Love drugs could be the cure for failing marriages
“Love drugs” could soon be used to help save failing marriages, according to an Oxford University academic.
Provided by The Telegraph Love drugs
Love is something humans do uniquely well as a species, underpinned by a battery of chemicals in our brain. Scientists have yet to master the art of bottling liquid love, but Dr Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist at Oxford University, believes that feat is fast approaching.
Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, the author of Why We Love: The New Science Behind Our Closest Relationships, discussed the four key chemicals in the human brain behind the mechanics of love: oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and beta endorphin.
A cocktail of these potent molecules is released when a person is in love, or falling in love, and this changes our thoughts, behaviour and emotions.
Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle” hormone and reduces inhibitions, dopamine is our “reward” hormone which makes us feel good, serotonin is what makes us obsess over another person, and beta endorphin is an opiate that makes us addicted, literally, to an individual.
These four chemicals are responsible for love, which itself evolved as a mechanism to help people raise children.
Love evolved as form of ‘biological bribery’
Evolutionarily, Dr Minchin said, women want childcare, while men want sex. This “unequal currency” was offset by the evolution of love as a form of “biological bribery”.
She believes enough is now known about brain chemistry that certain chemicals could be prescribed to “enhance your abilities to find love or to increase the possibility that you will stay in love when it is getting a bit tricky”.
“One of the frontiers of love research commercially – because can you imagine how much money you would make – is in exploring possible love drugs.
“There’s lots of ethical questions about love drugs, that love drugs are certainly on the horizon. And there is certainly research going into them.”
Speaking after her talk, Dr Machin added: “Love drugs used in couples’ therapy could be available within three to five years.”
These chemicals are likely to be based on the four neurotransmitters, like pure oxytocin, or a drug which can elicit greater production of one of them, like MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
“Oxytocin is very popular with commercial companies right now as it could help people become more confident when dating and help them fall in love,” she added.
“Oxytocin could be available within a decade for people to squirt up their nose before they go out on a Saturday night, at the same time as having a glass of prosecco.
“MDMA, for people who go clubbing, makes them feel like they love everyone else in the room.
“But users also have a surge in empathy, so it could be used to help those struggling in their marriage.
“There are more ethical questions surrounding MDMA, so that is likely to take longer.”
David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, agreed that oxytocin and serotonin were likely involved in love but is less convinced by dopamine and beta endorphin’s roles. However, he does concur that pharmaceutical love aids, such as MDMA, may be available soon.
“MDMA was widely used in the 1970s by couples counsellors in the US to help people put their marriages back together – with anecdotal good outcomes.”
Chemicals to blame for tough break-ups
Dr Machin also explained why some people take break-ups harder than others, with beta endorphin, the lesser-known of the four neurochemicals, to blame.
“Beta endorphin is an opiate. It is produced by your body and, just like heroin, it is addictive,” she said.
And when the source of the drug, a loved one, disappears, the person goes cold turkey and physically struggles at the loss of the chemical.
“That’s actually the reason why when you get dumped it feels awful because you are going into opiate withdrawal,” she said.
“Obviously, if you’re dumped, you don’t get a slow withdrawal and that is why it is so unbelievably physiologically and psychologically painful when a relationship ends in that way.
“You go from existing at quite a nice high level of all these lovely neuro chemicals and suddenly it is gone, you’ve gone full cold turkey, and all those lovely chemicals disappear and that’s why being dumped is so physiologically painful, actually painful, it can feel like your heart is breaking.”
Dr Machin added that around one in 50 people also possess a particular gene which makes them more sensitive to this process, and for them being dumped is much more hurtful.
“Some poor people who carry a version of the new opioid receptor gene, feel social rejection much, much more powerfully than the rest of us. When they get dumped it is like a million times more painful than the rest of us.”
Reference: The Telegraph: Joe Pinkstone