The Love Pill: Future Brave New Drug of the Masses?

May 12, 2012 § 28 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“The warm, the richly colored, the infinitely friendly world of soma-holiday. How kind, how good-looking, how delightfully amusing every one was! […] Swallowing half an hour before closing time, that second dose of soma had raised a quite impenetrable wall between the actual universe and their minds.”

~ Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

You may soon be able to get a prescription for falling in love.

A team of Oxford researchers are working on a pill to recreate the feeling of being in the honeymoon stage. They aim to accomplish this by combining pheromones, testosterone (to up sex drive,) Oxytocin and Vasopressin — naturally occurring “bonding chemicals” produced by the body at the early stages of a relationship — CRH (a hormone that induces the fear of separation) and Entactogens, a “feel good” drug similar to MDMA.

There you have it folks, the recipe for love: one part sex, another part bonding, mix in the fear of separation and some ecstasy. Or so the Oxford research team is hoping.

While the love pill might seem to many like the absurd and even chilling culmination of a cultural trajectory best left to science fiction, others wonder if perhaps it might not have some therapeutic effect.

Take for instance the success researchers have had with treating Post Traumatic Shock with MDMA (known for its street name, ecstasy.) According to Science Daily, “participants treated with a combination of MDMA and psychotherapy saw clinically and statistically significant improvements in their PTSD — over 80% of the trial group no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, stipulated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV-TR) following the trial, compared to only 25% of the placebo group. In addition, all three subjects who reported being unable to work due to PTSD were able to return to work following treatment with MDMA.”

Likewise, psychologists like Harvard researcher Richard Doblin have long been interested in the empathy enhancing effects of MDMA for possible use in marriage counseling. Though the 1986 criminalization of the drug has hampered such investigation, there has been renewed interest on this front in the past few years.

The theory goes that breakthroughs in communication and emotional vulnerability could be stimulated by this kind of neurochemical enhancement in a therapy situation.

But where do we draw the line when tinkering with brain chemistry? Is happiness more important than authenticity? Judging from the statistics — one in ten Americans is currently taking antidepressants — it would appear the answer for many is yes.

In their paper, Neuroenhancement of Love and Marriage: The Chemicals Between Usthe scientists researching the new love pill suggest:

“Even if love were not authentic, authenticity is not an overriding or exclusive value. People can trade a degree of authenticity for other values in their lives.”

And somewhere Aldous Huxley is rolling over in his grave.

Huxley penned the classic and increasingly prophetic dystopian novel, Brave New World, in 1931, about a future society imprisoned by their own addiction to escapism. A key medium of escape: soma, a drug of the future masses.

Huxley creates the vision of an overmedicated society, wherein, as author Neil Postman puts it: people have “come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”

In comparing Huxley’s Brave New World with the famous dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell, Postman notes:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

“Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”

The propagandized phrase “A gram is better than a damn” floats around Huxley’s world and people routinely check out for “holidays” via pharmaceutical enhancement:

“I don’t understand anything,” she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. “Nothing. Least of all,” she continued in another tone “why you don’t take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly.” (Brave New World.)

Of course, people have been hawking love potions for time immemorial, and it hasn’t worked yet. But with science on their side, today’s researchers might be the first to create a true love drug.

There is something about seeing the same thing — the face of your beloved, for instance — over and over again, which creates a kind of automatic pilot of the mind. It seems that often the more we see something, the less we see it. Consciously grounding oneself in the moment can help. But to create a way to see our partners with fresh eyes could indeed have a revitalizing effect on stalled relationships.

Still, the Huxlian implications have this author wondering what kind of pain could be repressed, what kind of problems ignored, with the help of such a pill. We touch fire, it hurts, we withdraw our hand. What would happen if we anesthetized that hand? We might wind up playing with fire until our hand fell off.

Take this metaphor to the emotional level. Pain is our body’s natural warning mechanism, telling us that something is wrong, indicating a need for change. If we simply synthetically engineer our chemicals to send us messages that everything is wonderful when, in reality, it is not, the danger of losing touch with one’s natural sense of truth — for choosing self-deception over needed change — seems great.

And if a feeling of connection can be artificially induced, what true breakthroughs — which would require, perhaps, facing unpleasant truths — could remain unplumbed in a relationship? To me, it seems like a recipe for arresting growth, both in the individual and the relationship.

But in a society where many people would rather be happy than authentic, and most women would rather look young than real — there could be a true market for the love pill.

My authenticity, and all the feelings which go along with it, is important to me. My feelings, both good and bad, guide me like a compass, and tell me when I’m languishing in some un-constructive headspace or circumstance by increasing emotional pain, like a warning. Like most artists — and I’d wager to guess, most people — I have my ups and downs. But my “downs” mean something to me, as much as my “ups.” Coming through a bad time, I always feel like I have managed to change something awry in myself or my life. Something I wouldn’t have been forced to address if I had synthetically induced the sensation of feeling better.

I know these statements are considered controversial by some. When I suggested in The Politics of Normalcy that the dominance and commonplace usage of anti-anxiety medication in today’s culture was perhaps depriving us of the important philosophical journey of facing our existential angst head-on, I received a deluge of comments — some hostile — suggesting that I simply didn’t understand what it was like for those seriously crippled by anxiety.

It’s a personal choice for each, certainly. But my (admittedly self-assigned) job here at Parallax is to investigate cultural trends and their implication across the wider historical backdrop of mankind’s journey, and the truth is, these pharmaceutical developments are incredibly new. It’s only prudent to discuss all angles.

I don’t mean to imply that taking medication is equivalent to a lobotomy. Obviously, a slight boost in serotonin doesn’t change a person’s essential values. But the whole idea that we are chemically “fixing” a problem when we “normalize” a person’s neurochemistry contains language which, to me, is a red flag. What is normal? Someone who is happy working nine hours a day? Interesting. Who does that equation benefit?

Could it be the machine of society? That Prozac makes for happy worker bees, while discontent citizens brew rebellion?

My concern is that in a future where love and happiness can both be artificially induced, we make ourselves incredibly vulnerable to becoming a society like Huxley’s Brave New World. The subliminal message seems to be: Why change your life when you can just change your chemistry? Why change the world when you can just change how you feel about it?

What do you think?

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§ 28 Responses to The Love Pill: Future Brave New Drug of the Masses?

  • Danica says:

    Amazing post.

    • Dave says:

      Authenticity, I believe, is paramount…we don’t want others to hide behind pretenses with us, yet we fabricate so much in our own lives…reality has given way to a lifestyle of “pretend”…this latest idea of a “love pill” serves as a frightening commentary on how far the masses will go to avoid effort, when in the end what they truly seek…whether it be Love, Happiness, Inner Peace, or Success…can only be accomplished by working at it, trying hard, and not taking shortcuts…

      • Tai Carmen says:

        I agree completely. Authenticity is paramount for me as well, and I think in theory it is for most people; yet in practice we are so bound up in concealing our flaws and representing a false image of happiness, success, etc. And yet, as you point out, we ourselves would most often rather people just be honest and “themselves” around us.

        We’ve become a quick-fix society. And nothing worth doing is easy.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
        On on,


    • Tai Carmen says:

      Thank you, Danica! I’m so glad you enjoyed. 🙂


  • batgurrl says:

    Tai – you have done it again. I am a long time fan of Wells & Huxley but you put into words how we are being dulled to not really see reality. This info age is fabulous; we are communicating where we would never have known each other, however look at how it is changing the chemistry of our society. So much info clouds our ability to see the reality of things, trivia is more important than current events such as war and death.

    As to those who are mad at you about saying we should think twice before we even out our highs and lows…. how can you really live life if you just numb yourself?


  • nicole says:

    feeling is good.
    not just feeling “good” but feelings — in general. they remind me i’m alive! perhaps we should address what is the cause of our anxiety, depression, lack of love even, before choosing the route of medication, which can have some unexpected side-effects, such as complacency, or numbness. it is a controversial topic, you are right. so hats off to you for addressing it! and a great piece, as always. thank you.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Thank you! And I agree completely about feeling being good in general, good or bad. We as a society have come to prize the pleasant feelings so heavily over the rest. Understandably. But wisdom dictates the necessity of both. Thanks for being part of the conversation. 🙂

  • Robert C says:

    Hmmmm. Like all short cuts to utopia it will only create passivity and ultimately demean true human experience and growth. Some former heroin addicts I know will tell you there is nothing better than being high on horse. Problem is your real life falls apart–side effects. MDMA for example while useful has dreadful long term effects. Like all the wonder drugs brought out by pharma to make money and induce passivity these will have negative side effects physically and mentally on people beyond our understanding. Hubris and greed at base of utopia in a pill. I will keep myself to cofee and the occasional wine–thanks….I like being human and not a drugged, always smiling and horny loved up automaton. Thanks for bringing this topic to light.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Excellent points. Shortcuts have a way of catching up with us and being more trouble than the “long way” would have ever been. And Big Pharma doesn’t care about side-effects, as long as they’ve sufficiently protected themselves from lawsuits with disclaimers, etc. Heroine is a perfect real-life example of Soma: synthetic heaven experienced on the inside, hell unfolding in the real world without. I’ll take my periodic existential crisis over happy automaton status any day. 🙂

  • Robert C says:

    If you can have love from a pill, why create, why socialize, why excel, why develop to grow and really know love?

  • indiginz says:

    Comfortably numb? Not me, I’m comfortable in my life and truth without a pill. This isn’t even ironic. Science describes ‘love’ simply as ‘chemistry’ hardly surprising they want to introduce a pill to boost the value of their Pharmac shares and global domination. What is scary is the middle classes of the ‘developed’ world will be lining up outside pharmacies to get hold of it. Prozac is so 90s. Scary but inevitable. Sad but true

  • lisa H. says:

    Just a thought, but for those who have extreme highs and lows and are potentially harmful to themselves or others, that piece of chemistry that keeps them in a safe place is a benefit to society – and, in my opinion, to themselves. Gives them time to figure out what they do need to change.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      I’m not against medication. Sometimes perspective just needs a boost, and that shift can be the difference between self-harm and self-help. Just exploring all the facets and possible down-the-line manifestations of a worldview that increasingly turns to medication for answers. The implications of the love pill — “Marriage failing? pop a pill!” — just particularly takes this idea to the next level. Not against it for individuals. A good point, to be sure.

  • bert says:

    Life is suffering. Drug induced highs, create more suffering.
    It is true that brave new world is now here. In fact, for many years already. When in high school reading 1984 from Orwell, our english teacher said that we had already gone far into brave new world, while in those days 1984 belonged behind the iron curtain.
    Brave new world it is now worldwide, with some exceptions like Syria, North Korean, …, complete the list your self. However, big libertarian Brother is also there in the form of Facebook, Google, Mobile TEL, and GPS.
    Do we have the best of both “ideal” dictatorships?
    And what happens when good turns into evil and best becomes our worst nightmare?

  • Hippy Zingo says:

    Excellent article, but, just for the record, when you wrote: “”Of course, people have been hocking love potions for time immemorial…” it’s “hawking,” which means to aggressively peddle something by shouting about it, not “hocking,” which means to bring something in to a pawn shop to get a loan on it. Great stuff, though, very good, and thanks!!

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Oh my! Thank you so much! Can’t have mistakes like that!! (Hubby editor didn’t catch that one!) So easy to gloss over mistakes in one’s own writing. Thanks for the help and glad you liked the post!! 🙂

  • Smoo says:

    I agree with all of the above, but what I was thinking about all of this. I read another article else-where about how they think this would be a good idea for marriage counseling, but my thought was, how would you be able to steer your [medicated] feelings for the person you are with? Who’s to say you take this pill to “rekindle” your feelings for your spouse, and in the mean time you’re heating up all the neighbors spouses, and suddenly, “Everyone belongs to everyone else.”

    • Tai Carmen says:

      I think that’s a great point — if you’re walking around in a constant state of being primed, emotionally and physically for love, what’s to stop it from finding expression with the postman or the grocer? Interestingly, in Huxley’s Brave New World, social-sexual interaction has become very much like that. Soma-fueled orgies are common practice, everyone just takes a soma before their date to insure a good time — or two if they think they’ll need it!

  • bill says:

    As a person on prozac, i have felt more normal being on the drug than i ever have before it. There are people who say someone on meds feels numb and detached. I dont at all, in any way. Before the meds my base line and default feeling was sadness. Now its neutral, but good things make me feel happy and bad things make me feel sad. I have been able to feel a wider range of emotion and connect with others in a way i have never before.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Thanks for weighing in. It’s certainly different for everyone, and I know that often depression itself can feel quite numb. So there is no “right” way, of course. But your comment definitely reminds us that the issue is not black and white. And my intention is never to say “this is good” or “this is bad” but “these things are relevant, they are interesting, they are shaping our future, let’s talk about them.” Thanks for being part of the conversation. 🙂

  • I would take this pill in heartbeat! Can’t wait for the future!

  • darnell jones says:

    i would like a subscription, news letter, catalog and a free trial sample and a free sample sent to me please

  • darnell jones says:

    I would like a subscription, catalog, news letter, videos, pictures and a free trial and a free samples of all flavors and all products sent to my home address if you could please plus enter me in the contests and sweepstakes if any please and thank you

  • cialis says:

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  • Mousepaw says:

    Reblogged this on ***Mousepaw*** and commented:
    Just… THIS! :O I just finished reading Brave New World. And… This… Oh my god! Just read it. Reblog? 😀

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