Few things are further from a human than an octopus. Yet, when scientists recently gave eight octopi MDMA, they found the drug had a very similar effect as it does on people. MDMA, sometimes known as Molly or Ecstasy, creates a blissful, inner-peace feeling that facilitates intense connections, often leading to a lot of, well, touching. It turns out, Octopi react similarly.
In the study, scientists gave each octopus an MDMA bath, then put them in this “social approach” experiment they adapted from rodent studies. Basically, octopi had the option of spending time with a novel inanimate object or another octopus. Using a control, they discovered the eight-tentacled sea creatures preferred the company of a fellow octopus while on the drug.
What they also found was the octopi increased their touch of one another while on MDMA. When sober, researchers report the octopi kept their direct contact limited “usually to one extended arm.” But on MDMA, they increased their touch of one of another, which scientists called “exploratory rather than aggressive in nature.”
Interestingly, when co-author of the study, Gül Dölen, spoke to Gizmodo, he said that the octopi’s reaction to the drug depended on the dose. When given a high dose, it seemed the sea creatures freaked out; their breath was erratic and their coloring went pale. But when given a low dose, about the same dose a human would take, one octopus “looked like it was doing water ballet”. Dölen also says another octopus “spent part of the time doing flips” while a different subject “seemed especially interested in minor sounds and smells.”
Sounds a lot like my group of friends.
These findings are astonishing the medical community. Although the study explains that octopi are “thought to be the most behaviorally advanced invertebrates,” our brains have been evolving separately for “over 500 million years.” Plus, as Gizmodo reports, octopi have decentralized nervous systems, which “includes control centers for each arm in addition to a brain.” Freaky. And totally different than our own nervous systems.
But, the main significant finding of this study was discovering octopi probably have serotonin. Technically, researchers found that octopi have “genes that seem to code for serotonin transporters.” Serotonin is the brain chemical likely responsible for the feeling MDMA produces. The fact that Octopi reacted similarly when under the influence of Molly means MDMA is also binding to their serotonin transporter protein.
This study is an interesting direction for psychedelic research to take, but a promising one. Many recent studies, as well as research from the 1950’s and 60’s shows that psychedelics, like MDMA, but also LSD, psilocybin (the psychoactive compound in magic mushroom), ayahuasca, and Ketamine can help people struggling with a range of conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), treatment-resistant depression, eating disorders, substance abuse problems, and social anxiety in autistic adults, when used in a safe environment with a therapist.
What this ultimately means is that more research will need to be done, and more water ballet for the octopus on MDMA.