In 1962, Tusko the elephant was injected with 297 mg of LSD, 25 times the dose needed to induce hallucinations in humans. Researchers hypothesized that due to its personality-disrupting effects, LSD would be the perfect tool to induce wild, inexplicable behaviour in the 14 year old elephant.
Animal research has come under scrutiny over the last several years, and its practices are seen as risky by some and unethical by others. That being said, without these critical tests, chemists wouldn’t be able to create medications, surgeons would not have experience transplanting organs, and the vaccines for some of the worlds deadliest diseases would not be generated. Nevertheless, how far is too far when it comes to finding the next scientific breakthrough? Our answer: shooting up an elephant with acid.
Elephants are known to exhibit wild erratic behaviour during mating season, this behaviour is known as “musth”. It was argued that due to the rageful and destructive behaviour experienced during these episodes, conserving the species would be difficult. In order to get a better understanding of musth, scientists hoped to recreate the behaviour by injecting Tusko, a 14-year-old Indian elephant, with LSD (which was still legal at the time) and studying the effects.
Since elephants were not normally used for medical research, the scientists did not have any data to go off when beginning their study. Similar to humans, every animal reacts differently to drugs, and metabolize drugs at different rates. The dose that was given to Tusko was based on an educated guess, and as you may have assumed, it did not go well.
Tusko the elephant was injected with 297 mg of LSD, 25 times the dose needed to induce hallucinations in humans and immediately keeled over and started seizing. Tusko was overdosing on acid. The scientists attempted to combat the overdose through promazine and pentobarbital injections, but unfortunately, Tusko succumbed to the LSD.
The study was poorly executed, unethical and widely reported in the news. Dr. Louis West, the leader of the project, was a former CIA employee and highly involved in the MK Ultra program, which tested if LSD can be used for mind control.