From Harry Potter to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, love potions have long been the subject of fiction.
But experts believe they will soon become a reality and become available within five years.
A recent research paper found that MDMA, or ecstasy, can help couples feel more connected during counseling because it helps release serotonin, which enhances empathy.
And Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist, discussed the potential benefits of the “love hormone” oxytocin.
He said at the Cheltenham Science Festival that within ten years he expects “people will be having oxytocin up their noses on a Saturday night while drinking a glass of prosecco”.
Oxford academic Anna, author of Why We Love, tells Claire Dunwell how certain substances taken under controlled conditions can help couples fall in love again.
ANNA Machin says, “After studying love for so long, we know enough to begin to imagine drugs that can help and support its neurochemistry.
“I have no problem with MDMA (a powdered form of ecstasy) being used in marriage therapy.
“It’s no different than using antidepressants to help restore brain chemistry and get psychological counseling.
“Often when couples go to relationship therapy, they are stuck in their thinking. They do not listen to the other side, there are many conflicts.
“A very low (0.5 milligram) and short-term dose may mean that they become kinder, more open to talking and listening.
“It’s a very different experience to buy something on the street and take it if you don’t believe it’s ecstasy.
“There have been some tragic deaths (from ecstasy), but in a therapeutic setting it’s very clean and controlled.
“It’s a positive step in terms of marriage therapy — MDMA is being tested in the US, and it’s being fairly successful.
“In the UK, we are at the proof-of-concept stage. We’re looking at: How does it work?
“Does it do what it says it does? Can it be a universal drug, or does it affect who you give it to?”
“MDMA makes you kinder and more communicative.
“People who take MDMA recreationally often experience a great, euphoric deep love for other people.
“In this sense, it is very much a love potion.”
However, Faye Hoyland, from the drug and alcohol charity, said: ‘Recreational use of any drug is dangerous.
“But MDMA can be particularly dangerous because you never know what you’re buying.”
Anna adds: “Hopefully, the discoveries that can be made when someone has MDMA in therapy, which is only administered in a licensed professional session, will help couples repair their marriages.
“The ethical question is about whether people like these drugs and where the boundaries are.
“The big questions around drugs of love are: Can we control and contain it in those therapeutic settings?
“Or does it risk being commercialized as an illusory love potion?
“And love is more complicated than the neurochemistry in your brain.
“MDMA lowers stress hormones and increases the flow of dopamine. It appears to mimic the neurochemical beta-endorphins of long-term love.
“Beta-endorphins can be depleted in a long-term relationship.
“Couples may touch each other less, have less sex, and because they’re not so connected, there’s a dip in the neurochemistry that binds them together.
“This is what MDMA therapy is trying to reverse.
“I hope that if you give a couple some neurochemical support, it will open up empathic channels and allow them to listen to each other.
“Hopefully they can take those learning points out of the therapy room and build on them.
“When these controlled boundaries are violated, those of us who work in the study of love and who work in ethics face a bit of a problem.
“Some struggle with the idea that we’re treating love.
– Do not interfere with something ancient and pure.
“Also, you don’t want someone in a therapy setting to think, ‘Oh, this is all great,’ and then they walk away, and they’re not.”
“You don’t want to be in a marriage that’s not good for people.
“It’s a very complicated area, it’s not a ‘take a pill and everything’s fine.’
“But using MDMA in relationship therapy is an interesting possibility.”
WHAT IS MDMA?
MDMA, or ecstasy, is a class A drug and is illegal to sell, supply or take – and if you’re caught, you could face up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Drug counseling service Talk To Frank says users can be in love or excited, or paranoid and anxious.
Risks include dehydration and heatstroke.
There’s no way to know what’s in an ecstasy pill or MDMA powder, and other drugs and ingredients may be added to it.
Evidence also suggests that long-term users may suffer from memory problems and depression.
To support visit talktofrank.com or wearewithyou.org.uk.
HOW TO INCREASE THOSE LOVE HORMONES
LOVE cures are not yet available, but there are other natural ways to restore bad relationships.
CLAIRE DUNWELL reveals proven ways to boost these all-important love hormones.
WORKED TOGETHER TO DISCUSS: Regular moderate exercise, 30 to 60 minutes, increases levels of dopamine and serotonin, which help couples feel close, says sex and relationship expert Kate Taylor.
Keith adds: “As well as causing a chemical release in the brain, exercise also triggers non-verbal physiological symptoms of arousal – sweaty hands, racing pulse, shortness of breath – all of which reflect the excitement of romantic attraction.”
WAIT FOR HANDS TO AVOID FRAUD: Oxytocin, a hormone released by the pituitary gland, strengthens the bond between couples. One study found that men were less likely to get lost when given oxytocin via a nasal spray.
The study found that they chose to avoid attractive women more than those who received a placebo.
Levels can be increased naturally – by having sex, holding hands and touching each other.
MAKE NEW FRIENDS: Research shows that brain chemistry changes at the beginning of a new relationship.
There is more activation in the dopamine-rich region of the brain.
Couples who keep their passions alive for the long haul are constantly sharing new experiences with their partners, as it echoes the early stages of the relationship.
TAPPING THE FEET TO AVOID THE FEELINGS: Massage is probably the most effective and natural way to instantly feel closer to your partner.
“Massage increases levels of the four happy hormones – oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins,” says Kate.
A Finnish study found that oxytocin, the feel-good “male hormone,” increases when legs are squeezed and rubbed.
FOR THE LOVE OF EGGSE: Certain foods can do wonders for your love life. For example, eggs contain vitamin D and are believed to increase levels of serotonin and oxytocin.
“Couples who eat a diet high in healthy fats tend to be happier than those who eat low-fat or saturated fat,” Kate says.
Couples should also avoid drinking too much alcohol, as it lowers serotonin levels.
SING TO PLANT LOVE: We produce oxytocin when we feel intense affection for another person.
It increases our feelings of connection and trust.
The most common way to produce oxytocin is through physical touch, such as massage, kissing, or sex.
But Keith says, “If you’re not physically fit at the moment, several studies have found that singing with other people can increase your oxytocin levels.”