MDMA Makes Octopuses Give Eight-Armed Hugs

MDMA has a place to go in the octopus brain.

An octopus differs from a human in ways far beyond the obvious. A heap of no bones and 33,000 genes, octopuses are belieeved to be Earth’s first intelligent beings.

They are utterly different from all other animals, with a central brain that surrounds the esophagus and two-thirds of their neurons in their arms. They’re separated from humans by more than 500 million years of evolution.

Gül Dölen, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and the co-author of the new Current Biology paper. She tells Inverse that when octopuses are on MDMA, it’s like watching “an eight-armed hug.”

Despite the differences between octopuses and humans, Dölen and her colleague Eric Edsinger, Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory, choose to focus on a single crucial similarity. The brain of the California two-spot octopus contains a serotonin transporter that enables the binding of MDMA — much like human brains.

“We performed phylogenetic tree mapping and found that, even though their whole serotonin transporter gene is only 50 to 60 percent similar to humans, the gene was still conserved,” Dölen tells Inverse. “That told us that MDMA would have a place to go in the octopus brain and suggested it could encode sociality as it does in a human brain.”

In the video above, Inverse Senior Science Editor Yasmin Tayag and Inverse video producer Justin Dodd discuss this breakthrough research reported on by Inverse staff writer Sarah Sloat, whose story is linked below:

Read the full story: Octopuses Rolling on MDMA Reveal Unexpected Link to Humans.

And if you’re wondering why it’s “octopuses” instead of, say, “octopi,” here’s an easy explanation: