man and woman spreading love

Are Love Potions Backed by Science?

Read Time: 4 minutes

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.

Do love spells or potions really exist? 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 metaphoric ingredients. Intent and symbolism are powerful 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, there are particular chemicals that render the effects of Love Potion #9. When there’s talk of the birds and the bees, you’ve likely heard of pheromones that stimulate feelings of affection, attraction, and longing. Perfumes, essential oil blends and “potions” have been created based on this science.

Any successful result of “love potions” 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 factor. 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 so much, follow through on it and obtain it.

Yet, in real life and real love, reality 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: What attracts you? 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. Psychologists indicate that you decide if you fancy someone within ninety seconds to four minutes of meeting, and your attraction is based on the following:

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

So much for the weight of those pickup lines.

Exactly what chemicals put you in a state of amortentia? Falling in love involves three main 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 that instantly arrested feeling you have when you’re around your heartthrob.
  • Dopamine: While examining the brains of love-struck couples, scientists discovered that they had increased levels of dopamine. The chemical boosts feelings of pleasure around your heart’s desire, triggering a desire and reward. Effects include increased energy, decreased the 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.

Testosterone also has an effect on initial attraction. Raised levels of testosterone in the blood point women toward men with more masculine faces and men toward women with more feminine faces.

From Aphrodisiac Affection to Long-Term Attachment

When do you enter 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 attachment and also 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, who also 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 Perfect Romance is a Love Potion in Itself

The perfect chemical romance demands a balance of natural ingredients in the brain. It also depends on reality — you decide if you fancy someone within the first few minutes of meeting.

Are love potions real?

Yes and no. Perfumes, essential oil blends and other potions make their claims and have effects, but increased confidence in oneself is the most powerful effect. Real magic and real love happen naturally, and it’s all in the intent.

Love and its magic exists, which begs the question: Would you try a love potion if you had the chance?

Are Love Potions Backed by Science?
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Category: ChemistryIn Fiction

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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.