Scientists give octopuses Molly, and they want to cuddle. A chef in Maine gets her lobsters high before cooking them. What is going on?

By Kimberly Holland
September 28, 2018
Julian Watt/Getty Images

As if the world wasn’t crazy enough, apparently we’re drugging sea creatures now.

Earlier this month, researchers announced they had discovered octopuses can trip on Molly and experience the same “touchy-feely” effects many humans do when they take the psychoactive drug.

The study, which appeared in the journal Current Biology, looked at the behavior of the California two-spot octopus while sober and then while “tripping” on Molly or ecstasy.

To examine the effects of the drug, the researchers put the notoriously solitary and sometimes surly mollusks into a large tank that was divided into three sections. In the first section, researchers placed a stationary statue (a Chewbacca or a Stormtrooper figurine, the researchers said). The middle third was empty. In the final section, researchers secured an unfamiliar (to the observed octopus) octopus in a cage. The cage was large enough that the octopuses could touch one another, but not so large the caged octopus could escape or start a confrontation.

For the first portion of the experiment, the scientists placed each of eight octopuses (four male, four female) in the tank one at a time and observed their behavior. In almost every situation, the sober cephalopods avoided the social chamber—that is, the one with the caged unfamiliar octopus—and instead preferred to chill with Chewbacca or a Stormtrooper. Hey, we can’t blame them there. Friends that will chill and not say a word are great.

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Then, for the second portion, the scientists needed to drug the octopuses. To do this, they submerged each octopus in a bath of artificial seawater that had been mixed with liquefied MDMA (technical name for the drug). The octopuses were left to soak in the watery rave for 10 minutes. The amount of Molly they absorbed through their gills was equivalent to a “low oral dose.”

Then, to mellow out a bit, the scientists moved each octopus to a saline bath before returning them to the social tank experiment.

This time, rolling on Molly, the octopuses were more inclined to spend time in the tank with the unfamiliar octopus. Some even went so far as to hug the cage “a lot.”

In short, these researchers found, that Molly can trigger a shift in brain chemicals such that even notoriously isolationist octopuses want a little loving. These effects are similar to what’s seen in octopuses when they’re ready to mate. And humans, as you may or may not know, also get very clingy and affectionate when on Molly. So we have that in common.

What can science do with this? Well, nothing probably. It just confirms that at some point in evolution (say, 500 million years ago), humans and octopuses developed and retained some of the same mood-regulating mechanisms, and now we can both buzz with the best. So, take that scallops!

But if your Google alerts for drugged octopuses weren’t going off last week, surely the ones you’d set for stoned lobsters were, right?

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That’s because a chef and restaurant owner in Maine announced she’s been getting her crustaceans high before boiling them.

Indeed, Charlotte Gill, owner of Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound (it will be legendary for so many more reasons now) in Southwest Harbor, Maine, essentially hotboxes her shellfish with cannabis.

Gill is convinced, she told NPR, that the small dose of weed can help calm the lobster before they’re cooked.

Gill has created a small plastic box that she pumps smoke into. The smoke first saturates a small amount of water that’s in the box, and then it fills the whole box. She leaves the lobster to, er, bake in the smoke before she moves them to the stockpot full of boiling water.

Gill says she’s worked with lobsters long enough to know when their behavior is affected by the weed, and she firmly believes the lobsters are more mellow after their trip to the cannabis case.

Richard Wahle, a researcher at the school of marine science at the University of Maine and director of the Lobster Institute says he can’t be so sure.

"I don't think the science is there right now to say whether or not lobsters are anesthetized by marijuana,” Wahle told NPR. “But it's an intriguing idea and maybe worthy of exploration.”

This week, however, the state of Maine asked Gill to stop her “high-end lobster” ways. Gill is licensed to grow medical marijuana for medical use in the state, and though no legislation technically prohibits getting lobsters high, the state has asked her—not demanded, she says—to stop.

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Gill doesn’t put the lobster in any of her restaurant’s dishes, and she doesn’t sell it yet. She’s instead using the technique to get an understanding of how lobsters respond to the marijuana method.

Gill says that she believes this is a more humane way for the lobster to die, so she hopes the state will work with her to create a path that will allow this practice in the future. Indeed, she hopes to offer her specialty lobster as soon as next month at her restaurant.

There’s no word if any researchers are testing LSD on shrimp or mushrooms on mussels. But stay tuned. The world as we know it is, well, trippy.