Rat Park drug experiment cartoon – Stuart McMillen comics

Everybody knows about the experiments where rats pressed the lever to feed themselves heroin and other drugs, to the exclusion of all else until they starved to death. They DON’T know about the “Rat Park” experiments done by Bruce Alexander, a Canadian psychologist. 

Alexander’s hypothesis was that drugs don’t cause addiction, and that the apparent addiction to opiate drugs that is observed in laboratory rats exposed to it is caused by their living conditions, and not any addictive property of the drug itself. He told the Canadian Senate in 2001 that prior experiments in which laboratory rats were kept isolated in cramped metal cages, tethered to a self-injection apparatus, show only that “severely distressed animals, like severely distressed people, will relieve their distress pharmacologically if they can.”

Think about what that means.

To test his hypothesis, Alexander built Rat Park, a 95 sq ft housing colony, 200 times the floor area of a standard laboratory cage. There were 16–20 rats of both sexes in residence, an abundance of food, balls and wheels for play, and enough space for mating and raising litters. The results of the experiment appeared to support his hypothesis. Rats who had been forced to consume morphine hydrochloride for 57 consecutive days were brought to Rat Park and given a choice between plain tap water and water laced with morphine. For the most part, they chose the plain water. “Nothing that we tried,” Alexander wrote, “… produced anything that looked like addiction in rats that were housed in a reasonably normal environment.” Control groups of rats isolated in small cages consumed much more morphine in this and several subsequent experiments.

How much of this do we see in people? Living in cramped cages and tethered to their self-injection apparatuses: drugs, caffeine, television, cellphones, video games… pushing the lever over and over again. Think about it, man. Distraction. Escape. THAT is the addiction.

Rat Park drug experiment cartoon – Stuart McMillen comics

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