Will eating cicadas get me high? Myths debunked with OSU’s BugDoc

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Cicada nymphs can be a tasty source of protein and carbohydrates, but will eating them get you high?

Dr. David Shetlar, aka “BugDoc Dave” from Ohio State University answered four popular myths about cicadas: Will eating them get me high? Will eating them hurt my pet? Am I allergic to eating cicadas if I can’t eat shellfish or shrimp? And, are cicadas the same as the Biblical locusts?

Will eating cicadas make me high?

Not likely, explained Dr. Shetlar. “In fact, you’d have to eat about 100 of the infected insects to feel any effect from the amphetamine chemical produced by the Massospora cicadina fungi which infects some of the 17-year cicadas in Brood X.

“The cicada is basically a gram in weight and the Massospora cicadina fungi produces micrograms of toxicant. You probably have to eat 100 infected cicadas to have a potential effect on a 140-150 pound human being. If you’re bigger then you’d have to eat even more,” explained Dr. Shetlar.

Dr. Shetlar said in a follow-up email to his interview: “M. cicadina produces the amphetamine, cathinone, which is a mild stimulant (causes the males to be hyper active, and flick their wings repeatedly).  A western cicada species, an annual species, is often infected by Massospora levispora that produces the psychoactive tryptamine, psilocybin. So, eating periodical cicadas would only expose you to the cathinone, not the psychoactive tryptamine.”

Will eating them hurt my pup or kitty?

No. Cicadas feed on juices of plant roots for the 16.5 years that they are developing. They don’t carry any known parasites or pathogens. And the Massospora cicadina fungi won’t hurt animals either, said Dr. Shetlar. The biggest problem might be that your dog or cat finds them so tasty, they over-gorge on the insects and throw chewed-up cicadas onto the carpet, and then go out and eat more of Brood X.

Will I be allergic to cicadas because I’m allergic to shellfish? Or shrimp?

Shellfish and shrimp are very different species, points out Dr. Shetlar. If you are allergic to oysters or clams you rarely have an allergy to shrimp and lobster. And if you are allergic to shrimp and lobster, which are cousins to the cicada, then there is a chance you might be allergic to eating a cicada. If you do have allergies, says Dr. Shetlar, then only try a bite before you dive into an entire meal of cicadas.

Are cicadas locusts?

Even though English settlers thought cicadas are locusts, and called them locusts in their writings, they are not. Locusts are grasshoppers, not cicadas.

“When the early colonists experienced cicadas, as Christians they thought they were experiencing a Biblical locust swarm, so they called them locusts,” explained Dr. Shetlar. “French Canadians wrote that they thought the English were stupid because they didn’t know the difference between a locust and a cicada.”

There are no cicadas in England so the mis-identification would have been an easy mistake to make. “In western America there used to be a western locust, but with the ‘taming of the west’ and ploughing up fields, it eliminated the grasslands, so we no longer have the western migratory locust,” Dr. Shetlar said.

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