Multiple research into the psychoactive drug 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known by its street name Ecstasy, shows that it temporarily enhances the serotonin levels in humans - resulting in increased social behavior and elevated levels of happiness.
According to the research, octopuses given MDMA want to spend more time with each other, something mirrored by their human counterparts. A difficulty that the researchers had with this experiment was that it wasn't easy to determine just how much ecstasy the octopuses should be given.
Under ordinary conditions, without MDMA, five male and female octopuses stayed away from the only male caged octopuses. However, after their dose of the drug, they spent more time in the room with the male octopus.
In fact - our mood, social behavior, sleep, and sexual desire are all regulated by the neurotransmitter serotonin.
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In humans and other vertebrates, ecstasy tends produce pro-social behavior, and the study authors conducted an experiment to see whether octopuses are also susceptible to the same effects given the discovery in regard to their genomic code. So they weren't super-social, but they were more social than they had previously been thought.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Then they put the octopus into a tank. When given MDMA, however, these creatures were found to get close to each other and, in some cases, even "hug" their companions.
DOLEN: Whereas after MDMA, they were essentially hugging the flower pot that had the other octopus in it. And those octopuses spent significantly more time, on average 15 minutes, in the room with another male octopus. But, serious interest in MDMA has grown as researchers have begun discovering promising applications of the drug in treating PTSD and other disorders.
Without being drugged, all the octopuses, male and female, were interested in socialising with female octopuses, but not male ones.
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Octopus brains are organised totally differently than ours or a rodent's.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Without the drug, octopuses acted reserved and aloof and might only reach out one of their eight arms to touch the cooped up animal. The findings, in the journal Current Biology, stunned other researchers.
"If we look at the part of the gene that encodes the binding pocket of the receptor - it's very similar", Edsinger said.
"They have this huge complex brain that they've built, that has absolutely no business acting like ours does - but here they show that it does", said Pungor. Zachary Mainen is a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown in Portugal.
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Octopuses' social response is curious because humans and octopuses have more than 500 million years of divergent evolution, making us very different creatures indeed.