Love Potion Number None: the Anti-Love Drug

Ransom Riggs

There have been enough cheesy ballads written about it over the milennia that by now it's a well-established fact: love can get you in trouble, drive you crazy, ruin your life. Love is a drug, a high, and it puts blinders on people. Etc Etc ad infinitum -- though as tiresomely cliche as it all sounds, it's true, too. According to the latest issue of Nature, another love-song cliche is about to come true: neuroscientists are actually sort of close to finding the long-mythical pharmaceutical "love potion."

The article speculates that "human love is set off by a 'biochemical chain of events' that originally evolved in ancient brain circuits involving mother-child bonding, which is stimulated in mammals by the release of oxytocin during labor, delivery and nursing." (That same hormone release evolved to become the bonding agent between males and females, too.) Researchers have found that by squirting oxytocin into people's nostrils, they can enhance feelings of trust and empathy. If that sounds like the beginning of a love potion to you, it does to doctors as well, who say that we could soon find medications in pharmacies to "increase people's urge to fall in love."

But honestly, who really needs that? (And doesn't the existence of such a drug create the temptation to give it to other people without their knowledge?) Some doctors argue that such drugs could be invaluable in conjunction with marital therapy, and while I'll grant them that, it seems like the potential for misuse is enormous.

What makes more sense, it seems, would be a love vaccine. As John Tierney writes in the New York Times:

Could any discovery be more welcome? This is what humans have sought ever since Odysseus ordered his crew to tie him to the mast while sailing past the Sirens. Long before scientists identified neuroreceptors, long before Britney Spears' quickie Vegas wedding or any of Larry King's seven marriages, it was clear that love was a dangerous disease. Love was correctly identified as a potentially fatal chemical imbalance in the medieval tale of Tristan and Isolde, who accidentally consumed a love potion and turned into hopeless addicts. Even though they realized that her husband, the king, would punish adultery with death, they had to have their love fix. I doubt many people would want to permanently suppress love, but a temporary vaccine could come in handy. Spouses going through midlife crises would not be so quick to elope with their personal trainers; elderly widowers might consult their lawyers before marrying someone resembling Anna Nicole Smith. Love is indeed a many-splendored thing, but sometimes we all need to tie ourselves to the mast.

What do you think -- would you want a love potion, a love vaccine -- or neither?