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Rolling in the Deep: Scientists Gave Octopuses MDMA to See What Would Happen

Do animals like drugs? Some of us may have asked such seemingly absurd questions, maybe about wild animals or even our cats. It’s hard to know what animals really think, but that doesn’t mean we’re clueless. We know a thing or two about animal behavior, and we know that some animals are less social than others. Based on observation, we can base some assumptions on what animals are thinking or feeling.

Take the octopus for example; they’re a pretty antisocial species. When confronted by another octopus they’d rather become aggressive, even after mating. They don’t care for being around others of their kind and may resort to hostility. This is incredibly different from apes like ourselves, where our well-being is almost dependent on social interaction.

According to a study published in the journal Current Biology, octopus may not be so different after all. Daring scientists dosed some of these iconic invertebrates with MDMA, all to discover the origin of socializing. Four octopuses were placed in a beaker of diluted MDMA for ten minutes. They absorbed it through their gills, scientists observed their interactions.

They spent a lot more time in cages with other octopuses than they would without the drug. Furthermore, they enjoyed touching each other, exposing usually protected parts of themselves and being unusually playful. This is a complete 180 from their usual interactions, and it gives some big insights into how serotonin reactions work in vastly different nervous systems.

Octopuses are cephalopods, with most of their neurons being in their arms, almost behaving like eight independent brains. But they’re known for being clever, often escaping tanks to find food and turning off annoying lights by shooting water at them. The octopus brain, in all it’s alien weirdness, is incredibly intelligent. This study shows that no matter the kind of brain, serotonin helps facilitate pro-social interactions.

What do you think of the study? Do you think it means big things for neuroscience? Let us know in the comments!