Cthulhu Rolling
September 20, 2018 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Scientists Gave MDMA to Octopuses—and What Happened Was Profound - "The results of their experiment, in which seven octopuses took MDMA, were 'unbelievable.'" (NPR, NYT, HuffPo, LS, NG, Graun, Vice, WaPo)
posted by kliuless (62 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
alternate title suggestion: Rolling in the Deep
posted by isauteikisa at 2:46 PM on September 20, 2018 [86 favorites]


Have you ever, like, looked at your tentacle? Like really looked at it?
posted by me3dia at 2:48 PM on September 20, 2018 [47 favorites]


After hanging out in a bath containing ecstasy, the animals moved to a chamber with three rooms to pick from: a central room, one containing a male octopus and another containing a toy.

Octopus bathhouse for science.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:52 PM on September 20, 2018 [19 favorites]


You know this is interesting but 7 octopuses did not take ecstasy they were given it. We ascribe a vast intelligence to these animals yet we drug them without their consent. Not sure how I feel about that...
posted by supermedusa at 2:54 PM on September 20, 2018 [61 favorites]


What if the ocean is just an ink bladder in another, huger octopus?
posted by rhizome at 2:56 PM on September 20, 2018 [14 favorites]


octoPLURs
posted by griphus at 2:57 PM on September 20, 2018 [12 favorites]


MKUltra never ended...it just got submarined.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:59 PM on September 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


Isn't this just tenectadata?
posted by thelonius at 3:01 PM on September 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


Having experienced MDMA I do believe that, if I took some now, I would gladly hug an octopus.
posted by Splunge at 3:03 PM on September 20, 2018 [13 favorites]


Perhaps, after all, we were meant to meet.

--Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
posted by chavenet at 3:03 PM on September 20, 2018 [11 favorites]


Holy Klono's Iridium Intestines! Proving that MDMA affects species as different as humans and octopuses sounds like the first step down the road to thionite.
posted by The Tensor at 3:04 PM on September 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


Having experienced MDMA I do believe that, if I took some now, I would gladly hug an octopus.

I don’t know what it says about me that I’d probably hug an octopus without the molly...
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:06 PM on September 20, 2018 [19 favorites]


We were somewhere around Cordley Hall at the edge the fishbowl when the MDMA began to take hold...

-Opening line from "Fear and Floating in The Aquarium"
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:07 PM on September 20, 2018 [22 favorites]


We ascribe a vast intelligence to these animals yet we drug them without their consent

I admit I had the same feeling. It is, of course, impossible to gain the consent of an octopus for this sort of thing since we have no means of communication. As a one-off experiment it is maybe questionably ethical but certainly valuable. But they need never do this again.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:08 PM on September 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


Apparently, MDMA + octopus = cuddlefish.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:13 PM on September 20, 2018 [90 favorites]


“This was such an incredible paper, with a completely unexpected and almost unbelievable outcome.”

I mean… not really? I would definitely have expected MDMA to work on octopi. I'd expect it to work on pretty much anything that uses the same basic neurotransmitters as we do.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:13 PM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


...yet we drug them without their consent...

In fact, since the experiment demonstrates similarity between human and octopus neurology/behaviour, it tends to undermine its own ethical basis.
posted by Segundus at 3:17 PM on September 20, 2018 [11 favorites]


Holy Klono's Iridium Intestines! Proving that MDMA affects species as different as humans and octopuses sounds like the first step down the road to thionite.
posted by The Tensor


Well, Earth is hardly Trenco.
posted by Splunge at 3:18 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I admit I had the same feeling. It is, of course, impossible to gain the consent of an octopus for this sort of thing since we have no means of communication. As a one-off experiment it is maybe questionably ethical but certainly valuable. But they need never do this again.

They didn't prove that it was activating serotonin receptors, they just observed behavior changes. For all we know the drug affects some totally different molecule in their brains. So yeah, they kind of do need to do it again to draw any kind of conclusion about serotonin.
posted by dilaudid at 3:19 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


“This was such an incredible paper, with a completely unexpected and almost unbelievable outcome.”

Dude, just how high are you right now?
posted by scruss at 3:22 PM on September 20, 2018 [28 favorites]


"You know this is interesting but 7 octopuses did not take ecstasy they were given it. We ascribe a vast intelligence to these animals yet we drug them without their consent. Not sure how I feel about that..."

They got ecstacy for free, most animals have to work to buy it on top of having to know some fried kid to buy it from and hope the dude isn't into taking "sexy drug pictures" with his suspiciously young girlfriend using the pills he sells.

Also worth considering, ecstacy is far preferable additive to their water than what we typically dump into the ocean. Hell, ecstacy in the water seems better than some of the shit we find in our local drinking water. One of the experiments that had us conduct back in a college environmental science class was to measure how much junk was in our drinking water, namely birth control chems.

I know the argument that we normally just outright poison these guys isn't exceptionally compelling but it's not like we are ever going to just, like, stop polluting everything all the time everywhere forever.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:31 PM on September 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


Well now that we know MDMA promotes social behaviour in spineless creatures with inscrutable brains, I think we should begin tests on GOP lawmakers immediately.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 3:35 PM on September 20, 2018 [70 favorites]


Wow, don't be so rude to Octopi. They didn't do nothin to deserve that.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:43 PM on September 20, 2018 [9 favorites]


Have you ever, like, looked at your tentacle? Like really looked at it?

This just gets more mind-blowing when you consider each tentacle has its own brain.
posted by cj_ at 3:45 PM on September 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


"In conclusion, MDMA is awesome."
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:46 PM on September 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


Drugging them beats eating them.
posted by Splunge at 3:56 PM on September 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


There are moments in history where I wish I could be a fly on the wall, there for the moment, seeing and experiencing everything that happened and all the reactions that occurred in that One Important Moment.

Good lord, I wish I could've been there when the first person said, "Hey everyone! Gather 'round. OK, all eyes on me. I have an idea. I want to give ecstasy to this octopus."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:01 PM on September 20, 2018 [13 favorites]


Dude, just how high are you right now?

"Whoa, I know this one. It's Thursday!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:03 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


OCTOPUS SCIENCE FACTS
hello i am scientist in octopus science laboratory here are some octopus facts
one: octopus can squeeze through one-inch hole
two: octopus can change color and shape for disguise like predator or rock or scientist in octopus science laboratory
three: science octopus is missing no one knows where is haha
now is your turn for tell me some human facts: how many arms does human leader have?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:03 PM on September 20, 2018 [97 favorites]


Scientists Gave MDMA to Octopuses—and What Happened Was Profound

Interesting. Now try ketamine.
posted by neuron at 4:26 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is the most clickbaity MeFi post of all time, needs a more honest headline like “Octopi get high, say hi.”
posted by w0mbat at 4:31 PM on September 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


Dude, just how high are you right now?

holds up eight tentacles
posted by banshee at 4:49 PM on September 20, 2018 [8 favorites]




I wish Robert Anton Wilson had lived to see this.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:19 PM on September 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


How close are we to a Vingian singularity?

This happened before "Subnautica Slash Fiction" gets a single hit on Google.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:26 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is the most clickbaity MeFi post of all time

...but for some reason I feel really great about that.

I am similarly comforted that this Atlantic article is very promptly posted when I get here with no resentment or jealously that I wasn't able to post myself.

From the Atlantic piece:

At first they used too high a dose, and the animals “freaked out and did all these color changes,”

I appreciate that this isn't cleaning fluid, but seriously, there's something wrong with these scientists. Something in this experiment feels hatched on the dancefloor. Hell, I probably had the idea for it myself while at Twilo circa 1998.
posted by BigBrooklyn at 5:30 PM on September 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


holds up eight tentacles

a glow stick in each
posted by n. moon at 6:15 PM on September 20, 2018 [8 favorites]


I am weirdly disappointed that the test involved seven octopi, rather than eight, but can't put my finger on why exactly.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 6:25 PM on September 20, 2018 [12 favorites]


It is, of course, impossible to gain the consent of an octopus for this sort of thing since we have no means of communication

We have color, shape, reflectivity, texture and other concepts that these creatures clearly understand. Give them a distinctive shiny bottle filled with ecstasy water or a flashing rainbow LED-lit MDMA hot tub and maybe they’ll eventually make the association on their own.
posted by afiler at 6:34 PM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


It's not really fair unless they give us octopus drugs.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:42 PM on September 20, 2018 [11 favorites]


I've been reading a lot of Peter Watts lately and was starting to see reflections of his fiction in just about every aspect of the world around me so this is just like...I feel like I've taken a bunch of MDMA myself.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:03 PM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


In the next experiment, the octopi will be bitten by a radioactive spider to see if they gain its proportional strength.
posted by delfin at 7:13 PM on September 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


Drugging them beats eating them.

Does it, though? That feels pretty ethically iffy to me. We're usually more freaked out by animals that poison each other, then eat each other, than animals that just kill then eat each other. Also what happens to these octopodes y'know, next? It's not like there's an octopus retirement home. They get fed a bunch of weird chemicals, their experience of which we can only judge via fairly superficial observations, then they're most likely euthanized. At least if someone eats them they were part of a food chain.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:28 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Interesting. Now try ketamine.

I mean, I'm at work at the moment, but if you insist I'm willing to take one for the team.
posted by Pink Frost at 7:33 PM on September 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


They didn't prove that it was activating serotonin receptors, they just observed behavior changes.

To the contrary, from the paper:
Highlights

Phylogenetic analysis revealed clear octopus orthologs of human SLC6A4
SLC6A4 protein alignment revealed conservation of the MDMA binding site in octopuses
A novel assay was developed for quantification of octopus social behaviors
Behavioral analysis revealed conservation of prosocial function of MDMA in octopuses
I sympathize with questioning the ethics/usefulness of studies, but always always always go to the study itself and not the breathless news bits mangling them because you know they will, they do, it's all "shrimp treadmills" and "volcano monitoring" to serve an agenda.

Besides, where else would you get the cute cartoons?
posted by traveler_ at 7:34 PM on September 20, 2018 [9 favorites]


Now I want a goddamn aquarium with octopuses overdosed on MDMA to make them change pretty colors to own the libs. I'll put it in the Miami penthouse I bought with Russian mob money.
posted by bookman117 at 7:51 PM on September 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


I mean… not really? I would definitely have expected MDMA to work on octopi. I'd expect it to work on pretty much anything that uses the same basic neurotransmitters as we do.
— posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:13 PM on September 20
That's the thing, though: octopodes are invertebrates. They're more closely related to arthropods than they are to us chordates, and that whole "worms and bugs" superphylum is well-known for using neurotransmitters that we don't (e.g. octopamine, so named because it was first discovered in an octopus species). This finding is a lot more surprising than you might think; even if the molluscs have serotonin receptors, we don't know enough about how their evolution diverged from ours to know that they use serotonin for equivalent purposes.
It's like finding out that an ancient civilization of humans, abducted from Earth and living independently on Mars for 100,000 years with zero Earth contact, turned out to also speak Finnish, use phillips-head screws, and write music on an equal-temperament musical scale built around A440.
posted by chronostachyon at 10:58 PM on September 20, 2018 [25 favorites]


You think octopi diverged a long time ago? I’m still stunned by the plant anesthesia thing.
posted by nat at 12:01 AM on September 21, 2018 [5 favorites]


Did nobody think to ask them if they were into Christian White and his Aryan Reggae Band?
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:01 AM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


To follow on from chronostachyon, the evidence that neurotransmitters don't have the same behavioral and physiology effects in invertebrates as they do in us is perhaps larger than you'd think. I've done experiments knocking down tyrosine hydroxylase in insects, which makes them unable to make dopamine (and melanin, which was the point of the experiment) and while they turned out blonde instead of brown, there were no discernible behavioral effects of them being dopamineless. SSRIs don't seem to effect their behavior, either, but do affect their insulin responsive growth systems, causing early emergence. In stalk eyed flies, increasing their serotonin by administering it directly may make them more aggressive, but I also saw a poster from the same lab in which SSRIs didn't affect behavior, but did make their eye stalks not grow as big (cannot find a citation, tho; as I recall, the lab just wasn't very interested in that finding.)

Basically it's just that we can't infer that a chemical will work on animal brains the same way it works on human brains. Finding out that this one does is pretty stunning because it implies either
1) convergence on the receptors involved, meaning that we and octopuses have hit on the same molecular solution to some serotonin-based function, or
2) conservation of a receptor AND function across an ungodly amount of evolutionary time. BOTH of those are incredible claims demanding a lot more evidence.

We have to do a proper taxonomic sampling across the tree of Life and give EVERYTHING MDMA. Plus more human trials, just to be sure.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 4:35 AM on September 21, 2018 [22 favorites]


I wonder if the scientists were thinking of Terence McKenna's octopus spiel
posted by newmoistness at 6:26 AM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


"So, as I was saying, it's really fascinating to look back at some of the discussions that your people had on this, what do you call it, MeatFilter?--no, MetaFilter, my bad--regarding the ethics of the Dölen-Edsinger experiments. I mean, above and beyond the ontological considerations, they were really worried about us, you know, as people. That's quite touching. It's all moot now, of course, and they ultimately turned out to be the best thing for octopuskind, since it was really the dawn of our true awareness of ourselves, the MDMA being, if I may draw an analogy to one of your myths, the equivalent of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Dölen and Edsinger being, I suppose, the Snake. Curious, how such fables can cross species boundaries.

"Anyway, would you mind drinking this? And be quick about it, if you would; my boss will be here any minute and he's pretty cephalopodocentric, hates it when we talk to the anim--sorry, the subjects. Doesn't really think you're people. Thanks, you're a pal."
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:41 AM on September 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


Drugging them beats eating them.

Why not do both?
posted by flabdablet at 6:42 AM on September 21, 2018


It's like finding out that an ancient civilization of humans, abducted from Earth and living independently on Mars for 100,000 years with zero Earth contact, turned out to also speak Finnish, use phillips-head screws, and write music on an equal-temperament musical scale built around A440.

Huh. I did not know that.
posted by flabdablet at 6:44 AM on September 21, 2018


Plant anesthesia is actually a less surprising result than this IMO. If I remember correctly, the anesthetic affects a low-level mechanism (ion transport) that is very general. It's like finding out that both PCs and Macs can be melted down if you apply enough heat to them; it doesn't say much about how divergent PCs are from Macs.
posted by Jpfed at 7:24 AM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Me, upon seeing octopus on a menu: "I don't eat anything that's smarter than I am".
Wife: "So you're a vegetarian?"
posted by Optamystic at 8:11 AM on September 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


It seems possible to teach octopi to try new things and to indicate if they like/ want more of them. I can understand animal experimentation that is absolutely necessary to save lives, but while this is certainly an interesting result, octopi are smart and it feels dicey. The 2 primary researchers are at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA.

Some not very aggressive googling doesn't quickly turn up ethics guidelines for animal testing; I suspect it's so controversial that the policies have been made private; this happened at a University where I worked.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2002542/
NIH Talking Point on the use of animals in scientific research
BBC Ethics guide Experimenting on animals

Would be happy to hear from others who have more information.
posted by theora55 at 8:53 AM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


> I am weirdly disappointed that the test involved seven octopi, rather than eight, but can't put my finger on why exactly.

I think the eighth (sober) octopus was sitting in one of the rooms the seven high octopuses could choose from.
posted by christopherious at 4:31 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Which is no more than common sense. Planning a group trip without a designated straight octopus is just irresponsible.
posted by flabdablet at 9:08 AM on September 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


Apparently, MDMA + octopus = cuddlefish.

Really makes me wish I hadn't let the domain name, cuttleflesh.com lapse.
posted by DigDoug at 6:28 AM on September 24, 2018


Speaking of mammals doing odd things with cephlopods, here's a seal slapping a kayaker with an octopus.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:55 PM on September 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Here's what appears to be the original Instagram post for the octopus slapping incident and the slappee's subsequent writeup featuring some additional footage from other cameras.
posted by flabdablet at 8:02 PM on September 26, 2018


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