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What do Hugs and Weed Have in Common?


Researchers at the University of California have discovered the link between the »love« or »hug« hormone (scientific name oxytocin) and the effect of marijuana on human behaviour that improves interpersonal bonding. This new study offers an insight on social interactions and how oxytocin could make these interactions more satisfying and enjoyable by boosting the body’s own cannabinoid receptors.

Oxytocin triggers the release of the chemical called the “bliss molecule” (anandamide) which helps to activate brain receptors that increase happiness and motivation. Anandamide is a natural occurring chemical in the human body, part of the endocannabinoid system that links up to the same brain cell receptors as does marijuana’s THC, with similar results.

Previous studies have shown that endocannabinoids are tangled in the regulation of neuronal signalling from the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain where the reactions of oxytocin on social reward is detected.

The study shows that social contact increases the production of anandamide in the region of nucleus accumbens, which triggers the body’s cannabinoid system to fortify the joy of socialisation. When these cannabinoid receptors were blocked with drugs, the reinforcement subsided.

Scientists studied what might be the connection between oxytocin and anandamide. A tiny number of neurons in the brain are responsible for the production of oxytocin. When researchers stimulated oxytocin-producing neurons, the creation of anandamide elevated in the nucleus accumbens and by blocking out anandamide’s effects, also resulted in the blockage of oxytocin effects, hinting that oxytocin boosts social connections by inducing anandamide formation. Testing this with animals showed that mice which were given the drug that stops anandamide deterioration reacted as they enjoyed spending time with their mice mates much more, than mice that were served with a placebo drug.

This is the first study to display the effect of oxytocin, marijuana-like neurotransmitters, on how humans interact with each other. Discoveries could also help scientists delve into the mechanisms of oxytocin and better understand social impairments, like autism and even help them develop a new treatment to tackle the symptoms of autism.

Study has been published in the journal PNAS under a name:”Endocannabinoid signaling mediates oxytocin-driven social reward”.

About the author

Warren Simons