Sarpa Salpa: The Marine Psychedelic

by Sushree Mohanty

Sarpa Salpa: The Marine Psychedelic

June 12, 2021

The Sarpa Salpa, popularly known as the dreamfish or Salema porgy, or a Goldline in some coastline areas, is a species of Sea Bream. They are identified by the golden stripes that run along the sides of their body. This fish can cause hallucinations, more appropriately Ichthyoallyeinotoxism when eaten.

A Drug before 'drugs'

Distinguished by the gold stripes that run through the length of its body, the fish is commonly known by the name Salema Porgy. The fish is a beautiful and remarkable inhabitant of tropical and temperate areas. They are mostly found near the Atlantic coast of Africa and extend their habitat throughout the Mediterranean Sea.

Have you ever heard of people getting high without using any pills or drugs? The next time you visit a restaurant and find this fish on the menu, play safe and order something else. Don’t let its harmless exterior beauty hypnotize you. This fish can function as a hallucinogen and can get one high for hours.

It is because of these hallucinating properties, the sea bream is known as “the fish that makes dreams” in Arabic. In ancient times, Roman Empire consumed this fish as a recreational drug. Salema Porgy has also been used for ceremonial purposes by the Polynesians.

Sarpa Salpa or Salema Porgy has also been used for ceremonial purposes by the Polynesians.

Strange cases reported by the people who consumed the fish

In 1994, an article made headlines talking about how a man’s vacation was ruined after eating this fish. A man of approximately 40 years of age felt nauseated after consuming freshly baked Sarpa Salpa. He was on his vacation to the French Riviera. He encountered symptoms like muscle weakness, blurred vision, and vomiting persistently. 

After cutting short his vacation, he realized that his vision was deteriorating. In the middle of the journey, he couldn’t drive. He didn’t remember much but was severely hallucinating. He recovered after a complete detox and rested straight for 36 hours. After waking up, he couldn’t recall a single thing.

Many such cases have been in existence where reports are incriminating for the stunning fish. A similar incident was reported in 2002, when a 90-year old, after cleaning and eating the fish, experienced hallucinations of screeching birds and screaming humans. 

He had horrifying dreams and nightmares for continuously two days. At first, he thought he was developing a mental illness but was surprised to find out that the fish he ate a couple of days ago caused him such effects. This incident was reported in Saint Tropez, also on the French Riviera.

What does science say about the fish?

It sounds bizarre; a bit difficult to pronounce, though. ICHTHYOALLYEINOTOXISM is a phenomenon caused by rare poisoning followed by ingestion of certain fish like Sarpa Salpa. After consuming this fish, most individuals often encounter demonic hallucinations or auditory and visual nightmares. 

The research focused on fish, and marine biology states that such rare poisoning triggers disturbances in the nervous system. It causes an effect similar to psychedelics. Catherine Jadot, a marine biologist at the Reef Ball Foundation, earns the credit for this doctoral research.

But again! There are many questions about the marine environment that we still seek answers to. It’s still not clear that some people consume this sea bream without any apparent side effects. At the same time, others have encountered the world of hallucinating chaos at different proportions.


ICHTHYOALLYEINOTOXISM is a phenomenon caused by rare poisoning followed by ingestion of certain fish like Sarpa Salpa.

In 2012, a study featured in Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology compared and linked it to the fish’s consumption of phytoplankton that grows on the seagrass. Sarpa Salpa feeds on phytoplankton as one of the main components of everyday diet. This may be the reason why there exist higher levels of toxicity in the fish’s organs.

However, science isn’t clear enough about the toxins responsible for such strange and weird responses in the human body. Maybe, it’s the fish’s evolutionary tactic to discourage predators from consuming it. 

A notable fact that was discovered was that certain body parts of the fish carry trippy toxins like the fish’s head. Some claim that the other body parts are hallucinogen-free. But nobody knows for sure. 

Some say that it depends upon the season during which the fish is caught. They claim that during autumn, the fish is said to have the highest toxicity level. But some reported cases of poisoning belong to the late spring and summer.

However, now we know the consequences of eating a Sarpa Salpa. So don’t be surprised the next time you accidentally trip on it. 


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