The 'love hormone,' oxytocin, can enhance the pleasure of social interactions by stimulating production of marijuana-like neurotransmitters in the brain, revealed a new study. The study provides the first link between 'love hormone' oxytocin and anandamide, which has been called the 'bliss molecule' for its role in activating cannabinoid receptors in brain cells to heighten motivation and happiness.
For the study, researcher Daniele Piomelli measured levels of this marijuana-like neurotransmitter in mice that had been either isolated or allowed to interact. Anandamide is among a class of naturally occurring chemicals in the body known as endocannabinoids that attach to the same brain cell receptors as does marijuana's active ingredient, THC, with similar outcomes.
The research team discovered that social contact increased production of anandamide in a brain structure called the nucleus accumbens, which triggered cannabinoid receptors there to reinforce the pleasure of socialization. When cannabinoid receptors were blocked, this reinforcement disappeared.
Piomelli said, "Interrupting anandamide degradation enhanced the pleasure of social contact. Animals treated with a drug that stops anandamide degradation behaved as though they enjoyed spending time with their cage mates more than animals treated with a placebo. Our findings open the exciting possibility that drugs that block the degradation of anandamide, which were currently being tested for various anxiety disorders, could give a boost to the brain's own oxytocin and help people with autism socialize more."
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.