Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced in the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary gland. It is well known as a “feel good hormone” with important roles in social bonding. There have been studies that show that giving a loved one a hug can increase oxytocin.
Its most well-known role, however, is how it helps with reproduction and childbirth. Specifically, oxytocin stimulates the uterus to contract during childbirth.
Interestingly, a small study out of San Diego found that combining low doses of oxytocin with ketamine therapy, may provide more effective pain relief to people living with severe and treatment-resistant pain.
Oxytocin’s role in analgesia is two-fold. There are oxytocin receptors throughout the central nervous system in the brain and also along the spinal cord. When oxytocin binds to these receptors, it decreases pain signals. Additionally, oxytocin can bind to opioid receptors which causes a release of the body’s own endogenous opioids in the brain. These two effects together result in analgesia.
Oxytocin may also have a role in depression treatment. Oxytocin decreases the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the blood stream. This can result in improvement of mood and increased relaxation.
More research needs to be done involving how oxytocin may be a suitable augment to improve ketamine infusion therapy. However, in the future oxytocin may offer even more hope to those living with intractable pain or depression.
Elise Ingram PA-C is the Clinical Administrator for Ketamine Wellness Centers, Tucson.