Scientists Find Ecstasy Makes Octopuses 'Gentle and Cuddly'

Creatures across the whole of the animal kingdom exhibit social behaviours, from invertebrates including ants and bees, through to vertebrates like fish and primates. Unlike more socially inclined humans, the mighty octopus is a far more solitary creature - definitely not one for raving under strobe lights. We tend to enjoy our solitude and inhibitions, occasionally shedding them in pursuit of the opposite gender. Serotonin is responsible for mood regulation.

As a result of testing of the drug revealed the similarity of the biochemical basis of this marine life and humans, which is very unusual for these non-native organisms.

The research, which was led by Dr. Gül Dölen of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is groundbreaking and also pretty odd.

"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. Serotonin activity rises when exposed to ecstasy say researchers. "That told us that MDMA would have a place to go in the octopus's brain and suggested it could encode sociality as it does in a human brain", she said. During the control test where they were placed in the same tanks while sober, they either avoided the other octopuses entirely, or tentatively explored their areas with one tentacle. In that occupied chamber, scientists placed a caged sober male. "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. But, after the researchers dosed the water in the tank with MDMA, the free-roaming octopus chose to spend more time in the chamber with the other octopuses.

"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".

"An octopus doesn't have a cortex, and doesn't have a reward circuit", Dölen said. "We need to be taking full advantage of these compounds to see what they're doing to the brain".

According to Dr. Dolen's genetic analysis of a species of octopus (called California two-spot octopus), the creature's brain can sense MDMA.

Dölen said that the findings of this study may open doors to for more accurate studies on the impact of psychiatric drug therapies in a variety of animals that are distantly related to people.

While there could be alternative explanations for the octopus's friendliness, the conclusion provided by the researchers seem to be the most robust out of all of them. She added that the study of psychedelics and other recreational drugs is no longer deemed to be a "risque topic".

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