Oxytocin: the body’s love drug offers hope to addicts

The feel-good effects of oxytocin have diminished the impact of drug and alcohol use. Now, Australian scientists have launched clinical trials to determine if intranasal oxytocin sprays, methamphetamine addicts, alcoholics, and chronic marijuana users using oxytocin nasal sprays will benefit from a combination of oxytocin sprays and injections. University of Sydney researcher Professor Iain McGregor said. “With excessive alcohol consumption or methamphetamines or cocaine use, people get depleted levels of oxytocin in the brain. So what we might be doing by treating people with oxytocin is restoring the brain system that’s been changed from alcohol and drug abuse. If you can naturally boost their oxytocin levels you can make people less vulnerable to addiction.”

Prof McGregor outlined the results of rat studies in which adolescent rats were given daily oxytocin injections for 10 days before they had any exposure to alcohol. Upon reaching maturity those who had received the oxytocin were not as interested in alcohol and were more sociable than rats not given the injections. They also had higher levels of oxytocin in their brains, suggesting the injection they received had long-lasting effects. Other studies have found oxytocin has similar effects in deterring rats from wanting to indulge in methamphetamines.

Is there a chance they would get hooked on oxytocin? “We don’t think so,” said Prof McGregor. “We know from giving humans intranasal oxytocin sprays it doesn’t seem to have any abuse potential. People who take it don’t feel like they’re on ecstasy. It has a more subtle effect.” Current clinical trials involving the nasal spray have another six months to run. Meanwhile, research is underway in the United States to see if oxytocin can help manage withdrawal symptoms in cannabis addicts.