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Roisin Murphy on Oxytocin

Recovering from MDMA Burnout

People always ask, "How can I get more oxytocin? How can I strengthen my oxytocin response?" Today, I got an email from someone who said he had taken a lot of MDMA (Ecstasy) in the past. He was now clean and very healthy, but feeling "autistic."

He wondered whether it was safe to take oxytocin nasal sprays, and if there was anything he could do to generate oxytocin on his own. Here's what I answered:

As you probably know, MDMA releases oxytocin. This effect is likely the cause of much of the pleasurable feelings of MDMA. Scientific studies and anecdotes show that MDMA's effects seem to diminish over time. People seem to burn out on it.

This could be because, while this hasn't exactly been shown with oxytocin, scientists and doctors know that when you take an external hormone for extended periods of time, you internal production tends to slow and maybe even stop. It happens with testosterone and estrogen, for example. Many scientists who work with oxytocin in human studies think it's likely that taking oxytocin could diminish one's natural production.

It sounds like you have taken the first steps to getting very healthy and are ready to take the next steps.

It's very likely that you can boost your natural ability to release oxytocin into the brain, where it will create feelings of connection with others.

I think of the oxytocin response as a muscle. If a muscle is very weak, or has been injured, you need to start slowly and gradually build up its strength.

I think a problem that many of us have is connecting with another human -- engaging in a mutual oxytocin response -- is difficult, because human communication and relationships are so complex. It's often better to start with a smaller step. If you love animals, get a pet and care for it.

Another terrific thing to do, that many of us shy away from, is taking care of someone who is sick. I know it sounds absolutely terrifying, but volunteering at a hospice, or helping someone who is terminal, can be completely life-changing. Care-taking builds a different kind of oxytocin response, one that's separate from the infatuation/romance thing that for many of us is our main experience of bonding with another.

 Call it altruism or generosity, both aspects of oxytocin. In my own experience, learning to care for someone who was sick was the beginning of healing and the ability to love and connect more deeply.