Ecstasy Makes Octopuses More Social And Touchy

James Marshall
September 23, 2018

"We could say the octopus brain is totally different to a human one, but we need this synapse or this neurotransmitter", Prof Dölen says.

Gloomy Octopus, Octopus tetricus, clearly not on ecstacy!

In a new study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, researchers soaked octopuses in diluted MDMA, which they absorbed through their gills, and then placed them in tanks with three separate chambers: one empty, one containing another octopus, and one containing a plastic toy. Those studies showed the octopuses actually do have more interest in each other, and particularly in other females, than had often been thought. Neuroscientist Gül Dölen, who studies social behavior at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and octopus expert Eric Edsinger, a research fellow at Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., bathed octopuses in the psychedelic drug and observed the result. These brain chemical or neurotransmitters are responsible for the social behaviours that are seen here, she said. The test animals were four male and female octopuses who were administered MDMA. The drug was presented in a liquefied form within a beaker in which the test animals were dropped.

"Just because they have the protein", she says, "doesn't mean that when MDMA binds to the protein it's going to do anything like what it does in a human or a mouse". The octopuses not only spent more time with other octopus individuals including other males while on the drug, but they also engaged in extensive ventral surface contact.

The team then rapidly pulled back the dose, and the results were very similar to humans. However, on a lower dose, one octopus appeared to be "doing water ballet", swimming around the tank with tentacles outstretched.

Octopuses become friendly on Ecstasy
Ecstasy drug makes octopuses more social

MDMA, has always been known as a party drug that inspires a sense of euphoria and empathy along with a desire to dance all night. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on September 20 have made the surprising discovery that a species of octopus considered to be primarily solitary and asocial responds to MDMA in a similar manner: by becoming much more interested than usual in engaging with one other.

Based on what the scientists said, the objective of this demonstration is to see how serotonin can affect social interaction.

"An octopus doesn't have a cortex, and doesn't have a reward circuit", Dölen said.

The researchers are now in the process of sequencing the genomes of two other species of octopus, which are closely related to each other but differ in their behaviors. Special attention was paid to serotonin, significantly affecting mood. By performing a phylogenetic tree mapping, the researchers found that even though their whole serotonin transporter gene was only 50-60% similar to humans, the gene in itself was still conserved.

Dolen agreed that these were preliminary findings and more studies are needed to understand the mechanism of this behavioural change better.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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