Scientists Gave Octopuses Ecstasy: The Study Went Viral

Dec 17, 2018

Octopus seen on July 12, 2013, during the Okeanos Explorer Northeast U.S. Canyons 2013 expedition.
Credit NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.

You might have seen the headlines recently. Scientists gave octopuses ecstasy. It was part of a study where they expected to learn about social behavior. What the scientists didn’t expect though, was for the study to go viral.

As Ruby Schwartz reports, that’s just the most recent chapter in a larger story of the relationship between the human and the octopus.

The study in reference placed two octopuses in a tank and gave them MDMA; what's commonly known as ecstasy. Prior to the drugs, the octopuses were reserved. They're usually not social creatures. In fact, all of their tentacles were pulled in and they had an appearance of being very cautious.

After the MDMA kicked in, they were doing backflips around the tank and were very friendly with each other.

News outlets from around the world reported on the study and its findings, which then exposed a broader phenomenon: many people are obsessed with octopuses. 

There's a Facebook group with over 350,000 members called octo-nation, they've long been part of literature and film, and people are realizing how smart they are.

And how connected they are to humans. Ruby Schwartz explored this topic in this piece from our production partners at Atlantic Public Media through their media training program, The Transom Story Workshop in Woods Hole. Ruby just graduated from the workshop and you can find out more about that program at Transom.org.