Do you choose Heaven or Hell – Oxytocin or OxyContin?
What a difference reversing 2 letters makes
Many years ago I heard this story of monk praying to know the difference between heaven and hell. Here it is.
A monk was praying this prayer for 40 years: “Lord, I don’t understand the difference between heaven and hell. Can you please show the difference?”
After 40 years, God is exhausted from listening, and sends an Angel down to show the monk the difference. The Angel finds the monk praying and says: “God has sent me to answer your prayer. Follow me.” So together they travel to a door which opens to a large room, so large you cannot see the end in either direction. There is a large table with beautiful chandeliers, elegant white table cloths, peaceful music playing in the background and large soup bowls in the middle of the table full of soup with a mouth watering aroma. People, ordinary looking people, are sitting at the table trying to eat the soup. But they are having a hard time of it because of one strange feature: their arms do not bend at the elbow. The only way they could eat the steaming hot soup is to scoop their hands and pour the hot soup down their arms, where a few drops would enter their mouths. They were cursing and swearing and only complaining about how the soup was hurting them.
The Angle asked: “Is this heaven or hell?” The monk replied: “Hell.”
The Angel then took the monk on a short journey to another door, which looked exactly like the first. As a matter of fact, when they opened the door the monk thought they were back in hell because everything looked exactly the same. The same long hall, the same long table with a white table cloth and large soup bowl with the same aroma, the same looking people with the funny arms that would not bend. The only difference he noticed was that everybody was laughing and smiling and chatting with each other. At first the monk could not see what was making the difference. Then he saw it: all the people, instead of taking the soup for themselves and trying to pour down their arms to their own mouths were instead lifting their hand filled with soup and feeding their neighbours!
The Angel asked: “Is this heaven or hell?” The monk replied: “Heaven.”
Our culture, especially since the fear induced since 9/11, and the paranoia now being created by Covid-19, seems to be starting to act in a way that is moving us from Heaven to Hell. I mean this in the way that the allegory above illustrates: Hell is being self-absorbed and only seeing what is wrong; Heaven is co-operation, trust, togetherness and making the best of the situation by working together to overcome adversity. In this view, heaven is not about utopia in the traditional sense where all is perfect, there is not adversity. Rather heaven is a place where adversity is offered has the potential to bond us, to bring us closer together, to help us participate in the creation of Heaven. Or we can choose to create our Hell. That is always our choice.
Given this thought, I was fascinated when I read an article about Oxytocin [soft c] in men and how different the details were in how it acted vis a vis women. First, by the fact that there is almost no research for the action of Oxytocin in men, but that there is TONS of research in women, obviously because it is such an important hormone. Second, I had to ask my wife to clarify that I was talking about the right chemical: was it Oxytocin or OxyContin? – as I kept mixing the two up. She explained them to me and how they acted and I was fascinated. Third, I saw from the news that Covid-19 quarantine is creating significant unhappiness, major increases in alcohol and drug consumption, domestic violence, paranoia and even suicide [ie. a 14 year old on a Saskatchewan reserve committed suicide and 10 others attempted suicide, even though there are no cases of Covid-19 there, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/waterhen-lake-first-nation-concerns-suicide-attempts-1.5568350 ] I then pondered , can this be a question of a lack of Oxytocin?
My next thought was this: since people have not enough Oxytocin, they are using it’s substitute, it’s doppelganger – OxyContin. Now, I mean this as a metaphorical level. People are using other drugs and other means to cope. But many of these methods are like all synthetic and quick solutions to deep problems; they work in the short term but make things much worse in the long term. So, given that I am Chemistry teacher, I thought it would help us understand the Covid-19 world we are living in by also understanding the biochemistry of these two drugs, remembering that they represent Heaven or Hell.
Hell: OxyContin, an opiate drug, oxycodone hydrochloride, used as a painkiller and, illegally, as an alternative to heroin.
OxyContin: The drug maker Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin two decades ago with a bold marketing claim: One dose relieves pain for 12 hours, more than twice as long as generic medications. Patients would no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night to take their pills, Purdue told doctors. On the strength of that promise, OxyContin became America’s bestselling painkiller, and Purdue reaped $31 billion in revenue. But OxyContin’s stunning success masked a fundamental problem: The drug wears off hours early in many people, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. OxyContin is a chemical cousin of heroin, and when it doesn’t last, patients can experience excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug. The problem offers new insight into why so many people have become addicted to OxyContin, one of the most abused pharmaceuticals in U.S. history. 
There are many stories of how destructive this drug has been. Here is one.
Jeremy, dead at 18 of an OxyContin over dose
Jeremy’s accomplishments in high school would be receiving a pin every year for having above a 3.5 GPA and finally in his senior year getting his academic jacket for having above a 3.5 GPA all through high school. With a talent for making acquaintances easily which in turn brought him an endless stream of friends, Jeremy was very sociable and could blend without effort into any social group. Assertive and outgoing, Jeremy was easy to know and demonstrated a deep concern for others. He always seemed aware of what was going on with people around him and throughout his life he made many, many friends. Jeremy played football in his freshman year of high school. Jeremy was also something of a sports fan and enjoyed watching his favorite sports whenever he got the opportunity. Tops on his list were the New Orleans Saints and the LSU Tigers. As intelligent and lovable as Jeremy was, his addiction to OxyContin got the better of him. One week after graduating from high school, and being clean and sober for 80 days, Jeremy gave in to the “just one more time” adage and did Oxycontin again. This time he paid for his mistake with his life. He died May 20, 2009. https://www.justthinktwice.gov/knoxville/true-stories/true-story-jeremy-traylor-18-oxycontin Hell. And that hell is being made worse by the fear created by our reaction to Covid-19. Hell is fear. Hell is being alone. Hell is not trusting your neighbour. Hell is pain. Hell is using artificial means to cope with your pain – be it physical and psychological.
Heaven: Oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone, is released by the pituitary gland and is responsible for human behaviors associated with relationships and bonding. It is most commonly used to help mothers produce contractions in labor and control bleeding.
Oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure at the base of the brain. It’s sometimes known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone,” because it is released when people snuggle up or bond socially. Even playing with your dog can cause an oxytocin surge. Oxytocin is a particularly important hormone for women. “Oxytocin is a peptide produced in the brain that was first recognized for its role in the birth process, and also in nursing,” Oxytocin also promotes mother-child bonding. Studies show that “female rats find pups to be aversive if [the females are] virgins,” Young told Live Science. “But once they give birth, the brain is transformed, so they find the pups irresistible,” The anti-social effect of a social hormone brings some nuance to the story of oxytocin. In one study, researchers found that Dutch students given a snort of the hormone became more positive about fictional Dutch characters, but were more negative about characters with Arab or German names. The finding suggests that oxytocin’s social bonding effects are targeted at whomever a person perceives as part of their in-group. 
In Men Oxytocin and testosterone balance together
It seems counterintuitive that oxytocin and testosterone would rise in tandem in an individual male, as testosterone increases competitiveness and aggression while oxytocin increases bonding and generosity: yet that is the case for men how go hunting. In the case of hunting, testosterone seems inevitably to increase as part of the successful activity. But returning hunters also need to share meat with their families and friends; this is where oxytocin comes into play. It can help overcome the potentially negative social effects of testosterone. Men who were absent for longer seem to need more oxytocin to reconnect with their families; it seems that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, via an oxytocin blast. The need to balance hunting pride and social obligations, and the necessity to reconnect with a family that depends on their provisioning were likely experienced by men throughout much of human evolutionary history. 
Oxytocin may be responsible for making men monogamous. This was incredibly interesting to the researchers, as it has long been an unsolved mystery as to why monogamy even exists. Only three percent of the world’s mammals are monogamous, so what makes this three percent so different?  Little is known about the physiology associated with oxytocin for males, other than in several species a pulse of systemic oxytocin, presumably of hypothalamic origin.
So, there’s your little Science lesson – I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
Now, given that this article is about “What are you doing?” I guess I should leave you with an actionable item. How about this? – Spend time with somebody or some animal so that your Oxytocin levels increase and you create a little bit of biochemical Heaven in your brain. In fact, if you’re lonely, get a dog! Dogs count because interacting with a dog also increases your production of Oxytocin! Otherwise we might find ourself reaching for the oxycontin – that can create our hell.