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The effects of intranasal oxytocin in opioid-dependent individuals and healthy control subjects: a pilot study



There has been an explosion of research on the potential benefits of the social neuropeptide oxytocin for a number of mental disorders including substance use disorders. Recent evidence suggests that intranasal oxytocin has both direct anti-addiction effects and pro-social effects that may facilitate engagement in psychosocial treatment for substance use disorders.


We aimed to assess the tolerability of intranasal oxytocin and its effects on heroin craving, implicit association with heroin and social perceptual ability in opioid-dependent patients receiving opioid replacement therapy (ORT) and healthy control participants.


We performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, within- and between-subjects, crossover, proof-of-concept trial to examine the effects of oxytocin (40 international units) on a cue-induced craving task (ORT patients only), an Implicit Association Task (IAT), and two social perception tasks: the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task (RMET) and The Awareness of Social Inference Test (TASIT).


Oxytocin was well tolerated by patients receiving ORT but had no significant effects on craving or IAT scores. There was a significant reduction in RMET performance after oxytocin administration versus placebo in the patient group only, and a significant reduction in TASIT performance after oxytocin in both the patient and healthy control groups.


A single dose of intranasal oxytocin is well tolerated by patients receiving ORT, paving the way for future investigations. Despite no significant improvement in craving or IAT scores after a single dose of oxytocin and some evidence that social perception was worsened, further investigation is required to determine the role oxytocin may play in the treatment of opioid use disorder.

Clinical trial registration

Methadone Oxytocin Option. identifier: NCT01728909.

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