Researchers Dosed Octopuses Ecstasy, and Here's What Happened Next

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University wanted to study how serotonin levels in the brain may change while on MDMA, and if the drug can effectively be used to promote social behavior in octopuses, which are naturally nearly entirely antisocial except when mating.

The octopus who normally leads an anti-social existence. They've also been known to eat each other in hostile situations. Scientists chose to use octopuses for the experiment as humans are separated by more than 500 million years of evolution with them and the goal was to uncovering the ancient origins of social behavior.

"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 results suggest that MDMA does, indeed, spur numerous same pro-social behaviors in octopuses as it does in humans, suggesting that serotonin has been regulating social processes since humans and octopuses evolved into distinct species some 500 million years ago.

Dölen received some typical lighthearted responses from people asking about the experiment: "People are like, 'Have you got any pictures of octopuses holding glow sticks?' which I kind of ignore because that wasn't really our objective". (2018). A Conserved Role for Serotonergic Neurotransmission in Mediating Social Behavior in Octopus. According to the scientists, on the evolution path, there could've been a link between octopuses and us. One chamber was empty, one chamber had a plastic toy and the last chamber had another octopus in a cage.

MDMA stokes euphoria in humans in part by increasing levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.

For their study, the researchers caught four male and female octopuses and gave them MDMA in its liquid form which the octopuses absorbed through their gills. "Some were being very playful, doing water acrobatics or spent time fondling the airstone [aquarium bubbler]".

What's even more interesting is that humans on ecstasy are presenting a very similar behavior.

Scientists say the experiment provides an understanding of how serotonin affects social interaction.

Harrison is Mixmag's East Coast Editor.

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