"Seven mice, forced to listen to music by The Prodigy, died" was the wonderful phrase I heard while listening to BBC Radio 4's news. Personally I'd have gone with

Prodge kills speeding mice. Bach proves nearly as deadly

Cambridge University has received "formal admonitions" from the British Home Office for an experiment it undertook involving 283 mice, some methamphetamine and some music.

The scientists at Cambridge were testing the consequences of music on the chemical effects of the drug methamphetamine (or 'speed'). To this end, the mice were divided into two groups. Half were injected with a methamphetamine preparation, while the 'clean' mice were injected only with saline.

The two populations were then exposed to different sounds.

  1. Silence (ambient noise of 55 decibels)
  2. The Prodigy at 95 decibels
  3. The allegro movement from Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor at 95 db
  4. White noise at 95 db

Apparently, the concerto was chosen because it represented a tune with a similar beat to the Prodigy. They picked four Prodigy tracks, though no one mentions which ones were used.

Results

The paper (see references section below for the link) contains the following results table. It shows what noise the mice were subjected to, whether they were clean (saline) or drugged with methamphetamine, how many died during the 3 hour experiment. It also shows how many died within 1 day of the end of the experiment and how many of the mice exhibited seizure activity during the experiment. (I've added percentage figures for the died during and died within 24 hours columns.)

  Noise          Drug     Mice used   Died during  Died within 24h  Seizures (% total)
  ====================================================================================
  Silence        Saline   30          0            0                0
  White noise    Saline   29          0            0                0
  Bach           Saline   20          0            0                0
  Prodigy        Saline   29          0            0                0
  Silence        Meth     49          1 (=2.04%)   0                38.7
  White noise    Meth     30          0            0                63.3 
  Bach           Meth     40          4 (=10%)     0                75.0 
  Prodigy        Meth     40          2 (=5%)      3 (=7.5%)        77.5 

The implications are that something about the beat of the music makes Speed more toxic. To mice at least.

The University, later defending the study, said "It seems that listening to pulsative music strengthens the toxic effects of methamphetamine." Dr Morton, one of the co-authors of the study, was clearly convinced. "I might go to raves, but I wouldn't take methamphetamine". Perhaps someone should tell her that she'll be pretty safe if she doesn't do both at once.

Will somebody please think of the rodents

Wendy Higgins, speaking for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), was appalled at the "absolutely despicable" experiments.

"Just because people choose to take drugs and go to raves doesn't justify subjecting animals to suffering and death in the laboratory in procedures that will tell us nothing we don't already know - taking drugs and listening to excessively loud music isn't good for you."

Whether she had read the results and the conclusions of the experiment is not clear. After all, the study would appear to suggest that a drug which might otherwise not kill a mouse becomes more deadly when the mouse is listening to rhythmic music. 95 decibels, by the way, is only as 'excessively loud' as the average personal stereo. (That's a human personal stereo of course. Mice might prefer a lower volume.) How many humans are performing the same experiment on themselves every weekend?

Why oh why?

The Home Office, admonishing the University for the experiment, reminded them about the rules for animal studies. The Home Office also publicly confirmed that Cambridge University had been given a licence to experiment on animals for studies into Huntingdon's disease but that the mouse experiment went beyond the scope of the original project licence.

Cambridge University's Dr Jenny Morton defended the experiment, saying "If you have an environmental stimulus that enhances the toxicity of a drug which is taken recreationally, I think that makes the research justifiable."

Whatever your thoughts on animal research, it's hard to disagree that the results are interesting.

Resources

A. Jennifer Morton, CA Miriam A. Hickey and Laura C. Dean. "Methamphetamine toxicity in mice is potentiated by exposure to loud music" NEUROREPORT 2001;12:3277-3281
- http://ipsapp006.lwwonline.com/content/search/1860/99/23/fulltext.pdf
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/1633252.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/2202603.stm
http://www.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,31500-1061273,00.html
http://www.nme.com/news/49845.htm

Many many thanks to theboy, who found the paper online.

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