Deadly Doses: A Legal Low

“Universities, we are led to believe, are meant to be modern progressive institutions that use cutting edge scientific technology. Yet the continued use of animals in brutal experimental studies proves again and again that some universities are still, ethically and scientifically, in the Dark Ages.” – Animal Justice Project

Animal Justice Project: Deadly DosesAnimal Justice Project’s campaign, ‘Deadly Doses: A Legal Low’, uncovers peer-reviewed studies involving animals in experiments that use cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA, heroin, so-called ‘designer drugs’, alcohol and nicotine. The campaign provides a chilling overall pattern of experiments using recreational drugs inside UK universities, such as the University of Cambridge, University of Surrey, University of Sussex, Imperial College London, King’s College London, Queen’s University Belfast, Cardiff University, Bristol University and University of Nottingham.

Recreational drug use refers to the use of substances by humans (legal, controlled, or illegal) to alter a state of consciousness, or rather, recreate positive emotions and feelings. There are substantial ethical issues with the subjection of non-human animals to these substances for whatever motive. From illegal substances – such as cocaine, amphetamines, heroin and ecstasy – to legal ones, such as alcohol and nicotine, these studies are abhorrent and often cause severe suffering and distress. The majority of these experiments are carried out on small animals, such as guinea pigs, hamsters, mice and rats. The often-forgotten victims of research, genetically modified and manipulated, they are used in their millions. Abused and killed by having their necks broken or by decapitation. These animals are afforded little consideration, they are viewed merely as ‘tools’ or ‘materials’ by researchers.

Animals may be injected or forced to inhale ‘Class A’ drugs

In huge doses over days and often weeks, sometimes for hours at a time. At one university, Animal Justice Project revealed 39 rats being subjected to both nicotine and cocaine over a two week period! During experiments using recreational drugs, animals are frequently denied food, implanted with intravenous and brain catheters, and have their brains surgically damaged. They are trained to seek out drugs, are exposed to electric shocks, flashing lights, forced swimming, loud noise and confusing mazes during training and punishment. Pain relief is often not provided to animals, even after surgery.

These cruel animal experiments reveal very little, if anything, about the harmful effects of recreational drugs in humans. Something we even found researchers admitting themselves in the studies. The differences between, for example, a mouse and a human are simply too great, and include extremely obvious differences in anatomy, physiology and behaviour. Animal Justice Project uncovered many studies where animals have been injected with recreational drugs, such as cocaine, directly into their stomachs, or brains. Clearly these are vastly different routes of administration to those chosen by human users of these drugs. Non-animal studies are undoubtedly the most accurate way of investigating the effects of recreational drug use in humans. Human volunteers can, and are, used to study the short-term effects of, for example, Class A drugs in controlled studies. Animals are even more unsuitable for studying the long-term effects of recreational drug use in humans. It is an injustice that the UK Government continues to plough money into animal experiments in recreational drug research, rather than using public funds to help educate the public about the consequences of taking these drugs in the first place, improving treatments in specialist clinics, and the safe and effective rehabilitation of ex-drug users into society. Last year, the New Zealand government voted successfully to ban all animal research for recreational drugs. There, Health Minister Tony Ryall stated that the government “does not believe such testing was justifiable for the recreational drug market”.

We urge the UK government to follow suit and take immediate steps to ban these obscene and futile animal experiments in recreational drugs research.

Animal experiments using recreational drugs carried out between 2010 and 2015

Between 2010 and March 2015 over 90 peer-reviewed experiments using recreational drugs on animals were carried out at UK universities or in collaboration with UK universities overseas. The estimated number of animals used in these experiments is over 4,600. Animal Justice Project carried out an investigation into animal experiments that used the following recreational drugs:

Nicotine/Cigarettes, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Alcohol, Morphine/Heroin, MDMA (Ecstasy), Designer Drugs (Benzo fury, Angel Dust (PCP)), Ketamine, Cannabis, Diazepam.

University of Cambridge (2010-2014)

Animal Justice Project made several requests, via the Freedom of Information Act (2000), to determine the number of licensed procedures carried out by Cambridge researchers, the species of animals used, and the types of recreational drug studies carried out. Our requests were declined by Cambridge University (1).

Using peer-reviewed studies, Animal Justice Project provides a conservative estimate of the number of animals used in experiments involving recreational drugs. Between 2010-2014, it was in excess of 1,200 animals and the majority were rats. This is a shockingly high number of animals used in such futile and distasteful experiments.

(1) Section 12 (1) of FOIA does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the appropriate limit.


Rat subjected to electric shocksTwenty-three rats were subjected to electric shocks to their feet in an experiment involving cocaine, which included the study of negative reaction (footshock) for cocaine-seeking. Rats were implanted with intravenous catheters, as well as brain catheters for the eventual self administration of cocaine after having been trained to use levers. They were allowed to access, via the lever system, up to 150 infusions of cocaine in a  six hour period. At the end of the experiment, the rats were killed and had their brains removed. The researchers found that the unpredictable electric shocks made the rats more desperate to receive cocaine.

In another experiment at Cambridge University, a total of 75 rats were exposed to either amphetamine or morphine (heroin). The basis of the experiment was to determine whether negative punishment influences drug-seeking.

Rats were subjected to training in which they were shocked every five seconds for up to 30 times in a single session. The rats endured up to 30 training sessions. Forty two rats then had brain catheters implanted, left for a week to recover, and then subjected to brain and abdomen injections of ‘free base’ (pure) amphetamine or heroin for four days.

Animal Justice Project opposes subjecting animals to forms of abuse such as electric shocks – an abhorrent, yet regular procedure in many UK laboratories.


Many universities collaborate with overseas institutions and such is the case for this experiment. Sixty rats were subjected to experimentation at the University of Poitiers (France), in collaboration with researchers from the University of Cambridge to test whether anxiety and natural tendency are related to the choice of cocaine over saccharin. The rats had cannula implanted into their jugular veins which protruded from their bodies via their shoulder blades. The animals were forced to carry out tasks on an open elevated maze. It is a natural instinct of rats to avoid open spaces and this task is designed to deliberately heighten anxiety levels. Two of the rats fell from the maze and were eliminated from the experiment along with another rat whose implant had ‘failed’.

What is interesting about this study is that access to sweet water was more complex for the rats than access to cocaine. To obtain sweet water, the rats had to turn a wheel, yet in order to obtain cocaine, there was no wheel to turn. The methodology of this study is at best, lax and skewed.

University of Surrey (2010-2014)

Researchers at University of Surrey have carried out animal experiments using drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, nicotine and heroin.

Information obtained by Animal Justice Project reveals that, during 2013, 35 procedures involving cocaine were performed on mice at University of Surrey. It appears that no anaesthesia was given to the animals during these experiments. Additionally, a further 58 procedures on mice using methamphetamine were carried out in the same year and, again, no anaesthesia was provided.

In 2013, University of Surrey researchers used more than 2,700 animals in various experiments. Rabbits, mice, rats and guinea pigs were amongst the victims. During 2012 researchers carried out 24 licensed procedures involving mice and nicotine.


Mouse being injectedThirty-nine mice were dosed with cocaine and nicotine for 14 days in an attempt to replicate human ‘binge’ consumption so that researchers could determine whether there is a correlation between nicotine addiction and cocaine dependency.  Some of the mice received an abdominal injection of cocaine and nicotine once every hour consecutively for three hours for a period of 14 days in order to make the animals ‘cocaine addicts’.

The mice increased grooming behaviour, so much so that the animals pulled out their own fur. The behaviour was said to be ‘intense’, and ‘reminiscent of animal models of OCD‘. Treatment with cocaine resulted in mice performing stereotypic behaviours.

The outcome of the experiment in relation to humans was, according to the researchers, ‘tenuous’. The mice had their necks broken at the end of the study and their brains dissected. Another futile experiment carried out at University of Surrey.


Twenty-four young mice, some genetically modified, were subjected to this experiment to investigate the effects of methamphetamine on the release of the ‘feel good’ hormone oxytocin in the brain. For ten days, 12 mice were injected into their stomachs with high doses of methamphetamine. After the final injection, the animals had their necks broken. This study is essentially a repeat of an experiment carried out by other researchers in2010 which concluded that oxytocin reduced methamphetamine self-administration in rats.


An experiment set out to demonstrate the emotional effects of heroin withdrawal was carried out using over 300 young mice. The complex nature of drug addiction, socio-economic factors, as well as psychological reasons for drug use, appears to have passed University of Surrey researchers by. Mice were subjected to ‘chronic morphine (heroin) administration’. Escalating doses of morphine were given to 161 mice over a seven day period, twice a day. The animals were then divided into smaller groups.

The mice were left for another seven days with no injections, so as to induce chronic withdrawal. Some were decapitated immediately, others after a further seven days. The remaining mice were given more drugs, and subjected to stressful environments – ‘forced-swim tests’ and elevated maze tasks in order to assess ‘depressive-like behavior’ following the seven day withdrawal from morphine. The stress incurred by the mice during general withdrawal and the swim test caused them to defecate which researchers noted to be ‘indicative of depressive-like behaviour’. The final stresser for the animals was decapitation without anaesthesia.

The University of Sussex released information to Animal Justice Project revealing that mice were the species of choice in cocaine experiments between 2012-2014. However, during 2014 the University of Sussex refused to reveal the overall number of animals used in experimentation in 2013 to Animal Justice Project.

The University of Sussex record on transparency and animal experiments is appalling. They have refused requests for information by Animal Justice Project and the BUAV regarding the number and species of animals used. All universities hold this information by law, and in fact pass this information annually to the Home Office.

University of Sussex (2010-2014)

The University of Sussex released information to Animal Justice Project revealing that mice were the species of choice in cocaine experiments between 2012-2014. However, during 2014 the University of Sussex refused to reveal the overall number of animals used in experimentation in 2013 to Animal Justice Project.

The University of Sussex record on transparency and animal experiments is appalling. They have refused requests for information by Animal Justice Project and the BUAV regarding the number and species of animals used. All universities hold this information by law, and in fact pass this information annually to the Home Office.


Sixteen young mice were used in this experiment to investigate the ‘acute effects’ of alcohol and cocaine use, and how they affect impulsive or risky decisions. The animals had their food restricted throughout the study and their body weight was reduced by 15 per cent. They were injected with alcohol or cocaine into their stomachs.<

Two of the mice died – one during a training session. According to researchers, ‘both unexpectedly and for unknown reasons’.

During the study, the mice were trained to receive ‘rewards’ or ‘punishments’. Punishment was in the form of flashing light exposure which lasted up to 40 seconds. Subjecting rodents to flashing lights can be an extremely stressful experience for the animals.

The mice were administered cocaine and alcohol via an intraperitoneal injection. The video opposite shows this cruel (yet standard) laboratory practice.


Sixty-two mice, including those who had been genetically modified, were used in this cocaine experiment. The animals were task-trained to press a lever in order for them to receive condensed milk, and they then underwent surgery to have catheters implanted into their jugular veins. The milk was replaced with cocaine. Mice received up to 20 doses of cocaine per session, and ten sessions a day.

The outcome of this experiment affirms a previous experiment investigating a particular brain chemical and cocaine. Another futile and repetitive experiment.

Imperial College London (2010-2014)

During 2013, Imperial College London used over 130,000 animals in experiments. Year on year, since 2011, there has been a 20% rise at the university in the use of animals (2).

Imperial College is proud to claim their facilities are amongst the best in the world, yet the university dramatically hit the headlines in 2013 when a BUAV investigator went undercover and exposed the appalling plight of animals in their laboratory facilities. The BUAV investigator discovered a nightmare world for animals used in experiments: animals who suffered even more than necessary for an experiment and died because of staff incompetence and neglect; a failure to provide adequate anaesthesia and pain relief; breaches and lack of knowledge of UK Home Office project licences and the shocking way in which animals were killed.

» Read the investigation here

Following this investigation, the Home Office concluded in their report of 2014 that the university was at ‘high risk of non-compliance’ with the requirements of animal welfare legislation, and that there was a ‘widespread poor culture of care’ at Imperial College. Added to this eight people were sanctioned by the Home Office for failings in animal welfare standards.

(2) Imperial College Animal Research Numbers


Rats forced to breathe in irritating substancesConscious male guinea pigs supplied by Harlan (UK) were exposed to cigarette smoke at Imperial College London along with two irritants – chilli pepper and citric acid, to induce coughs so that researchers could attempt to understand how cough reflex would respond to first-generation drug (3), Theophylline, which is an already commercially available cough syrup ingredient. The guinea pigs were placed in individual plastic chambers twice a day and were exposed to cigarette smoke for almost an hour in each session.

The guinea pigs were anaesthetised, given drugs to paralyse their breathing muscles and artificially ventilated prior to being exposed to theophylline and irritating substances again. Then they were killed.

Researchers already know that Theophylline can be problematic for humans because if used regularly it can cause toxicity problems.

(3) A first generation drug is a drug that is the first to show the desired activity. Later generations are a successive line of derivatives of these original drugs.

King’s College London (2010-2014)

During 2013, King’s College London used 132,000 animals in research, these included 37 Marmosets and 479 guinea pigs. The number of mice used was a staggering 107,765.

King’s College London is well known for its experiments on non-human primates, notably Marmoset monkeys. Together with the big pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline Marmoset monkey were used in experiments that induced, over a period of 18 months, Parkinson’s Disease then they were subjected to various tests. The monkeys used in this experiment exposed by Animal Aid were all killed.


An experiment involving at least 13 mice at King’s College London regarding the effects of alcohol on the brain involved surgical implants and dosing mice with alcohol. One procedure involved animals being subjected to sub-chronic alcohol administration (4). Mice were given daily injections of a ‘higher alcohol dose’ for seven days. According to researchers, the alcohol may have had ‘acute sedating effects’, yet they do not specify exactly the condition of the mice during the study. Two hours after the final alcohol injection, the animals had their necks broken. The researchers state that their results have ‘limitations’.

(4) Subchronic: a repetitive dosing of alcohol over a short period of time


Female mouse and her litter destined for animal researchDespite previous studies at King’s College London concluding that exposure to nicotine has neurological effects on the offspring of animals,(5) researchers carried out yet another repetitive experiment on female rats and their pups. In total, 120 rats were involved in this study. Forty pregnant rats were exposed to nicotine and there was also a control group of 50 animals. An additional group of eight females were used to assess nicotine blood levels during pregnancy.

Female rats were given water laced with nicotine (which was their only water source) for three weeks prior to mating to observe the effects of nicotine on the young pups. Mothers who were adverse to the nicotine-laced water were only given access to unlaced water for five minutes a day. The pups from birth were put through experimental procedures, from being fed nicotine to being introduced to maze tests and task conditioning. The researchers concluded that there were two major flaws in the study, and that further studies were required.

(5) Search criteria Google Scholar: nicotine+effects+on+embryos+rat+experiments.

Queen’s University Belfast (2012)

During 2013, Queen’s University Belfast used 11,746 animals in experiments. The majority, over 10,000, were mice. Also 1,255 rats, 50 rabbits and 26 guinea pigs were used.

In 2013 there was an overall rise in the number of animal experiments in Northern Ireland, 66% of experiments took place in Universities there.
Figures released in 2014 show a rise of 7% in the number of experiment performed on animals. 18,638 animals were used in 19,860 experiments in 2013. There was a rise specifically of 12% in the number of genetically modified and animals that were bred with a harmful genetic defect. In Northern Ireland also the re-use of cats and dogs in experiments was noted in 2013 statistics.


An experiment using 48 rats to observe the effects of cannabis on sperm production was carried out at Queen’s University Belfast. Twenty rats were injected daily with ‘HU-210’ – a synthetic form of cannabis – into their abdomens five days a week, for up to seven weeks. They then had their necks broken. Researchers believed this to be the equivalent of a human male using cannabis daily for four years. The outcome of the study was for researchers to study human use of cannabis and its effects on sperm production yet this has already been done.

Cardiff University (2010-2014)

In 2013 Cardiff used 63,578 animals in experiments. This number included over 48,000 mice, 24 pigs, 165 frogs and 155 pigeons.

Information requested from Cardiff University revealed that between  2012 and 2013, the university used 64 rats in experiments using ‘Angel Dust’ (i.e. Phencyclidine or PCP) and an undeclared number of mice and rats in experiments using derivatives of amphetamine.

Cardiff University is no stranger to controversy exposed in 2012 for having bred cats in complete darkness to see how it effected their brains. Some kittens had eyes sewn shut for up to seven days. A brutal and unnecessary experiment which involved 31 cats also involved the kittens undergoing major surgery to their brains. The cats were eventually killed and their brains removed.


Rats being forced to perform tasksThis behavioural experiment carried out at Cardiff University involved 160 rats and amphetamine. The rats were divided into groups. One group of 96 rats received amphetamine injections for seven consecutive days. Following this the animals were injection free, however were food restricted so their body weight reduced by 20 per cent. The rats had food restricted to aid behavioural training, as rats would be more inclined to search out food due to their being hungry.

The rats then underwent repeated training sessions. Once they performed well they were given different drugs by further abdominal injection at the beginning of each session in order to see how this would affect their performance. One of the drugs given intentionally produced a feeling of nausea in the rats.

The outcome of this futile experiment was no different to that of an experiment carried out seven years earlier, by the same researchers.

Cardiff University researchers have performed several animal experiments using recreational substances such as Angel Dust (PCP), methamphetamine and alcohol over the years. Experimentshave involved purposely damaging the brains of mice, causing brain damage in rats, and the task-training of animals.

Bristol University (2013-2015)

Bristol University has refused to provide information on specific experiments or on the more generalised number of animals used in research at the university (6).

Not only have Bristol University failed to comply with numerous Freedom of Information requests by Animal Justice Project and BUAV, researchers at the facility have also failed to state the number of animals used in these peer-reviewed studies.

(6) BUAV website (2014) Bristol University deliberately hiding details of their animal experiments (BUAV)


Mice used in ressearchThis 2014 study was funded primarily by the multinational giant, GlaxoSmithKline, and involved the testing of a new drug to reverse the effects of morphine, which is the same family as heroin, in mice.

Bristol University researchers gave the mice varying doses of morphine – some of the animals were given one dose and killed four hours later, whilst others were given injections every eight hours over a number of days prior to being killed. Another group of mice were implanted with morphine pellets before being killed three days later. All of the mice had their brains removed. There was no mention in the paper of the method of killing used by researchers.

The authors were unable to reach a clear conclusion about the effect of their experimental drug on the brain because the morphine doses given to the mice were unrealistically high.

Nottingham University (2013-2015)

During 2013, almost 30,000 animals were used at Nottingham University. Of those animals, over 12,000 were used in ‘curiosity-driven research’, and over 13,000 animals used as breeding ‘stock’. This shocking revelation that demonstrates finding a cure is not the motivation for animal research. (7)

Nottingham University has released information to Animal Justice Project via Freedom of Information Act highlighting the fact that 48 procedures on rats were carried out during 2012 using Ecstasy. Between the years 2012 and 2013, a total of 204 procedures involving amphetamine were carried out on rats.



During 2013, seventy-two rats were used in an experiment involving Ecstasy (MDMA) at Nottingham University. For initial training, the animals were subjected to foot shocks, warning sounds  and water deprivation. One group of rats received two doses of ecstasy by injection, whilst the rats in another group received none. This was so that researchers could investigate how the rats of each group would behave in response to the electric shocks and warning sounds. Their findings revealed that ecstasy can affect the brain negatively. After the experiment, the rats had their necks broken.

Animal Justice Project: Deadly Doses

Peer-reviewed animal experiments using recreational drugs carried out between 2010-2015
Estimated number of animals used in experiments involving recreational drugs 2010-2015
Cambridge University: Peer-reviewed recreational drug studies using animals 2010-2015
University of Surrey: peer-reviewed recreational studies using animals 2010-2015
University of Sussex: peer-reviewed recreational drug studies using animals 2010-2015
Imperial College: peer-reviewed recreational drug studies using animals 2010-2015
King's College: peer-reviewed recreational drug studies used in animals 2010-2015
Queen's University Belfast: peer-reviewed recreational drugs studies using animals 2012
Cardiff University: peer-reviewed recreational drugs studies using animals 2010-2015
Bristol University: peer-reviewed recreational drug studies using animals 2010-2015
Nottingham University: peer-reviewed recreational drugs studies using animals 2010-2015

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