WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Researchers exposed octopuses to MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, to see its effects on the sea creature.
- The mollusk has an entirely different brain structure compared to the human brain.
- The drugged octopuses behaved in a similar way a human would when exposed to the party drug.
A neuroscientist at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Gül Dölen, told NPR that studying the effects of MDMA for “a long time”, she and her colleagues “have worked out a lot of neural mechanisms that enable MDMA to have these really, really profound pro-social effects.”
Dölen was curious to see what effects the drug could have on the octopus. Why this sea creature in particular? MDMA targets a protein that binds serotonin to brain cells- both humans and octopuses have a gene for this protein.
The neuroscientist wasn’t sure how the experiment would go, considering that human and octopus brains are built completely different.
Working with five Californian two-spot octopuses, Dölen and co-author Eric Edsinger from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, placed the creatures individually into the middle chamber of a tank that had three chambers. One other chamber contained an octopus trapped in an overturned plastic basket. The last chamber had an object that wasn’t familiar to the creatures, in this case, a toy.
The researchers then compared the times the animals spent with the other octopuses and played with the toy. Compared to examining the toy, the sober octopuses spent more time socializing with the others if the octopus was female, no matter the subject’s own sex.
The sea creatures were then exposed to an MDMA solution before they were placed in the tank a second time.
According to the Guardian, using the right dosage, the researchers were able to note the differences between the sober and drugged creatures.
Without the drug, the octopus would be cautious towards the one caged. However, it was quite the opposite when the octopuses were exposed to ecstasy.
Dölen said, “They’re basically hugging the [cage] and exposing parts of their body that they don’t normally expose to another octopus. Some were being very playful, doing water acrobatics or spent time fondling the airstone [aquarium bubbler].”
The feedback from the scientific community is two-fold, it seems.
A postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oregon, Judit Pungor, described it as an “incredible paper.” She told Gizmodo, “To think that an animal whose brain evolved completely independently from our own reacts behaviorally in the same way that we do to a drug is absolutely amazing.”
Jennifer Mather of Canada’s University of Lethbridge claims that the experiment didn’t prove that the octopus was more sociable or if it was “anything more than attraction”, she told The Atlantic.
Several bioethicists told National Geographic that unless the octopuses were given humane treatment, exposing them to the drug could be somewhat tricky. Experts said that it was probably fine as long as the animals weren’t dosed to the point of addiction.
Source: Huff Post