Researchers Dosed Octopuses Ecstasy, and Here's What Happened Next

Modesto Morganelli
Settembre 22, 2018

Ever wanted to see what happens when you give octopuses drugs? Scientists in the United States have just lived that dream.

"What our studies suggest is that certain brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, that send signals between neurons required for these social behaviours are evolutionarily conserved".

An experiment with MDMA has revealed octopuses' similarity to humans. MDMA flips the pump from a vacuum to a leaf blower, releasing more serotonin. Octopuses' closest relatives are creatures like snails and slugs, and their brains have a host of unusual structures that evolved on a completely different trajectory from the human path. Special attention was paid to serotonin, significantly affecting mood.

MDMA is known for being a "happy" drug, increasing feelings of euphoria, as well as boosting one's feelings of empathy, and wanting to connect with others. And this hasn't just been observed in humans - mice and rats also want to bond with each other when under the influence.

Humans, rats, and mice are pretty social animals.

In normal circumstances, octopuses are solitary animals who can prey on each other after mating. The researchers ran two experiments.

Dölen noted that the study does have limitations - seven animals is not a large enough sample size to accurately show how male and female octopuses react to MDMA.

The eight-legged invertebrates are separated from humans by more than 500 million years of evolution, Pungor says.

But at lower doses, Dölen told NPR that the octopus was "essentially hugging" the other one.

After closely monitoring the behavior of non-drugged octopuses, the researchers dosed them with MDMA by placing them in a water bath containing MDMA for 10 minutes.

Four male and female octopuses were placed in a tank that contained a liquefied version of ecstasy, and then transferred individually onto three-chambered tanks. And they made a lot of physical contact. The octopus's explored the entirety of the tank before deciding to spend more time around the inanimate object.

"They tended to hug the cage and put their mouth parts on the cage", said Prof Dölen.

Of course, one might assume that all creatures are more cuddly when taking ecstasy, since it drastically increases the activity of serotonin and dopamine, but the finding is a little more intriguing for octopuses.

"As far as the behavioral traits, the octopuses being more prosocial, it does support what we are seeing therapeutically", said Feduccia, who is the author of a pilot trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for social anxiety in adults with autism.

While there could be alternative explanations for the octopus's friendliness, the conclusion provided by the researchers seem to be the most robust out of all of them. Prof de Wit said that would help rule out the idea that they were friendlier the second time because they'd got used to the tank, or the other octopus. The team adhered to guidelines as per the Animal Welfare Act, and afterwards the animals returned to their tanks in Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in MA.

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