Image: Male Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica), the species made the subject of the federal government-funded study to determine what the effect of cocaine use is on the sex drive. Please take notice of the large feet of this creature, which, after the 2016 Presidential Election, we all know what that means.
Washington, DC, June 3 – If you think a local government spending $107 million on a 3-mile tollroad in the middle of a rural area is bad, how about spending your hard-earned tax dollars, in the amount of $356,933.14, studying the effect of cocaine on the sexual behavior of male quails? Seriously. Quails.
Between 2011 and 2015, the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Maryland, gave a federal grant, in the amount of $356,933.14, to psychologist Chana Akins of the University of Kentucky at Lexington to study what would happen to the sex drive of male Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) when she gave the poor creatures cocaine.
Common sense might suggest that cocaine would increase the sex drive of any creature. Sure enough, after five years of study and more than a third of a million dollars, Dr. Akins was able to come to the same conclusion. This finding, of course, made the NIDA quite happy, because they had proof that there is a link between risky sexual behavior and cocaine use…in quail, that is.
United States Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) criticized the expenditure of federal funds during a hearing before a subcommittee of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on October 13, 2017. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) has also criticized the waste of money. Scientific American defended the federal grant in a scholarly (?) editorial on December 28, 2011.
The NIDA explained in its grant documentation, “The study seeks to verify the clinical observations that indicated that cocaine use in humans may increase sexual motivation, thereby increasing the likelihood of the occurrence of high-risk sexual behavior. The researcher conducting the study highlighted how Japanese quail are ideal animals to use when studying the link between sex and drugs because the birds readily engage in reproductive behavior in the laboratory. University of Kentucky‘s website stated that quail provide a convenient and interesting alternative to standard laboratory rats and pigeons. This study is slated to continue through 2015.”
You might ask the question why Akins chose to abuse Japanese quail, in addition to the taxpayers, during her experiments. Akins has tried to explain,
“Japanese quail are ideally suited for our experiments in many ways. The birds readily engage in sexual behavior in the laboratory; their courtship and sexual responses are distinctive and easily identifiable; they can be maintained in reproductive readiness all year with proper photostimulation; and much is already known about the neurohormonal mechanisms of sexual behavior in this species. Japanese quail also have a well-developed visual system with color vision, unlike rodents. Because visual cues in the environment may often become associated with drug taking behavior and later lead to craving and relapse in humans, the bird model may provide us with additional information about the mechanisms of drug craving and relapse.”
As stupid as it may seem, Akins wrote what she intended to appear as a scholarly article in Learning & behavior magazine in 2017, in which she explained that she would actually give some of the birds a placebo of salt water, while, on other occasions, they’d receive cocaine.
After all of those tax dollars thrown down to the bottom of a bird cage, and seven years of work, Akin’s study of cocaine effects on quail sexual behavior provided nothing more than the following conclusions in the abstract of her findings:
“The results showed that preexposure to cocaine delayed extinction [of sex drive]. Therefore, cocaine may dose-dependently increase the strength of sexual conditioning, and this may subsequently increase resistance to extinction.” (Emphasis added.)
All of that money and work provided nothing beyond more speculation. Sadly, Akins attempted to argue that cocaine use has been “linked to increased sexual activity, a greater number of sex partners and unprotected sex.” While those conclusions are likely true, Akins’ work, and $356,933.14 of federal tax dollars contributed absolutely nothing to reach a greater understanding of those conclusions.
Let’s face the reality: outside of national security and law enforcement, whatever government does, it does badly. (The story about the $107 million, 3 mile road, in the middle of a rural area will be next.)