Warsaw Zoo will start giving its elephants medical marijuana as part of a new project to test if it reduces their stress levels.
The Polish zoo’s three African elephants will be given liquid doses of a high concentration of the relaxing cannabinoid, also known as CBD oil, through their trunks.
Dr Agnieszka Czujkowska, the veterinarian in charge of the project, believes that it is ‘probably the first initiative of its kind for elephants’.
Medical cannabis, which is derived from a cannabis plant compound, has been used worldwide to treat dogs and horses.
The veterinarian said the CBD does not cause euphoria or any other harmful side effects on the elephants’s liver and kidneys.
She said: ‘It’s an attempt to find a new natural alternative to the existing methods of combating stress, especially pharmaceutical drugs.’
The project comes after the zoo’s herd had to cope with the death of its alpha female Erna in March.
One of the elephants Fredzia, has displayed signs of stress since the death of Erna, as she has struggled to create a relationship with her female companion Buba.
It can take months, or even sometimes years, for elephants to cope with the loss of an elder, the BBC reported.
Due to her recent behaviour, Fredzia is considered to be an ideal candidate for the study.
‘When Erna passed away, everything changed. I don’t think Fredzia was ready for such a big change,’ Dr Czujkowska told the BBC.
The zoo monitors the elephants’s stress by checking their hormone levels and through behavioural observation.
The first stage of the trial has already been completed and involved collecting faeces, saliva and blood samples from the elephants.
This will be used to monitor their cortisol levels, which is a hormone produced in humans and animals during stressful situations.
Dr Czujkowska said it will take around two years before her team has any conclusive results on the new project.
But if it is successful, the initiative could be tried with other animals living in captivity.
Dr Czujkowska joked that ‘contrary to what some would imagine, the elephants won’t be using cannabis pipes nor will they be getting huge barrels of it’ to match their size.
The initial doses will be comparable to those given to horses, which is a vial’s worth of a dozen drops of CBD oil, given two or three times a day.
Poaching has decimated the world elephant population, which slumped in Africa from several million at the turn of the 19th century to around 400,000 today.