Study Shows Octopuses Given Ecstasy Get All Cuddly

Modesto Morganelli
Settembre 24, 2018

When humans take MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy, the release of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin produce feelings of emotional closeness which usually results in people being more interested in interacting and connecting with others.

"I was absolutely shocked that it had this effect", said University of OR neuroscientist Judit Pungor. "This is very similar to how humans react to MDMA; they touch each other frequently".

The idea to test the drug's effect in octopuses came from Gul Dolen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University.

It turns out that octopuses and people have nearly identical genes for a protein that binds the signaling molecule serotonin to brain cells. Prior to the experiment, they had to perform a check on the California two-spot octopus that they selected for the study.

"But the animals went through this hyper-vigilance where they were perched at the top of the tank like a hawk trying to watch a mouse or something".

"They really didn't like it. They looked like they were freaked out", says Dolen. "They were just taking these postures of super hypervigilance".

But at lower doses, Dölen told NPR that the octopus was "essentially hugging" the other one. To find out, Dolen and Edsinger tested the octopuses' interest in other octopuses compared to novel objects under normal circumstances. When placed under the influence of MDMA, the octopuses not only spent more time with other octopuses, but even tried to hug a chamber containing another octopus. That was apparently too much, as the octopuses appeared hyper-vigilant and stared. This time, they spent more time with other octopuses - including males. That changes when on ecstasy, according to a study newly published in Current Biology. "At least 500 million years ago, it started doing this function". "A small lobster given serotonin will become a more aggressive, socially dominant lobster".

In fact - our mood, social behavior, sleep, and sexual desire are all regulated by the neurotransmitter serotonin.

"Is it really affection? How would we know?" The reports say that they also reached out and touched the octopus in what was deemed as "non-aggressive manner". NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce has been diving into this important story.

Dolen and the study's first author, Eric Edsinger, chose to study Octopus bimaculoides because it's possible to breed and study their behavior in the lab. Professor Harriet de Wit from the University of Chicago, who has studied how ecstasy affects animals, said it was "innovative and exciting" - but that we can't be certain the drugs were fully responsible. It targets a brain protein that seems to be nearly identical in humans and in octopuses. Octopuses were placed in the center chamber and allowed to roam through the setup as they pleased for 30 minutes. In turn, it would show them that the drug wound into the octopuses serotonin transporters. On the other side, again separated by a wall with a hole, was another octopus, in a cage.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And they just seemed relaxed.

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