Curiosity-Driven Nonsense: Octopuses Caged and Drugged for ‘Science’

Posted by on October 1, 2018 | Permalink

Experimenters in the US who gave octopuses the drug MDMA (ecstasy) have claimed, alarmingly, that their outlandish study lays the foundations for further testing of psychiatric drugs on these intelligent, mysterious marine animals – even though the results of animal testing are unreliable and inapplicable to humans.

A California two-spot octopus was caring for her clutch of eggs in the ocean when she was captured and shipped over 3,000 miles across the US so that experimenters could use her offspring. After hatching, seven young octopuses were housed in tanks with hundreds of other animals for two to three weeks before being socially isolated in small tanks for seven months. At that point, they were transported another 450 miles to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where they were kept in buckets containing artificial seawater.

After this miserable start to life, four of the octopuses were exposed to MDMA by being submerged in a beaker containing a liquefied version of the drug, which they absorbed through their gills. All seven octopuses were then placed inside a water chamber from which they could access two adjacent chambers – one containing a plastic action figure in a cage and the other an unfamiliar octopus in a cage – and were observed for 30 minutes.

The octopuses who had been exposed to MDMA spent more time in the chamber with the unfamiliar octopus than the octopuses who hadn’t been drugged did, and the experimenters suggest that this indicates an evolutionary link between the social behaviour of the eight-limbed cephalopods and that of humans. This speculation is utterly absurd – octopuses are whole individuals, not under-evolved humans.

The experimenters also argued that they could study the effects of psychiatric drug therapies on humans by administering them to species that are distantly related to us, such as octopuses. However, these animals are so far removed along the evolutionary line from humans that it’s inaccurate and ridiculous to make sweeping statements about the development of medical treatments for human-based disorders based on results in these other species. Experimenters need to stop thinking up new ways to torment animals in order to obtain funding and instead dedicate themselves to innovative, animal-free science that actually helps humans.

Octopuses are highly intelligent animals capable of complex thought processes. They can use tools and are particularly sensitive to pain, having nerve receptors distributed throughout their bodies. They also have well-developed cognitive abilities, impressive memories, and the capacity to solve puzzles and live in multifaceted environments. It’s completely inhumane and unethical to tear them away from their ocean homes and subject them to the bright lights of laboratory tanks for curiosity-driven, nonsensical experiments.

Animals are not earlier forms of humans, and experiments on other animals for the development of treatments for human mental disorders and other conditions have been a dismal failure. The best way to understand and treat human disease is to study make the smart, ethical move towards cutting-edge, non-animal research methodologies.

What You Can Do

  • As European legislators review the law designed to protect animals used in experiments, please sign our urgent letter calling on the European Commission and the European Parliament to observe a moratorium on all animal experiments and to review them systematically to reassess their value.
  • Please also help animals suffering in laboratories.