for National Geographic News
Fetch me that flower; the herb I showed thee once.
The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
—A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene 1
People have longed for love drugs since well before the Bard's time—and never more so than around Valentine's Day. Such meds are still highly speculative, but four potential pharmaceuticals hold hope for the future lovelorn.
Voles—thought to be among the few monogamous mammals other than humans—produce hormones that help drive sexual attraction, pair bonding, and nesting behavior. Research suggests the same chemical triggers may apply to humans, hinting at future over-the-counter cocktails to activate amore.
"We know [the hormone] oxytocin can increase trust between humans and make them more in tune to each other's feelings," said Larry Young, who studied the mouse-like rodents at Emory University in Atlanta.
"So it makes sense that might also be one of the components that's producing love."
2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the name "pheromone," coined to describe the chemical communication signals released by animals, often related to mating.
Whether they exist in humans, however, is a mystery. Regardless, so-called pheromone potions are on offer all over the Internet to enhance attraction. Until there's proof, flowers and chocolate are probably a safer bet.
A handful of recent experiments on post-traumatic stress disorder suggest that medicines could be created to downgrade the mental impact of heartbreak to a more manageable level, though such drugs wouldn't erase specific memories.
"In the case of post-traumatic stress, the emotion is so strong it overwhelms the normal brain mechanics that allow people to cope with memories and move on," said Karim Nader of McGill University in Montreal.
Flibanserin, a drug purporting to boost libido in women, is now in clinical trials.
"It's essentially a drug that raises dopamine, the chemical that increases interest," said Irwin Goldstein of Alvarado Hospital's Sexual Medicine Center in San Diego.
Then again, Viagra can work for women too by stimulating blood flow to the genitals, if the patients have high enough testosterone levels, which not many women do, Goldstein said.
"But Viagra can only do what Viagra can do. It won't help if you're married to someone who snores and keeps you up all night."
VALENTINE'S DAY VIDEO: LOVE ON THE BRAIN
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