said. “If it can work on a lobster, it can literally work on anything.”

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.
Ethan Genter

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