Give an octopus ecstasy and like humans, they start hugging and doing "water ballet"
Ask a stranger on the street to name some similarities between octopuses and humans, and chances are, they aren’t going to be able to come up with much. After all, our evolution diverged from those alien looking freak-creatures some 500 million years back. How much could we possibly have in common?
On the surface, not much. But, apparently when you give an octopus ecstasy, strange similarities start to emerge – they become more playful, more social, and even, more inclined to engage in physical contact with other octopuses. A lot like someone who is rolling balls.
Wait, what? Hold on a second – back up. Who is giving octopuses ecstasy? And why?
Well, why not? Is perhaps a better question. Because this is 2018 – if we have questions, by god, we are going to do whatever it takes to answer them! Even if those questions are as strange and psychedelic as, “what happens when you give an octopus MDMA?”
Which, as it turns out, was exactly the question scientists Eric Edger and Gül Dölen set out to answer when they embarked on this recent experiment. They wanted to know more about the social behavior of these mysterious sea animals, and if they are neurologically, socially similar to humans in any way shape or form. Because, not only are these creatures pretty anti-social in the wild, but their brains are so, SO different than ours – if any similarities exist, they might reveal something interesting.
So, they gave the cephalopods ecstasy. How else were they supposed to do something like that?
To conduct the experiment, an octopus was placed inside of a three-chamber tank, where they could either play with a plastic Star Wars figurine in one room or hang out with another octopus in the other.
Sober, the four octopuses they tested acted as they would have predicted: they spent more time with the toy than with the other octopus. But once they got the cephalopods rolling, it was a different story altogether.
The ecstasy seemed to relax the animals, and, to the researcher’s surprise, they became noticeably more social. They started interacting with the other octopus in their tank, touching them, and in one instance, even trying to hug the other octopus.
Dolen described some of the other effects they noticed, “Some were being very playful, doing water acrobatics or spent time fondling the Airstone [aquarium bubbler],” she told The Guardian. Others, outstretched their tentacles and started doing what she could only describe as “water ballet.”
“Members of the order Octopoda are predominantly asocial and solitary,” the study states in its summary. “Here we provide evidence that, as in humans … (MDMA) enhances acute prosocial behaviors in Octopus bimaculoides.”
The reason has to do with everyone’s favorite brain chemical: serotonin. This happy little molecule is responsible for mood regulation and social behaviors in both vertebrates and invertebrates alike. MDMA causes serotonin to flood between synapses, which is what’s responsible for the amplified happiness, euphoria and social connection people (and apparently octopuses) feel when they’re on the drug.
What’s crazy about this, though, is the fact of how vastly different a human brain is from that of an octopus. Their central brain is located around their throat, and most of their neurons are scattered, spread out along their tentacle arms. In finding that octopus brains react via the same basic brain chemistry, this study raises the question of whether or not octopus feel the same emotions as human beings.
Emotions like love or happiness, fear or sadness…
There are no real ways to measure that, though, so for now we have no idea. All we know for sure is that, when they’re rolling on ecstasy, octopuses act a lot like humans when we roll.