Intranasal Oxytocin: Myths and Delusions

Biol Psychiatry. 2016 Feb 1;79(3):243-50. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.05.003. Epub 2015 May 11.


Despite widespread reports that intranasal application of oxytocin has a variety of behavioral effects, very little of the huge amounts applied intranasally appears to reach the cerebrospinal fluid. However, peripheral concentrations are increased to supraphysiologic levels, with likely effects on diverse targets including the gastrointestinal tract, heart, and reproductive tract. The wish to believe in the effectiveness of intranasal oxytocin appears to be widespread and needs to be guarded against with scepticism and rigor. Preregistering trials, declaring primary and secondary outcomes in advance, specifying the statistical methods to be applied, and making all data openly available should minimize problems of publication bias and questionable post hoc analyses. Effects of intranasal oxytocin also need proper dose-response studies, and such studies need to include control subjects for peripheral effects, by administering oxytocin peripherally and by blocking peripheral actions with antagonists. Reports in the literature of oxytocin measurements include many that have been made with discredited methodology. Claims that peripheral measurements of oxytocin reflect central release are questionable at best.

Keywords: Blood-brain barrier; Humans; Hypothalamus; Oxytocin; Social behaviors; Vasopressin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage*
  • Social Behavior*


  • Oxytocin