LOVE is unpredictable and complex. After spending many years researching its layers, I remain in awe of how it engages every mechanism in our bodies and infiltrates every aspect of our lives. But for a species like ours that craves certainty, this can cause all sorts of problems.
The first recorded evidence for an “elixir of love” dates back to 4000 years ago. Ready access to love drugs is at most a decade away. Indeed, they are already being used therapeutically to support couples in the US.
The experience of love is underpinned by four neurochemicals: oxytocin, dopamine, beta-endorphin and serotonin. Oxytocin is key at the start of relationships because it lowers our inhibitions to making new bonds, then dopamine motivates and rewards us for carrying out this survival critical behaviour. Serotonin underpins the obsessive elements of love, while beta-endorphin addicts us to love in the long term.
Drugs that may be capable of mimicking love are already in use. The first, oxytocin, is utilised to induce labour, but research shows that it can also increase sociability, trust and empathy. The second is recreational drug MDMA or ecstasy, which is capable of inducing euphoria, empathy and love for our fellow humans.
Arguably, taking a drug to induce or maintain love is no different to taking an antidepressant, because both supplement neurochemicals that naturally exist in our bodies. Add to this the link between having healthy relationships and good mental and physical well-being, and prescribing these drugs could revolutionise someone’s quality of life. But whether these drugs work is dependent on the individual.