Mar 12, 2024 - News

NOPD chief says rats are getting high after eating weed in evidence. Scientists weigh in.

Animated illustration zooming in on a rat, against a green background, with wavy lines coming from behind its head.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

NOPD Superintendent Anne Kirkpatrick says rats are getting high after eating marijuana in the evidence room, but how do you tell?

Why it matters: This claim is making national headlines, and inquiring minds want to know how weed affects rats.

The big picture: Kirkpatrick is pushing to relocate police headquarters, citing "extreme disrepair" and "uncleanliness" at the current building in Mid-City, along with a widespread rodent and roach infestation.

  • "The rats (are) eating our marijuana" in the evidence room, Kirkpatrick told a City Council committee this week. "They're all high."

Driving the news: A high rat looks and responds a lot like a high human, says Cassie Moore, who researches the effects of cannabis on rats at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

  • A high rat, she says, can do the equivalent of getting stuck on the couch. "It's similar to humans taking edibles," she tells Axios.
  • They slow down, have reduced pain and binge eat high-sugar, high-fat foods such as Oreos and peanut butter, she says.
  • "Surprisingly, their brains are very similar to ours."

Yes, but: Cannabis — the preferred scientific term for marijuana — needs to have heat applied to activate the THC to get rats stoned, says Matt Hill, a professor at the University of Calgary who also studies rats and cannabis.

  • "If the rats are eating raw cannabis, I would be very surprised if they are actually getting high," he tells Axios.
  • There might be trace amounts if it was stored in a warm space, he said, but he doubted that would be enough to have behavioral effects on rats.

Flashback: It's not the first time rodents have been blamed for missing marijuana.

  • In 2017, more than 500kg of marijuana went missing from a police warehouse in Argentina, and officers said mice ate it, according to The Independent.

State of play: NOPD's headquarters and evidence room are in an aging building on South Broad Street in Mid-City.

  • Last week, the city submitted a proposed lease agreement with 1615 Poydras Tower LLC, which is across the street from the Caesars Superdome.
  • NOPD hopes to occupy the 17th and 18th floors of the building, according to the document.
  • The 10-year lease calls for the city to pay $7.6 million in base rent for the space.

What's next: The lease now heads to the full City Council for a vote.

  • Police officials hope to get the keys to the new building by May 1, according to WWL.

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