Oxytocin has been called the cuddle drug. But its real benefit could help those with autism and other social behavior problems.
Oxytocin has been called the cuddle drug, the love drug and the trust drug, but there is much more to this. Oxytocin is a hormone naturally produced by our body. There are natural and synthetic versions you can buy with a prescription that have several medical uses that could help those with autism, Asperger’s, social behavior disorders and detect women who could be at risk for postpartum depression.
What Is Oxytocin
Oxytocin should not be confused with the prescription and often abused pain killer drug Oxycontin as they are quite different even though they sound similar.
Oxytocin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter in the brain that is released by the pituitary gland. During labor, oxytocin causes uterine contractions and also promotes lactation. Some women are given the synthetic version of oxytocin, Pitocin, to help speed up labor as the name oxytocin comes from Greek, meaning “quick birth”.
New studies during the past ten years have found that oxytocin produced in the brain can also be released during holding, touching and sex. Oxytocin is also involved with bonding and trust, which is why some call it the love drug or cuddle drug.
Oxytocin and Autism
Oxytocin has been studied for its relation to mother-infant bonding, social interaction and trust. Earlier studies found that those with autism had a deficiency of the oxytocin hormone in their blood. A study conducted at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, had 15 adults diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s disorders take either oxytocin or a placebo to study pro-social behavior and processing social interactions and information.
The conclusion of the study found that oxytocin given to those with autism could improve pro-social behavior and help with processing social information, speech recognition and a reduction in repetitive behavior problems. The study gave oxytocin preliminary support for the use in treating those with autism and other social behavior disorders .
Oxytocin and Postpartum Depression
One study found that fathers who were given oxytocin as a nasal spray were more likely to play with their children and less likely to be hostile as compared with those given a placebo.
Postpartum depression is believed to affect 20% of women after childbirth. Women who were in the late stages of pregnancy that had lower oxytocin levels were more likely to develop postpartum depression. A study conducted at the University of Basal in Switzerland, tested the oxytocin levels of 74 healthy pregnant women in the third trimester of their pregnancy. The study found that those with the lowest levels of oxytocin at this stage of pregnancy were determined to be at a higher risk for postpartum depression within two weeks after giving birth . This study still has some questions as to hormonal changes after pregnancy and two weeks could be too soon after childbirth to test these levels.
Oxytocin as the Cuddle Drug
There have been many articles and news stories about Oxytocin being the cuddle drug, the love drug and the trusting drug. These types of news stories might be more about getting viewers attention. One company has developed a product called “Liquid Trust” that contains oxytocin, stating this product can create trust and a passionate atmosphere by using their product. This product is guaranteed to work and testimonials state they helped them to get a new job, a great contract and make life with their spouse better. Of course pharmaceutical companies are researching this and would love to have the patent on a new and safe love drug or cuddle drug.
There have been studies that used prairie voles, a mammal that resembles a mouse and is known for its monogamous relationships. The study found that in these mammals, oxytocin (along with vasopressin in males) created a monogamous bonding in the voles.
Another study conducted by Carolyn Declerck at the University of Antwerp had participants play an economic game. The study found that oxytocin made players more cooperative and giving but only if the players had known each other before the game was played. If the players had not known each other before the game, the players were less cooperative and trusting and the oxytocin did not give those players that warm and cuddly feeling.
Oxytocin as a Designer Drug
At this time, researchers say there is not much concern that a designer drug containing oxytocin will be abused or a danger like the illegal drug ecstasy or MDMA became. Interestingly though, studies have found that the dangerous drug ecstasy increased the supply of oxytocin in the blood and the brain [3, 4].
So far, the studies and research about oxytocin have been both promising and contradicting. Some studies find that trust and bonding are increased with a nasal spray of oxytocin while other studies show more distrust depending on certain factors. The research could be promising with helping those with autism, postpartum depression and social behavior problems. As for the cuddle drug or love drug, there is still much more research that needs to be done.
Copyright © December 2011 Sam Montana
 PubMed Oxytocin increases retention of social cognition in autism Biol Psychiatry 2007 Feb 15;61(4):498-503. Epub 2006 Aug 14
 American College of Neuropsychopharmacology
 Neuropsychopharmacology and Nature.com
 Pubmed - Soc Neurosci. 2009;4(4):359-66.
 Pubmed - Neuroscience. 2007 May 11;146(2):509-14. Epub 2007 Mar 23