Stimulant abuse continues to be a growing problem among women. Over the last 10-15 years, an increasing number of studies have focused on factors that may be implicated in stimulant abuse in women as compared to men, including the role of hormonal fluctuations across the menstrual cycle. Numerous preclinical studies have documented that female rodents are more sensitive than male rodents to the behavioral effects of stimulant administration and the hormone estradiol is involved in the enhanced response to stimulants observed in females. In contrast, fewer studies have been conducted in humans and non-human primates addressing the role of sex and gonadal hormones on the effects of cocaine. This review paper presents a recent update on data collected in our Human Cocaine Challenge Laboratory and our Non-human Primate Laboratory, including analysis of cocaine pharmacokinetics, sex differences, the menstrual cycle, and the role of progesterone in modulating the response to cocaine. Our studies indicate that there is minimal evidence that the response to intranasal cocaine varies across the menstrual cycle or between men and women. In contrast, the response to smoked cocaine is greater in the follicular phase than the luteal phase and differences between men and women generally only emerge when men are compared to women in the luteal phase. In terms of potential hormonal mechanisms for these differences, the hormone progesterone attenuates the subjective response to cocaine. With respect to cocaine self-administration, there are minimal changes across the menstrual cycle in both humans and non-human primates. Thus, there is converging evidence across a range of species that the behavioral effects of cocaine (1) differ between males and females, (2) differ in relation to hormonal fluctuations, (3) can be attenuated by progesterone (at least in females), and (4) do not appear to be related to differences in cocaine pharmacokinetics.
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