Researchers Gave Octopuses Ecstasy And Watched What Would Happen, For Science

Modesto Morganelli
Settembre 21, 2018

The findings show that despite being evolutionarily distant from octopuses, humans share a common evolutionary heritage that enables serotonin - the part of MDMA that produces "feelings of emotional closeness and euphoria" - to encode social behaviors. And that's the surprising part.

Octopuses and humans are separated by 500 million years of evolution. In terms of our nervous system, we could hardly be more different.

Researchers Dölen and marine and evolutionary biologist Eric Edsinger of the Marine Biology Laboratory discovered a genetic similarity between humans and octopuses.

The experiment revealed both species had near-identical genomic codes for the transporter than binds serotonin, the brain chemical that regulates mood and is thought to be a contributor to feelings of wellbeing and happiness.

A U.S. study, released in Current Biology, has made the interesting discovery that a species of octopus considered to be a solitary and asocial creature has a similar response to the drug.

Basically, MDMA works on a molecular level to make octopuses feel warm and fuzzy, just like us. The animals absorbed it for a half hour and then were placed in a sort of multi-room chamber. Some of the rooms in the chamber were empty, but one contained a (sober) male octopus in a cage. When high off that Molly, as the kids says, the octopuses displayed an unusual desire to touch their peers.

The males became particularly interested in other females, but the team noticed they also engaged with other males while on the drug, including "extensive ventral surface contact".

"After MDMA, they were essentially hugging", Dolen told NPR, adding that the dosed octopuses were "really just much more relaxed in posture, and using a lot more of their body to interact with the other octopus". However, under the influence of ecstasy, researchers note that all four octopuses spent several minutes more in the chamber with the octopus compared to the other two, and they even observed hugging and non-aggressive exploratory behaviors that are typically only seen during mating season.

While animal rights advocates have criticised the study, it has been received with great interest by some in the scientific community.

"This was such an incredible paper, with a completely unexpected and nearly unbelievable outcome", Dr Pungor said.

"To think that an animal whose brain evolved completely independently from our own reacts behaviourally in the same way that we do to a drug is absolutely wonderful".

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