Scientists think the sand fly's love of marijuana could be leveraged to control these blood-sucking insects, which spread deadly diseases around the world.
The sand fly is a common carrier of the leishmania parasite. These parasites infect between four and 12 million people each year—largely via sand fly bites—with a group of diseases called leishmaniasis, resulting in 20,000 to 50,000 deaths annually. So controlling sand fly populations is a big concern in the areas that are most affected. And scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem may have just figured out the best way to do that.
"We have been working for many years to improve our understanding of the transmission dynamics of leishmaniasis," Alon Warburg, one of the study's authors, told Newsweek. "We reasoned that if we can identify plants favored by sand flies as sources for their sugar meals, we may—at some point in the future—be able to use the attractive scents from such plants to lure sand flies to traps and, thereby, contribute to the control of sand flies and leishmaniasis."
When sand flies aren't out sucking blood, they also feed on the sugars produced by various plants. As it turns out, cannabis might just be their favorites. Even in places where marijuana is scarce, in most cases it was still the plant the insects feed on the most.
"Cannabis sativa is rare in most of the places we worked," Warburg said. "In fact, we didn't see cannabis plants, presumably because these are still illegal to grow in the countries."
Warburg says that by exploiting the sand fly's love of cannabis, they could be effectively trapped or poisoned.
This might be the only time that marijuana actually kills—but in reality, it's just another way that cannabis saves lives.