Octopuses Were Given MDMA And Started Hugging Eachother

It turns out ecstasy has the same affect on octopuses as it does on humans.

When humans take MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy, the release of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin  produce feelings of emotional closeness which usually results in people being more interested in interacting and connecting with others.

A US study, released in Current Biology, has made the interesting discovery that a species of octopus considered to be a solitary and asocial creature has a similar response to the drug.

In order to test whether a typically asocial animal might behave similarly to humans in response to MDMA, scientists first tested the octopuses' interest in other octopuses compared to novel objects under normal circumstances.

While this did reveal the cephalopods actually had more interest in each other -- particularly in other females -- than had previously been thought, researchers were surprised by what happened next.

The design of the experiment testing the octopus' interaction with novel objects and other another octopus. Image: provided

When placed under the influence of MDMA, the octopuses not only spent more time with other individuals, but also engaged in "extensive ventral surface contact."

The physical contact, which is unusual, appeared to researchers as exploratory rather than aggressive in nature.

Octopuses and humans are separated by more than 500 million years of evolution, but researchers say the findings show we share a common evolutionary heritage which enables serotonin to encode social behaviours.

"Despite anatomical differences between octopus and human brain, we've shown that there are molecular similarities in the serotonin transporter gene," author of the study Gül Dölen said.

"These molecular similarities are sufficient to enable MDMA to induce prosocial behaviors in octopuses."

Image: Getty

The team chose to perform the study on Octopus bimaculoides due to the fact it is possible to breed and study their behaviour in a lab, however it is also the only octopus to have its genome fully sequenced. This allowed for comparisons to be made between human and octopus genes.

Octopuses have always stood apart from other invertebrates when it comes to intelligence, having evolved with a greater cognitive complexity.

The most famous stories of the smart-eight-legged-pants usually involve escaping from tanks and thievery.

In 2008, Otto the octopus -- a resident at the Sea Star Aquarium in Coburg, Germany -- caused havoc after learning he could turn off the light in his aquarium by climbing to the rim of his tank and squirting a jet of water at it. This would short-circuit not only his light, but the power of the  entire building.

It took aquarium staff three nights to figure out Otto was the one cutting out the power and almost killing other animals who needed electric water pumps to live.