Doctors Administer Oxytocin Nasal Spray to Lonely People

Doctors Administer Oxytocin Nasal Spray to Lonely People
Doctors Administer Oxytocin Nasal Spray to Lonely People

We might like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, but the fact is that the whole experience of being human is basically the result of a bunch of swirling chemicals in the brain.

Case in point? A team of European and Israeli doctors just released an intriguing study, published in the journal Psychother Psychosom, in which they administered oxytocin — that’s the much hyped feel-good hormone that’s released by physical intimacy, among other activities — to lonely people as a nasal spray.

Take a beat to get over the premise of giving people in social distress direct doses of what’s known to many researchers as the “love hormone,” because the results were pretty interesting.

While the subjects didn’t report a reduction in perceived loneliness, perceived stress, or quality of life, they did report a reduction in acute feelings of loneliness — a narrow distinction, but one that was clearly tantalizing to the researchers, especially because the effect seemed to linger for months after treatment.

“The psychological intervention was associated with a reduced perception of stress and an improvement in general loneliness in all treatment groups, which was still visible at the follow-up examination after three months,” said the paper’s senior author Jana Lieberz, a faculty member at Germany’s University of Bonn, in a press release about the research.

Perhaps more intuitively — oxytocin is strongly associated with bonding — the researchers also found that subjects dosed with the hormone had an easier time connecting with others during group therapy sessions in which they were enrolled.

“This is a very important observation that we made — oxytocin was able to strengthen the positive relationship with the other group members and reduce acute feelings of loneliness right from the start,” Leiberz said. “It could therefore be helpful to support patients with this at the start of psychotherapy. This is because we know that patients can initially feel worse than before starting therapy as soon as problems are named. The observed effects of administering oxytocin can in turn help those affected to stay on the ball and continue.”

Further research is clearly needed; the trial size was limited, at just 78 participants, and it’s difficult to parse the exact difference between “perceived” and “acute” loneliness they reported.

But the doctors behind the study are clearly intrigued, writing in the press release that the work “could help to alleviate loneliness,” which is “associated with many mental and physical illnesses.”

While Lieberz “emphasizes that oxytocin should not be seen as a panacea,” the release continues, the “results of the study suggest that oxytocin can be used to achieve positive effects during interventions.”

With the rush of academic and commercial interest we’ve seen in the potential pharmaceutical benefits of everything from ketamine to MDMA, don’t be surprised if we see a rush of interest in oxytocin over the next few years.

More on oxytocin: Scientists Discover That Dogs Cry Tears of Joy When Reuinted With Owners

Doctors Administer Oxytocin Nasal Spray to Lonely People

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