How Octopuses Feel On MDMA

By Victoria Kim 09/25/18

A new study revealed some interesting findings about the anti-social, eight-legged invertebrates.  

an octopus underwater

While octopuses and humans are separated by more than 500 millions years of evolution, we may share one fascinating similarity—how we respond to MDMA.

According to new research, published in the journal Current Biology last Thursday (Sept. 20), octopuses exposed to MDMA “tended to spend more time” with other octopuses.

The results of the study are especially fascinating because these eight-legged animals are naturally asocial, except when mating. Those that were not exposed to MDMA avoided other octopuses.

As NPR reported, “The researchers knew from previous tests that an octopus would normally stay far, far away from a second octopus that was confined to a small cage inside the first one’s tank. But an octopus on MDMA would get up-close and personal with the new neighbor.”

Gül Dölen, assistant professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, conducted the experiment after finding a striking similarity in how serotonin binds to brain cells in octopuses and humans while analyzing the genetic code of the California two-spot octopus.

MDMA was administered to the octopuses by placing the invertebrates in a beaker of seawater with the drug, so it could be absorbed through the gills.

They started them off at a high dose, to see how they would react. “They really didn’t like it. They looked like they were freaked out,” said Dölen. “They were just taking these postures of super hypervigilance. They would sit in the corner of the tank and stare at everything.”

The animals reacted much differently when given a lower dose.

“After MDMA, they were essentially hugging. [They were] really just much more relaxed in posture, and using a lot more of their body to interact with the other octopus,” said Dölen.

Dölen and her colleagues acknowledge that the animals’ lovey-dovey behavior has yet to be affirmed. Another neuroscientist who was not involved in the study asked, “Is it really affection? How would we know? It’s totally fascinating and super-suggestive, but I am not 100% convinced that this is doing the same thing in octopus and in human.”

He added, “It just shows us how much we don’t know and how much there is out there to understand.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr