Octopuses On Ecstasy - Scientists Find The Drug Makes Them Friendlier and Sociable

Federico Mansilla
Setiembre 23, 2018

Dolen said humans on MDMA also touch each other more frequently when on MDMA.

Dolen got interested in octopuses a few years ago, when scientists sequenced the full genetic code of a creature known as the California two-spot octopus. This protein is also the target of MDMA, so Dolen wondered how the drug would affect this usually unfriendly animal.

Ecstasy effect on this protein, therefore the authors tried to check on the octopus effect of the drug, enhancing social interaction in humans and some animals.

Then, they were exposed to a liquefied version of MDMA, which they absorbed through their gills, and placed in the chambers again. "They just embraced with multiple arms". What sounds like the premise of a children's book set at Burning Man is, in fact, the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology. Octopuses are normally extremely solitary, antisocial and aggressive with each other - when mating, males deposit their sperm as quickly as possible and then flee so the females won't eat them - but on the drug, they were downright friendly.

"I was absolutely shocked that it had this effect", says Judit Pungor, a neuroscientist at the University of OR who studies octopuses but wasn't part of the research team.

Seven octopuses received MDMA inside laboratory tanks. The findings add evidence to the idea that social behavior has a long evolutionary history - and goes back much farther than researchers ever anticipated.

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"For example", Dr. Dölen said, "based exclusively on the mammalian brain, you might be tempted to argue that performing cognitive behaviors requires having a cerebral cortex, because across mammals the bigger the cortex, the more complex the cognitive abilities of the species".

There are promising signs that further research into the drugs effects can help unravel how social behavior is wired into our brains.

"It just shows us how much we don't know and how much there is out there to understand". When it comes to the furry character from Star Wars, it seems that the octopuses only spent some time with Chewbacca throughout the control test, when they were not on drugs. But scientists wanted to see what are the effects on the not-so-social octopuses. In the first chamber, they placed a toy, the second was empty, and in the third they confined one of the octopuses.

DOLEN: Whereas after MDMA, they were essentially hugging the flower pot that had the other octopus in it.

"They have this huge complex brain that they've built, that has absolutely no business acting like ours does - but here they show that it does", said Pungor. She says octopuses have a very different, doughnut-shaped brain. This allows researchers to study complex cognitive behaviors, "without getting bogged down in the incidental (necessary but contingent) organization of brains".

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