Individual prolactin reactivity modulates response of nucleus accumbens to erotic stimuli during acute cannabis intoxication: an fMRI pilot study

Abstract

Rationale

Self-report studies indicate that cannabis could increase sexual desire in some users. We hypothesized that intoxication increases activation of brain areas responsive to visual erotica, which could be useful in the treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorder, a condition marked by a lack of sexual desire.

Objectives

The aim of this study is to assess the aphrodisiacal properties of cannabis.

Methods

We conducted an open-randomized study with 21 heterosexual casual cannabis users. A 3T MRI was used to measure brain activation in response to erotic pictures. Blood samples were collected to determine the serum levels of cannabinoids, cortisol and prolactin. Participants were grouped according to whether they had ever experienced any aphrodisiacal effects during intoxication (Group A) or not (Group non-A).

Results

Intoxication was found to significantly increase activation in the right nucleus accumbens in the Group A while significantly decreasing activation in the Group non-A. There was also a significant interaction between the group and intoxication, with elevated prolactin in the Group non-A during intoxication. No intoxication-related differences in subjective picture evaluations were found.

Conclusion

Cannabis intoxication increases activation of the right nucleus accumbens to erotic stimuli. This effect is limited to users whose prolactin is not elevated in response to intoxication. This effect may be useful in the treatment of low sexual desire.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Abbreviations

Group A:

Group of participants who experience aphrodisiacal effects of cannabis

Group non-A:

Group of participants who do not experience aphrodisiacal effects of cannabis

aCC_L:

Anterior cingulated cortex left

aCC_R:

Anterior cingulated cortex right

aINS_L:

Anterior insula left

aINS_R:

Anterior insula right

Amy_L:

Amygdala left

Amy_R:

Amygdala right

Hyp:

Hypothalamus

IPL_L:

Inferior parietal lobe left

IPL_R:

Inferior parietal lobe right

Nacc_L:

Nucleus accumbens left

Nacc_R:

Nucleus accumbens right

OFC_L:

Orbitofrontal cortex left

OFC_R:

Orbitofrontal cortex right

pINS_L:

Posterior insula left

pINS_R:

Posterior insula right

SPL_L:

Superior parietal lobe left

SPL_R:

Superior parietal lobe right

vlOT_L:

Ventro-lateral occipito-temporal junction left

vlOT_R:

Ventro-lateral occipito-temporal junction right

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported from the Ministry of interior of the Czech Republic (grant VG20122015080), from the Internal Grant Agency of the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic (grant number IGA MZCR NT 13145–4/2012), by the project “Sustainability for the National Institute of Mental Health”, (grant number LO1611), with a financial support of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic (program NPU I). Further, it was supported from the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic, by the projects PRVOUK34 and GAUK232415 from the Charles University, Prague, and from the Slovak Research and Development Agency (grant number APVV-14-0840).

Authors would like to thank Marketa Lichnovska (National Institute of Mental Health, Klecany, Czech Republic), Ludmila Zilava (Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovak Republic), Tim Wells (National Institute of Mental Health, Klecany, Czech Republic), Tomás Novak (National Institute of Mental Health, Klecany, Czech Republic), and Martin Kanovsky (Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovak Republic) for their support and assistance with this project.

Compliance with ethical standards

This study was approved by the Ethical committee of the National Institute of Mental Health, the Czech’s Ministry of Internal Affairs of Czech Republic, and complies with Czech laws. Prior to the study, every participant had to sign an Informed consent.

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Correspondence to R. Androvicova.

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Androvicova, R., Horacek, J., Tintera, J. et al. Individual prolactin reactivity modulates response of nucleus accumbens to erotic stimuli during acute cannabis intoxication: an fMRI pilot study. Psychopharmacology 234, 1933–1943 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-017-4601-1

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Keywords

  • Cannabis
  • Hypoactive sexual desire
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Hypothalamus
  • Prolactin
  • Dopamine
  • Cortisol
  • fMRI