Our Antidepressants Are Harming Marine Animals

iStock
iStock

An estimated 13 percent of Americans are currently taking prescription medication for depression, a 65 percent increase since the early 2000s. These drugs typically act as stimulants for neurotransmitters in the brain, which help regulate mood. While the effect is often beneficial for humans, scientists are beginning to learn it's having some unintended consequences for other species.

In a study recently published in Ecology and Evolution and covered by Newsweek, researchers at Portland State University took a closer look at how discarded antidepressants that wind up in inhabited waters impact marine life. The authors introduced fluoxetine, the main ingredient in Prozac, into a laboratory body of water inhabited by Oregon shore crabs, or Hemigrapsus oregonensis. Normally, the crabs are nocturnal foragers, avoiding confrontation and hiding in sediment when predators appear.

After being exposed to the drug, the crabs exhibited a dramatic change in behavior. Instead of shying away from predators—in the lab study, the larger red rock crab—they became more confrontational, increasing the risk of an early death. They also became more active during the day and displayed aggression towards other crabs, engaging in fights.

Drugs like fluoxetine end up in inhabited waters in a number of ways. Some people flush unwanted medication down the toilet, a measure that's even recommended by the FDA when users need to quickly dispose of dangerous drugs like OxyContin. Contamination from trash or human urine and stool can also be sources of pollution; a USGS study published earlier this year found antidepressants in the brains of fish living downstream from wastewater treatment plants. The study's authors warn that increased populations near coastal regions may worsen the issue. It's also unknown how concentrations of several different drugs can combine to alter behavior. Right now, it looks like our solution to one problem—depression—may have a host of ecological repercussions.

[h/t Newsweek]

Thursday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Guitar Kits, Memory-Foam Pillows, and Smartwatches

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 3. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

Fun Fact: More Than 75 National Forests Will Let You Chop Down Your Own Christmas Tree

Want a holiday tree? Drop by your nearest national forest.
Want a holiday tree? Drop by your nearest national forest.
Artem Baliaikin, Pexels

While plenty of people celebrate the holiday season with a neat and tidy artificial Christmas tree, there’s nothing quite like having the smell of fresh evergreen fir needles littering your floor. But before you head to your nearest tree farm or Walmart, think about a national forest instead. More than 75 of them will let you chop your own tree. Best of all, it’s actually good for the forests.

The United States Forest Service encourages people to grab a holiday tree from their land because it means less competition for room and sunlight for the remaining trees and allows wildlife to flourish. All you have to do is find your nearest national forest at Recreation.gov and apply for a permit—usually $10 or so—to begin chopping. The Forest Service recommends selecting trees no larger than 12 to 15 feet in height, with a 6-inch trunk diameter. They usually ask that you select a tree roughly 200 feet away from roads or campgrounds and make sure you let someone know where you’re going in case you get lost.

Different forests have different species of trees and slightly different rules, so it’s best to check with the forest for their guidelines before you rev up the chainsaw. And no, tree traffickers, you can’t harvest trees for resale.

[h/t CNN]