If you’re into obscure psychedelics and unusual sources of hallucinogenics, you may have heard about 5-Bromo-DMT, a very mild form of DMT naturally found in a handful of sea sponges. This, however, isn’t the only marine psychedelic in the sea – some fish are believed to produce hallucinogenic effects when consumed in an effect known as “ichthyoallyeinotoxism,” of hallucinogenic fish inebriation. The most well-known and well-documented of these fish is the Sarpa salpa, also known as the Salema porgy or the dreamfish.
What is it?
The Sarpa salpa is a small species of sea bream most commonly found in the East Atlantic Ocean and in parts of the Mediterranean. It’s a fairly common fish, easily, recognized by its golden yellow stripes.
The active agent that actually causes the hallucinations from eating these trippy fish isn’t really known. Some scientists think that the blame lies in the toxins found in algae that fish eat or are spending time around, and others think that the fish is another living being that naturally creates and contains DMT. Another study has linked the psychedelic properties of the Sarpa salpa to the phytoplankton that grow on the Posidonia oceanica seagrass it eats. For now, we just don’t really have any idea. Some people believe that the head of the fish is the most hallucinogenic part, but other studies report that its organs are very toxic.
That said, the Sarpa salpa is not the only hallucinogenic fish out there – the list is longer than you’d think and includes Kyphosus cinerascens, a type of sea chub, and Mulloidichthys flavolineatus, a goatfish. Both of these can be found in the waters around Hawai’i, though not too much is known about their effects or those of the other fish on this list. Interestingly, the Sarpa is the only sea bream on there.
How is it consumed?
The Sarpa salpa is often found served in France’s Côte d’Azur and Mediterranean restaurants. Not everyone ends up tripping on it, but some people do – news of its psychedelic powers became more widely publicized after 2006, when two men ate it at restaurants and, two hours later, started experiencing “terrifying” hallucinations that lasted for 36 hours.
Our ancestors seemed to already know about the fish and what it was capable of: Its name, Sarpa salpa, means “fish that makes dreams” in Arabic, and it was also apparently occasionally eaten for recreation back in the Roman Empire. Similarly, the people of some islands of Polynesia apparently have used the fish for ceremonial and traditional purposes.
How does it feel?
The hallucinations caused by consuming the Sarpa salpa are said to be most similar to that of LSD. Visions can start around two hours after ingestion and can last up to three days. However, not everyone reacts the same to it, and some people don’t get a psychedelic reaction at all: A trip report from a Canadian who purchased the fish from a market in Portugal says that he felt nothing but some drowsiness.
In another tale, a National Geographic reporter ate the fish broiled back in 1960 and experienced “intense hallucinations with a science-fiction theme that included futuristic vehicles, images of space exploration, and monuments marking humanity’s first trips into space.”
But it doesn’t sound like all fun and games and science fiction fantasy: The majority of the trip reports that exist have described the hallucinations as horrendous and frightening: In 1982, a family in Marseilles ate the fish without removing the organs and found themselves haunted by visions of “aggressive animals” for around 10 hours. The animal-related theme is repeated again in a case from 1994, where a 40-year-old tourist in the French Riviera munched on the fish in a restaurant, only to start experiencing blurred vision and nausea the next day. He decided to go for a drive to clear his head, but apparently experienced his vehicle being attacked by “giant arthropods,” after which he checked himself into a hospital and felt better after 36 hours with no memory of anything after that. Likewise, in 2002, a 90-year-old man caught and ate some fish at his home in St. Tropez. Expecting a nice, calm, dinner, he instead found himself “being harassed by screeching winged animals.” Not the best way to spend a weekend.
Is it legal?
It is legal, and if you’re really curious, there are a few restaurants in the Mediterranean that serve it.
There are a few fish in the sea that, when consumed, cause hallucinations and visions, the most well-known of which is the Sarpa salpa, or the dreamfish. It’s often served at restaurants in the Mediterranean and parts of France, and while not everyone will get a trippy experience from their dinner, some people seem to react differently and experience nearly three days of intense and often terrifying hallucinations, as well as dizziness and nausea.
It was previously eaten as a recreational drug during the Roman Empire. Nobody really knows what makes it hallucinogenic – some scientists think that algae or phytoplankton that the Sarpa eats are to blame, while others think it’s just another source of DMT. In any case, the trip may not be worth it – most people describe an unpleasant and frankly horrifying experience, feeling attacked by a variety of animals, and more. Still, if you’re curious, head on over to the French Riviera and go fishing: The Sarpa can be found there, swimming in the water, ready for you to have a taste. Some believe the head is where all the toxins lie, while others think the trippy toxins can be found in the fish’s organs. In any case, just come right home after and get cozy – it seems to be unlikely you’ll feel anything, but in case you do, you want to be prepared.