Partying Hearty on Oxytocin in India

 Oxytocin is the new party drug in India, according to this story from the Times of India.

I've seen previous news stories about police seizing illegal oxytocin or counterfeit versions, and wondered if this was a mistranslation and they meant oxycontin, the pain reliever. And evidently farmers often inject cows with oxytocin to increase milk production, an effect noted by Kristen Uvnas Moberg, the Swedish researcher who was the first to understand this hormone/neurochemical's powerful effects on our moods and ability to bond.

The Times explains that kids inject the oxytocin.

According to a pharmacy expert, the drug induces a numb state of mind. "After a period of intense activity and enjoyment where the addicts are numb to pain, effect of the drug wears off and the users drop, literally. It leaves the addicts’ nervous system in a mess and the users need time to recover," he said.

I dunno about this numb state of mind. They may, rather, feel very calm and connected to each other, similar to the way people who take ecstasy at raves say they feel. (It's been shown that this drug causes a release of oxytocin in the brain of mice.) Oxytocin certainly does reduce sensitivity to pain, and the "mess" side effects have been seen in people who take ecstasy frequently.

The authorities may be overstating the negative effects, as they sometimes do. Nevertheless, I do NOT advocate using oxytocin recreationally. First, because it acts in so many ways to regulate the body, messing with the natural system could have unforeseen and not pretty consequences. Second, it's dangerous to inject anything into your body if you don't have sterile equipment and know what you're doing -- especially if you can't be sure of what you're injecting.

Where Can I Get My Hands on Some Oxytocin?

The latest report about how oxytocin makes people more willing to trust after betrayal really struck a nerve. People really really want to get their hands on this stuff: For everyone who is afraid of being hurt, there are five people who are dying to open up.

Someone wrote to me asking where to get oxytocin; he and his wife are having problems. I wrote about my experience taking oxytocin in 2006, here. This is how I answered:

I performed this experiment on myself a couple of years ago, when it was quite easy to purchase oxytocin over the internet. At the time, searching for oxytocin brought up several paid ads from reputable companies that supply chemicals to researchers, and I was able to purchase with a credit card. I notice that these ads no longer appear, probably because these companies realized that many people ordering the product were consumers.

In any case, when you buy oxytocin this way, it's difficult to handle. It degrades quickly when it's mixed with water, and it's a minuscule amount. I was guided by the blog of a guy who made all sorts of wild experiments with such chemicals that he ordered online.

I don't think it's ethical or wise for me to provide any more details about where or how to buy oxytocin. I believe -- but don't know for sure -- that it's not a controlled substance in the United States; I don't know about in other countries.

Someone wrote me that he had tried the oxytocin spray that had been prescribed for his lactating wife. And a psychiatrist in Canada sometimes prescribes this inhalant for kids with autism. These are called off-label uses: the doctor obtains the drug legally and prescribes it legally, but for a condition that the drug hasn't been approved for.

Several drug companies are working to develop oxytocin-based drugs to treat social phobia and some trials have begun.

All that said, let me propose an alternative: Oxytocin is usually released naturally when we are with another person in a situation where we feel safe. Also when we're stroked, make love and orgasm. However, this brain response seems to be learned after we're born, in the first few years of life -- although the brain continues to grow and change throughout our lives. If you and your wife have "normal" oxytocin responses, it could be a matter of simply making love, making sure that you  move very slowly through her arousal to orgasm. Often, when couples have problems, sex is the first thing to go. But I think that a lack of happy satisfying sex also can lead to relationship problems. I experience this myself in my relationship. Oxytocin makes us calmer and more easy-going, so the partner's bad habits don't bother us as much.

Other things you can try are massaging each other, if you're both able to do so in a soothing way that feels good; getting massages together at a spa or weekend retreat; taking some kind of workshop that has exercises which allow you to go into "limbic resonance," the state in which your bodies are attuned. Attunement likely invokes the oxytocin response.

Update Dec. 6 2008: Because so many people come to my site looking for a place to buy oxytocin, I have decided to post the affiliate ad you see at the top of this post. I am not endorsing this product. However, if, after reading this and others of my posts, you want to buy it, if you buy by clicking on this ad, I'll get paid by the advertiser.

Oxytocin Deficit Disorder

Everything that's outside the norm or seems unhealthy is considered a disorder these days. This partly reflects Big Pharma's desire to increase profits by finding new diseases it can treat. Nevertheless, I believe that recognizing some things that used to be considered character flaws or hopeless cases as disorders that might be treatable have benefited millions of people.

Now, instead of being classified as a bad or stupid kid, children who disrupt class and have trouble learning may be given the less pejorative label of ADHD. While how to help them remains controversial, with many people thinking these kids are over-medicated, many others are thankful the drugs are working.

The same thing is true with clinical depression, as well as its cousin, post-partum depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, can alter neurochemistry and help many sufferers lead better lives. Dario Maestripieri of the University of Chicago has shown that the kind of mothering a baby rhesus macaque monkey gets influences the serotonin levels of its brain on into adulthood. Baby rhesus with mean mothers show symptoms of depression.

Evidence is mounting that babies and children who don't get enough or the right kind of nurturing may have abnormal brain development. This can result in an overactive stress response and an under-active oxytocin response. Similarly, some scientists are looking at abnormalities in the oxytocin system as causal factors in autism.

I think the day will come -- in the next three to five years -- when something like "oxytocin deficit disorder" will make its way into the DSM -- and into psychopharmacology. Drugs that introduce an oxytocin-like substance into the body, or increase its production by the hypothalamus or other oxytocin-producing sites, may provide a quicker fix for people who feel they can't connect emotionally with others.

What Are the Human Pheromones?

  Butt Sniffing Ying Yang 
  Originally uploaded by Tim Dorr.

This is slightly off-topic, but it fits in with the recent guest post, Sex, Love and Oxytocin: A Real Love Story.

Liquid Trust is now "enhanced with male and female pheromones." Now, the idea of human pheromones -- chemicals emitted by one animal that change the physiology or behavior of others of that species -- is not accepted science at this point. There have been a few studies that I find really convincing, and I'd bet that this is another case where we're not so different from the rest of the animal kingdom.

At any rate, I saw a mention of human pheromones in this article, which led me to a pretty good, science-based discussion of human pheromones: Y2K Man and Pheromonal Communication. According to the author, F. Ligabue Stricker, the human pheromones are (or are thought to be) androstenol-androstenone for men and copulin for women.

... in women were found compounds similar to “copulin” detected in Primates (Michael et al. 1971, 1974). Copulin is a blend of aliphatic acids (acetic, propionic, butyric,, isovaleric, isocaproic.) usually present in vaginal fluids of healthy women. They are under hormonal control and their fluctuations during the menstrual cycle communicate the ovulatory period (Mc Clintock, 1971). As in Primates,in fact, near the middle of the menstrual cycle their concentration is higher. The use of hormonal contraceptives reduces the production of copulin and its fluctuations.

In Man the “ musky “ odour ” (Kloek 1961), is due to metabolites of androstenone and androstenol, typically pheromonal substances produced by the testes and present with high concentration in urine, saliva and axillary sweat. The effect on social interactions is more constant and stronger than copulin one (Kirk-Smith 1978).. The higher intensity of the male odour compared to female odour is due to greater amounts of skin secretions and concomitantly more odorogenic microflora.

So, these are likely what's in Liquid Trust. I still wonder if there's enough of anything in this product to make a difference and if there is, how long it lasts after you open the bottle. 

But, if you want to buy it anyway, buy by clicking the link below and the company will pay me for the ad:

Oxytocin to Treat Social Anxiety Disorder

A Monash University prof has won a $100,000 grant for a two-year study of the use of inhaled oxytocin to treat social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety disorder, or SAD, is also known as social phobia. It's a subset of generalized anxiety disorder. With SAD, you feel crippling anxiety and dread when faced with social occasions of all kinds: going to a party, even going to work or to school, speaking up at a meeting, eating at a restaurant.

It's an extremely common anxiety disorder, and it hampers your ability to succeed in life and in relationships.

Pradeep Nathan, an associate professor in the School of Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine at Monash in Australia, will begin recruiting subjects for his study.

His theory is that, because people with SAD have -- among other things -- shown abnormal reactivity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions, especially the negative ones of fear and anger, and oxytocin calms the amygdala, inhaling some should reduce the symptoms.

The problem with oxytocin inhalants as drugs to treat pervasive, continuing conditions like social phobia is that its effects don't last very long, and the oxytocin stings pretty badly when you inhale it. Some companies, including Nastech, are working on longer-lasting inhalants using oxytocin or carbetocin, a synthetic form.

For you anxious Aussies who might want to participate, you can reach Nathan and PhD student Izelle Labuschagne at Pradeep.Nathan at or Izelle.Labuschagne at or +61 3 990 53952.

Better Than Human

If you could control your emotions with pills, what would you choose to do?

Most people would likely ask for a pill that made them happier and gave them more love in their lives. The intense interest in oxytocin as a drug comes, I think, from feelings of loneliness and disconnection that many of us have.

If that's so, we would probably use oxytocin drugs to connect more deeply with others. That's the premise of a paper by J. Hughes, executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. In "Virtue Engineering: Applications of Neurotechnology to Improve Moral Behavior," he disagrees with those who fear that psychoactive pharmaceuticals will make us self-absorbed emotional zombies.

He says, "Contrary to the bioconservative accusation that neurological self-determination and human enhancement will encourage more selfishness in society, it will probably permit people to be even more moral and responsible than they currently are."

The transhumanist ideal is to be able to reshape ourselves to be better humans, not worse ones, Hughes explains. For example, just a you might use a nicotine patch to help you stop smoking if willpower isn't enough, you could use a patch that would help you keep homophobic impulses to yourself.

Besides, there's evidence that endogenous oxytocin can help us learn new responses that become permanent without continual dosing. In Eric Hollander and Jennifer Bartz's experiments giving oxytocin to autistic adults, they were better able to identify the emotional tone of language not only while they were under the effects of the drug, but for weeks afterward. (For more on this, see Oxytocin Therapy for Autism Gets Closer.)

Because the brain can form new connections throughout our life, practicing connection and love while under the influence of oxytocin could help us learn how to do it every day, forever.

Oxytocin Could Be Productized in Five Years

Markus Heinrichs, the University of Zurich researcher who has led or been involved in many of the "trust studies" in which oxytocin proved in the laboratory to increase trust in economic and social situations, evidently dropped a little bombshell at a neuroscience conference this week.

According to ShortNews, Heinrichs told the World Congress of Neuroscience about a test in which 70 adults inhaled oxytocin. They felt more self-confident and less shy.

Heinrichs supposedly told the scientific audience that he'll do a larger trial and, if all goes well, such a product could reach the market in the next five years.

Paul Zak, the Claremont Graduate School economist who recently received a grant to study trust in economic exchanges, worked with Heinrichs' team on some of the studies underlying this promised drug.

Of course, such a drug is available today. OxyCalm is a low-dose oxytocin nasal spray freely available over the internet.

See also "Oxytocin Patent Just in Time" and "Oxytocin, Trust and Greed."

Oxytocin for Sleep Apnea

This recently published patent application covers the use of oxytocin to treat sleep apnea, that condition in which a person's snoring is so bad that breathing stops completely for anywhere from a couple seconds to half a minute.

The inventor, Dr. Jeffrey D. Gould, is head of Neurology and Sleep Medicine, P.C. in Bethlehem, Penn.

For an official diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), pauses in breathing must last at least 10 seconds and happen at least five times per hour.

OSA is linked with increased risks of stroke, myocardial infarction, uncontrollable hypertension and obesity. There's some evidence that it's linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. And it can make a person dangerously sleepy, or, at best, unproductive.

According to Dr. Gould's application, this disorder affects 4 percent of men and 2 percent of women. Common treatments include removing some of the low-hanging tissue at the back of the throat or providing a mask that increases air pressure. But these don’t always work. Over-the-counter remedies include inhalers, antihistamines and those funny little pieces of tape that are supposed to hold the nostrils wider apart.

According to his patent application,

Muscles in the throat are two types, skeletal and smooth. … Skeletal muscle is under direct mental control allowing for functions such a phonation and voluntary swallowing. REM sleep is an example of complete atonia of the skeletal muscle. Smooth muscle also has a tone reduction in sleep which worsens in REM sleep. Of note is that this stage of sleep is typically when OSA is at its worst. If muscarinic receptors can be stimulated on smooth muscle receptors in the throat during sleep, the muscles would remain contracted. These contracted muscles would keep the airway forced open, remediating apnea, which is caused by recurrent throat closure.

Oxytocin is known to interact with the smooth muscle of the uterus. Specifically, it binds to muscarinic receptors which produce contraction of uterine muscle. The muscarinic smooth muscle receptors of the uterus are the same as in other body organs including the throat.

Therefore, oxytocin might keep the throat from relaxing quite so much, which in turn would keep those floppy places from flopping so low they cut off all the air.

Gould's best dose and delivery method for treating an adult with OSA is 10 units (for a 70 kg. person) intramuscularly at the time of sleep. However, few people would be willing to give themselves a nice little injection at bedtime. The injection doesn’t have to be in the throat ... but still.

He's found that suppositories, nasal sprays and tablets work if they're in extended release form with a delivery rate of 10 units delivered over a seven-hour period.

A Whiff of Oxytocin for Autism

Lewis Mehl-Madrona is an M.D. who doesn't see autism as an incurable disease. He's found that these kids have rich social and communicative lives, and that parents can learn the "secret language of their autistic children."

He's also found that they may respond to many different kinds of holistic treatments, including nutritional therapies, bodywork, acupuncture, biofeedback and behavioral education, as well as medication.

Mehl-Madrona, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan, says, "I don’t think autism is one thing. I think many things are masquerading under the same label. It's not a one-cure illness, because it's not a one-cause illness."

Therefore, when he treats kids with autism spectrum disorder, he keeps testing various treatments until he finds some that improve the symptoms. He's a pragmatist, he says. "We just try lots of things until the kids get better."

One thing that sometimes works is oxytocin -- and in some kids, he says, it works really well.

Eric Hollander, a researcher at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has done two studies of the benefits of oxytocin in autistic adults. In one, 15 adults showed a significant reduction in repetitive behaviors; in the second, oxytocin improved the ability of 15 adults to decipher the emotional content of speech. But both these studies used intravenous oxytocin, a process that's disturbing for children.

Mehl-Madrona uses the same oxytocin inhalers prescribed for lactating women. The kids inhale 37.5 units once a day.

"Kids who do respond to the oxytocin inhaler probably have some disorder of oxytocin production--  or maybe they make funny oxytocin," he says.

Functional MRI studies have found that the right amygdala in the brains of autistic kids are overactive. The amygdala is a hub in the brain responsible for processing information from the senses and assigning emotional meaning to it. In the normal brain, the right amygdala lights up when a person sees an angry or threatening face. But in the brains of autistic kids, the right amygdala lights up when they see any face, no matter what the expression. 

Inhaling oxytocin eases this response, keeping the right amygdala from activating so easily.
Mehl-Madrona has used the oxytocin inhaler treatment for a couple of years, in preparation for a true, randomized controlled trial.

So far, he says, "I'm encouraged.  Mostly what I'm seeing -- and it will take some more time to feel sure about this --is a decrease in repetitive, compulsive behaviors, including self-injurious ones, and better social interaction. I have one kid who is actually making empathetic statements. His mother was blown away."

Oxytocin in Therapy

Dr. Roy Resnikoff is a clinical professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and the author of the 2001 book "Bridges for Healing: Integrating Family Therapy and Psychopharmacology." I contacted him after reading an article of his published in 2002 in the Psychiatric Times about his use of meds in couples therapy.

Resnikoff believes drugs can be useful in couples therapy to control symptoms, improve communication, modulate biological temperaments related to personality issues and reduce stress.

I was struck by this paragraph:

"I believe sorting out biological from learned factors in personality style will help form the basis for using medications to enhance personality flexibility. New research on biological aspects of attachment continues to evolve. For example, Young et al. (2001) have described oxytocin and pitocin as neurotransmitters that enhance attachment behaviors in animals."

Four years after he wrote that passage, there's intense interest in exploiting the connecting and bonding effects of oxytocin for people with autism or other social disorders, and at least two drug companies are working on oxytocin-based drugs. So, I wanted to ask him what he thought now about the prospects for oxytocin in therapy.

Susan: Let's talk more about modulating biological temperaments. First, what exactly is a biological temperament?

Dr. Resnikoff: I'm borrowing from the work of Larry Seaver and Paul Soloff, who described four main biological temperaments: people who are a little detached, people somewhat negative or depressed, violent or semi-explosive and anxious/fearful. With medication, if you can tweak some of those inborn temperaments to make someone less detached, less depressed, less violent or fearful, then they may be more able to tolerate therapy and deal with the issues in their life.

Susan: Is personality dependent on biology?

Dr. Resnikoff: Most psychiatrists say it's about 40 percent genetic; the rest is based on environment. We're born with tendencies and depending on upbringing or culture that will be brought out. It's an interaction of genetic vulnerabilities and whatever happens to you that will determine your personality.

Susan: Does psychotherapy deal with the 60 percent?

Dr. Resnikoff: Yes. But psychology can also alter the 40 percent that's biological; you can retrain certain biological tendencies -- whether obsessiveness or other things, sometimes you can do a lot of that without medication. 

Susan: And how would you use psychopharmacology to modulate such?

Dr. Resnikoff: These temperaments are in a continuum with diagnosable symptoms. Each category has different types of medication that seems to be useful, even if someone doesn't have a diagnosable condition. For example, low doses of an antipsychotic can help schizoid people, those who are somewhat autistic or detached. If a person is anxious and fearful, serotonin help and various tranquilizers might help.

Susan: How you use drugs as an adjunct to psychotherapy?

Dr. Resnikoff: It depends on the case. If a person comes in initially, and they have panic attacks, are manic, or paranoid, they may need some medication right away to deal with the immediate crisis. Very commonly in couples therapy, I don't introduce medications for a couple of months because there's no obvious crisis. It's more about managing the temperaments. Three to six months down the road, when they know me and I know them, I explain that part of problem seems to be a temperament issue that's biological, and we may be able to modify that issue right there.

Susan: I'm sure you've gotten criticism from people who think it’s wrong to medicate to change behavior. How would you respond?

Dr. Resnikoff: If it's just a matter of giving oxytocin to correct the problem, it reduces all problems to biological issues and doesn't deal with the overall problem. If you're realistic, oxytocin might help a person feel a little more attached, but unless that's reinforced and the dynamics of the disattachment were looked at, that would be bad practice to assume things are just totally biological.

For example, I'm working with a new couple where the husband had an affair three months after they were married. He was terrified by the entrapment and emotional demands of the marriage. He really wants to be married, he was just overwhelmed by needs of the wife, which weren't excessive. I can imagine that, in his case, some oxytocin might facilitate his tolerating the attachment and closeness of a marriage.

Susan: Are there limitations to a pharmaceutical approach to bonding?

Dr. Resnikoff: Definitely. That would just be a small part of the equation, to tilt things in the direction of an attachment. There are so many different dynamics … to explain why a person is not attached. Medication by itself would not be enough to take care of all the factors.

Susan: Many people seem to hope that a shot of oxytocin could be a panacea for loneliness or isolation. What would you tell them?

Dr. Resnikoff: It's a factor, and I do use medications to help create a tendency toward treating whatever problem you have, but we have to look at the context of your relationships and background. I'd want to wait quite a while before including a medication, and I'd minimize the impact of medication as having only a small effect.

Regarding oxytocin, we will have to wait to see the actual clinical impact on people with various types of attachment problems.

I specialize in the use of medications for couples to promote therapy and connection, but that's just a small part of my practice, and [use of] oxytocin would probably be the same.