Studies show that oxytocin, the drug previously designed to induce pregnancy, can actually help relationships in other ways by acting as a social lubricant. Though this information is not necessarily new, the studies performed on oxytocin are, as they now show that the drug effects humans in the same way that alcohol does. For anyone who likes how much freer they act when they are drunk, oxytocin may help get the same effects without the hangover. However, just as alcohol can, the drug can also cause anger as a side effect. Researchers continue to perform more tests to try and determine if oxytocin is really the “love drug” that many claim is.
Oxytocin is called the “love drug” because research supposedly revealed that it can make a person more monogamous. The drug supposedly helps people, mostly men, feel a connection to their partner, more so than to anyone else. By better activating the brain’s “reward systems” the drug supposedly allows couples to better deal with conflict by helping a man better appreciate seeing his wife’s face over other women’s. The drug also is known for helping mother’s to better bond with their babies, also giving it the name the “love drug.”
It was ten years ago that this information was released. The year 2005 saw the publishing in which researchers had tested oxytocin, which is designed for pregnancy, and put it to other use as the labeled “love drug.” The drug was tested on prairie voles and meadow voles, rodents in which the first mates and stays monogamous and the second mates until the male meadow vole wonders off to mate with another. The research said that oxytocin caused the prairie voles to be more caring toward each other and the second to be monogamous, as the male quit running off in search of a different mate.
This research also showed that even those of the same gender were more trusting of each other and more social. This is when oxytocin was introduced as a social lubricant, rather than the sole use of the drug for pregnancy. Experiments showed that people taking the drug through inhalation were later more trusting, empathetic, generous and cooperative. They showed that people were better socially and felt more comfortable in that type of environment, even being able to read expressions and social nuances better.
But now a new study on the drug designed for pregnancy, recently released, shows that oxytocin is not a “love drug” necessarily but rather just has mostly the same effects as alcohol. New research now says that the similarities between the effects of oxytocin and alcohol are surprising, even the negative effects. Such effects are lower inhibition, reduction of anxiety, fear, and other negative feelings in social situations, and a better feeling of bonding with others, however effects are also increased anger and in some cases risky behavior. Researchers also claim that the drug has little effect on the mind, and acts more like a placebo effect. However, they state that those who need a social lubricant the most have a negative reaction to the drug, as those with social anxiety can actually close off more when taking the drug. Many feel these results mean that the “love drug” should only be used in its original design, for pregnancy, until the effects of oxytocin can be studied further.
As there are many hormones that can affect the body and mind, oxytocin has long been involved as one of the hormones in pregnancy. As the balance in hormones is vital in pregnancy the testing of different types of drugs is important to continuing to help women have children, however testing drugs for social lubrication should probably not be a hasty process. As researchers continue to learn more about the brain and effects of drugs on different parts of the mind, it is sure that more research on oxytocin will be released. Until then, the “love drug” may not be as good as researchers thought it was ten years ago.
By Crystal Boulware
Discover Magazine: The Darker Side of the “Love Hormone”
Medicine Net: oxytocin, Pitocin
Topical Issues: Hormones of pregnancy and labour
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