man and woman spreading love

Are Love Potions Backed by Science?

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One green eye and one blue. In “Practical Magic,” as a little girl, Sally dreams up a spell for an impossible man, one who doesn’t exist — so she’d never fall in love. The petals float into the night sky, landing around her impossible man. He does exist. What about love spells or potions — are they genuine? You definitely wouldn’t add “eye of newt” to a love potion — yet imagine something like a lock of hair or rose petals as the metaphorical ingredients. Intent and symbolism are potent ingredients in magic, throughout arcane history and in pop culture.

That’s not real life, though, right?

Chemical Romance: What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Real love is an emotion and a process that develops between two people, built upon experience and memory. There is no pill to pop for love. There isn’t an exact spell or potion that suddenly causes the object of one’s affection to fall in love with the caster.

Yet, particular chemicals exist rendering the effects of Love Potion #9. Pheromones that stimulate feelings of affection, attraction and longing. People have created perfumes, essential oil blends and “potions” based on this science.

Any successful result of  a “love potion” is likely down to the placebo effect and motivation. The pheromones fire off a chemical signal, but natural attraction and personal chemistry are a real-life factors. The wearer’s added boost of confidence gives the potion extra juice, leaving them feeling more centered. You are the potion, so who’s to say that’s not real magic?

Magic is the spark you feel when you’re falling in love. Magic, at least according to a few occult studies books or pop culture, leads you to believe that it’s all in the intent. You desire something intensely, follow through on it and obtain it.

Yet, in real life and real love, science is the mixer for Love Potion #9.

amortentia Harry Potter Love Potion
Image Source: Bustle

Amortentia: Intent, Reality and Chemistry

Amortentia is the most intoxicating love tonic at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In the Harry Potter series, Horace Slughorn teaches students that amortentia has a “mother-of-pearl sheen, a steam rising in characteristic spirals and is supposed to smell differently to each of us, according to what attracts us.”

A key ingredient missing from most pop-culture-derived love potions — attraction. When enchanted by another, you feel compelled to learn everything about that person, who glows in your vision. Friends say you’re blinded by love.

For Romilda Vane, the misplaced potion had an instant effect on Ron, yet meant it for Harry. In real life, of course, physical attraction can pretty much be as immediate as it gets, though not as applicable as amortentia. Psychologists also indicate that you decide if you fancy someone within 90 seconds to four 188博金宝电子游戏 of meeting them. Your attraction stems from the following:

  • Body language — 55%
  • Speed and tone of voice — 38%
  • What they say — 7%

Pop culture tends to avoid the attraction and instead uses those potions to snap right into love. The science behind immediate attraction is, unfortunately, only a little slower and more involved than Ron’s instant transformation.

Either way — so much for the weight of those pickup lines.

Love Potion or Lust?

Did you feel it, too?

Were your palms sweaty? Did you stutter too much? Did your heart race so fast you thought it was going to fall out?

After an initial attraction, your body starts to give physical responses. If you’re developing a crush, you might feel nervous around that person. Once it progresses forward, it’s all chemicals and lust from there.

Lust is the initial stage of a relationship, before love, where things are still shaky. People feel their emotions first before rationalizing. You do this because lust elevates feelings like sexual gratification and emotional reward. Sex hormones are at the root here, no surprise.

Testosterone and estrogen affect your initial attraction. Raised levels of testosterone in the blood may point women toward men with more masculine faces and men toward women with more feminine looks. Both hormones can affect men and women, though. Your brain then releases dopamine during sex — or whenever you feel those emotional connections — leaving you wanting more.

Finding a rhythm isn’t always easy. Lust can make you insecure on the way to amortentia. When you get that emotional or sexual satisfaction, it’s instant gratification in this stage — chemical reaction into physical attraction.

Maybe that’s why lust feels like the closest thing to a real-life love potion.

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What Will Scientists Discover Next?


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Lust Into Love: More Chemical Concoctions

Exactly what chemicals put you in a state of amortentia? Going from lust to love involves three essential neurotransmitters:

  • Adrenaline: The first stages of falling in love invoke your stress response. Your blood levels of cortisol and adrenaline increase. Your heart pounds faster, and you lose your ability to speak coherently — it’s fight or flight. It’s that instantly arrested feeling you have when you’re around your heartthrob. It’s all happening right now.
  • Dopamine: While examining the brains of love-struck couples, scientists discovered they had increased levels of dopamine. The chemical boosts feelings of pleasure around your heart’s desire, triggering a longing and a reward. Side effects include increased energy, decreased need for food or sleep and focused attention on the littlest details of the budding relationship.
  • Serotonin: Can’t get your lover out of your mind? Couples who were madly in love for less than six months had serotonin levels in their blood consistent with the low serotonin levels of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. You see your lover through rose-colored glasses.

Love and lust can overlap and fade into each other. Generally, though, lust has you focusing on sex over conversations, looks over personality and fantasy over any real feelings. Love takes adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin and turns those emotions around. Love looks like listening and caring and growing together. You might have a difficult time finding any potions for that.

From Aphrodisiac Affection to Long-Term Attachment

When do you enter and leave the honeymoon phase? Two major hormones correspond to the stages of attachment in relationships:

  • Oxytocin: It’s known as the cuddle hormone because it releases during the heights of orgasm. It also deepens feelings of closeness and strengthens the bond between a couple when they have a baby. It’s part of the response to a mother’s immediate release of milk at the sound of her baby’s cry.
  • Vasopressin: Another chemical also released after sex, vasopressin, is a critical hormone to romantic attachment. It’s known as the antidiuretic hormone because it works with your kidneys to control thirst. It seems unconnected at first, but scientists were clued into its effects when they studied prairie voles. They form long-term pair bonds like humans. When scientists gave voles a drug that suppresses the vasopressin hormone, the partner gradually retreated from devotion and failed to protect its partner from new suitors.

The relationship continues and builds the more connected you are. With this the attachment becomes more secure. The honeymoon phase will wear off at some point, but don’t be scared by that. Many couples view what comes next as healthier and more secure. You learn love languages and understand how the other person works, lives and thrives. If you want a unique concoction for that, well, you’re out of luck. Instead, try meaningful words or actions, meaningful gifts with a personal touch or quality time.

The Perfect Romance Is a Love Potion in Itself

Are love potions real?

Yes and no. Things like perfumes, essential oil blends and other potions make their claims and have effects, but increased confidence in oneself is the most influential result. Ultimately, real magic and real love happen naturally, and it’s all in the intent.

It also depends on reality — you decide if you fancy someone within the first few 188博金宝电子游戏 of meeting them. Sometimes you’re drawn to someone inexplicably. Most times, you have a say in what you find attractive or what you desire. That’s a power on its own.

Ultimately, the perfect chemical romance demands a balance of natural ingredients in the brain. Maybe that in itself is its own kind of love potion. Love can make you do strange things. Things you’d never thought you’d do a year, a week, a day ago. That is a pretty powerful force.

So, romantic potions might not be entirely authentic with their magical, fantastic powers and all. Luckily, love and its magic, emotions and chemicals do exist. You need not worry about what to do to fall in love. It’s all in your head — and body.

If love potions were real, though, would you try them if you had the chance?

This article originally published on 2/14/2017 and was updated on 2/12/2020 to include more information about the psychology behind love.
Are Love Potions Backed by Science?
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Article by: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and science enthusiast. Her favorite subjects include astronomy and the environment. Megan is also a regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights, and Real Clear Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing.