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Give Octopuses Psychotropic Drugs and They Hug More


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If you give typically solitary octopuses the drug MDMA, they, like people who've taken the party drug, act more social, Gizmodo reports.

A pair of researchers noticed through a phylogenetic analysis that despite a separation of more than 500 million years of evolution and differences in brain organization, humans and octopuses have similar SLC6A4 genes. In addition, as the duo from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report in Current Biology this week, they found that the MDMA binding site in the serotonin transporter (SERT, encoded by SLC6A4) was conserved.

They dosed a handful of octopuses with low levels of MDMA and watched to see whether they then chose to spend more time with a novel object, another octopus, or alone. They report that when octopuses were given MDMA, they were more likely to spend time with another octopus than when they were untreated. Additionally, paper co-author Gül Dölen from Hopkins tells Gizmodo that one animal, on a low dose, "looked like it was doing water ballet," and was interested in sounds and smells.

"It's not just quantitatively more time, but qualitative," Dölen says at Quartz of the time the dosed octopus wanted to spend with the other. "They tended to hug the cage and put their mouth parts on the cage. This is very similar to how humans react to MDMA; they touch each other frequently."

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