Octopuses Get Strangely Cuddly On The Mood Drug Ecstasy

IMAGE This image shows a California two-spot octopus.  view more  Credit Thomas Kleindinst

Reports said that the octopuses "acted like they took ecstasy".

Still, he thinks it's wonderful that this drug has somewhat similar behavioral effects.

"Despite anatomical differences between octopus and human brain, we've shown that there are molecular similarities in the serotonin transporter gene", says Gul Dolen of Johns Hopkins University, noting that the gene encodes a transmembrane protein that serves as the primary binding site for MDMA.

The scientists placed the sea creatures in a solution that contained MDMA and they were provided with three different chambers in a tank to swim in.

There were four octopuses that were used in the study and each was placed in a water diluted with MDMA as the octopuses absorbed the drug through their gills.

A neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London named Professor David Nutt said the results of this study also provide more evidence that a wide range of species experience emotion and empathy: "This just proves that this is not some peculiar human characteristic, it's not even a mammalian characteristic, it's a characteristic of brains". This has led to speculations that humans and octopuses could have an evolutionary link. Octopuses can open jars, pick the World Cup winners and make escape attempts.

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MDMA is known for causing feelings of love and affection in humans, but one could only guess at the effect it would have on octopuses, creatures that are often housed away from each other due to the risk of one killing the other.

"It just shows us how much we don't know and how much there is out there to understand", Zachary Mainen, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Portugal, told NPR. And except when mating, they are notably unfriendly to other octopuses. The discovery also suggested that the octopuses had the molecular components needed to sense and potentially respond to MDMA. "But when they had MDMA, they had this very relaxed posture", the researcher added.

Scientists say the way they behave while on the drug may give insights into how social behaviour has evolved. "This is very similar to how humans react to MDMA; they touch each other frequently". One of these chambers is empty, one of them has a plastic action figure trapped within a cage and yet another has a male or a female laboratory bred octopus trapped within a cage. Octopuses are believed to be Earth's first intelligent beings, and the study could kick-start research of linking intelligence with anti-social behavior.

Octopuses are normally solitary - but during the experiment, they got very touchy-feely with their fellow octopus in a cage. Also in that tank was another octopus that was confined to a cage - well, really an upside-down flower pot with holes in it. Octopuses would ordinarily stay far away from the imprisoned stranger, but not so on ecstasy.

The creatures spent time with Chewie only during control tests, when they didn't get any drug doses.

But on lower doses, one animal "looked like it was doing water ballet", swimming around with outstretched arms. Current Biology, Sept. 20, 2018.

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