In our last blog we discussed the use of Ecstasy in treating people with anxiety. Other researchers have investigated the role of oxytocin, a hormone that the body produces during orgasm in men and women as well as during childbirth and breastfeeding. Interestingly, Ecstasy increases oxytocin.

So, what does this have to do with anxiety? Researchers at the University of Zurich have found that people with social phobia who were given small amounts of oxytocin in a nasal spray minutes before participating in cognitive behavioral therapy, became more confident in social situations and seemed more open to engaging in their therapy.

It’s also interesting that oxytocin levels have been found to be lower in people with autism spectrum disorders. People with autism often have difficulty relating socially. And some limited research has found that giving oxytocin to a sample of adults with autism improved their performance on a task that required identifying emotional content.

Oxytocin has been found to increase people’s ability to trust others in some studies. In other research, it has increased people’s ability to understand the emotions of others. If you think of people with social anxiety, they tend to be excessively shy and worry about how other people are judging them. Most of the time, their worries are unfounded. So, improving the ability to accurately read feelings and be able to trust others would logically decrease social anxiety.

By the way, in general, we’re not wild about most medication approaches for anxiety. Some are addictive and others not especially effective. And it’s way too early to endorse either MDMA or oxytocin as anti-anxiety strategies. However, the possibility is intriguing, especially because their use in most cases would likely be limited to serving as an adjunct to exposure therapy sessions.

On the other hand, some medications may actually decrease the effectiveness of exposure therapies. For example, Michael Otto at the Massachusetts General Hospital has found that benzodiazepines (such as valium and xanax) actually interfere with exposure.



View Comments / Leave a Comment

This post currently has 18 comments.
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.


Prof.Lakshman (August 24, 2009)

Carrie Arnold (August 24, 2009)

From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (August 24, 2009)

Sniff your way out of Anxiety? « Insomnia Remedy (October 6, 2009)

    Last reviewed: 24 Aug 2009

APA Reference
Smith, L. (2009). Sniff your way out of Anxiety?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2015, from


Anxiety & OCD Exposed

Subscribe to this Blog:



Purchase Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies now! Purchase Child Psychology and Development for Dummies now!

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. and Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. are authors of many books, including Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies and Child Psychology & Development for Dummies.

Subscribe to this Blog: Feed

Recent Comments
  • Kat: I am really grateful to have come across this article. I don’t think anyone is going to read this but oh...
  • Whaat?: I’ve read all of these comments and there are several opinions here, which we are all entitled to;...
  • Sharon: I am learning (just recently) to use mindfulness and exposure therapy with DBT for anxiety issues and...
  • Beverley: I am speaking as a non bpd sufferer but someone who is in a,relationship with a bpd sufferer who is...
  • Beverley: I think in response to Chris you need to shave this back a bit. There is a duty of care to yourself first...
Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code

Users Online: 12240
Join Us Now!