Charlotte Gill, center, stands with her staff at Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound in the local village of Seawall on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. Gill says she has devised a way to treat lobster with marijuana smoke before cooking them, in order to make the process of storing and then killing the crustaceans more humane. Credit: Bill Trotter

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine — In an effort to be more humane, the owner of a roadside lobster shack on Mount Desert Island is selling lobsters that have been exposed to marijuana smoke before they are cooked.

Charlotte Gill, owner of Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound in the Southwest Harbor village of Seawall, has treated lobster by blowing marijuana smoke into a plastic box with a lobster in it before the lobster goes in the cooking pot. She said killing the lobster by stabbing it through its head or by electrocuting it can be quicker, but also can be cruel if not done correctly.

Gill, a licensed medical marijuana caregiver, said Wednesday that the practice is “kinder” for the lobster, which in addition to being boiled alive has to endure a stressful environment of being kept in a crowded tank with other lobsters before it is killed.

A Maine lobster scientist confirmed on Wednesday that there is some limited research that suggests Australian lobsters do have receptors in their nervous systems that enable them to feel the effects of the drug.

This past March, Switzerland banned the practice of boiling lobsters alive over concerns that the crustaceans feel pain when cooked.

Gill said that in an experiment, she put a lobster in a box with a few inches of water in the bottom and then blew marijuana smoke into the water, letting it bubble up into the air in the sealed box. The lobster, named Roscoe, appeared to be more relaxed for the next three weeks. She later released him back into the ocean.

“The fear is gone,” she said, describing Roscoe’s state post-treatment. “Everything wants to feel safe.”

Gill said research indicates lobster do have cannabinoid receptors that make them feel the effects of the drug, but there is no effect on people who eat lobster that have been treated with marijuana before the crustaceans are cooked. It makes the meat taste better, she said, because the lobster are not stressed in captivity leading up to being eaten, and there is no buildup in the lobster’s muscle tissue of THC, which is the primary psychoactive chemical compound found in the marijuana plant.

She said that, with recent changes in Maine and elsewhere about marijuana possession laws, treating lobster with marijuana smoke is something people can do in their own homes. She said the marijuana treatments at her restaurant will not have any effect on her prices.

“It’s information that I want to be out there because I want it to be the industry standard,” Gill said. “Anything that we put to death, it should be done in the least traumatic way.”

Robert Bayer, a University of Maine professor and former director of the university’s Lobster Institute, said Wednesday that he does not know if Maine lobsters can feel the effects of marijuana, though there is some research that indicates South Pacific lobsters off Australia and New Zealand do have cannabinoid receptors. Lobster nervous systems most closely resemble that of an insect, with no central cerebral cortex, he said.

Smoke is used by beekeepers to calm bees, he added, which would lend some credence to Gill’s claims. He said it could depend on how much smoke is used, how much is diffused into the water, and several other variables.

“It might be toxic,” he said of the smoke. “Nobody knows what’s really going on. Their nervous system is pretty primitive. They probably don’t have the ability to process pain.”

Still, Gill said she and her staff plan to treat an as-yet-undetermined amount of lobsters each morning and to serve those lobsters throughout the day, in order to minimize handling the lobster, which causes them stress. If they run out of marijuana-treated lobster, they will serve untreated lobster for the rest of the day and then will treat more the next morning.

“It makes for a better product,” Gill said. “The difference in the flavor is pretty astronomical [even though] lobster is wonderful just as it is. It’s taking some that is really great and making it much better, and something you can feel better about as well.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....