Ecstasy May Make Octopuses Cuddly

New study finds octopuses appear to get more social after being dosed with MDMA
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2018 2:57 PM CDT
In this 2015 image provided by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a deep-sea octopus explores new lava flows that erupted at the Axial Seamount 480 kilometers (300 miles) west of Oregon.   (Bill Chadwick/Oregon State University, ROV Jason, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution via AP)

(Newser) – What happens when an octopus takes ecstasy? Apparently, the same thing that happens to humans—at least according to a new, admittedly small study run by Gül Dölen, a neuroscientist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, makes people feel more sociable, less defensive, and more interested in and loving toward other people; it causes similar effects in rats and mice. But the architecture of an octopus brain is completely different than that of a human, rat, or mouse, so Dölen wondered if the drug would affect an octopus differently, the Atlantic reports. To find out, she and a colleague looked at five Californian two-spot octopuses. First, they established how social they were while sober (octopuses are known to be solitary creatures), and then they dosed them by submerging them in an MDMA solution which they then absorbed through their gills.

The first dose was too high (the octopuses "freaked out and did all these color changes," Dölen says), but after a lower dose, the octopuses spent more time near a trapped male octopus they had avoided while sober. "They had this very relaxed posture. They floated around, they wrapped their arms around the chamber, and they interacted with the other octopus in a much more fluid and generous way. They even exposed their [underside], where their mouth is, which is not something octopuses usually do," Dölen says. She tells NPR "they were essentially hugging" the other octopus. But she admits the study should be repeated with more subjects, and experts not involved with the study point out some possible drawbacks: It's possible the ecstasy simply messed with the octopuses' ability to detect a potential mate's chemical cues, says one; another notes that the octopuses could simply have been acting differently since they were more familiar with the environment by the time they were dosed. (Find out where ecstasy ranks on the list of safest recreational drugs.)

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