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

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2017 Jul;234(13):1933-1943. doi: 10.1007/s00213-017-4601-1. Epub 2017 Apr 12.


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.

Keywords: Cannabis; Cortisol; Dopamine; Hypoactive sexual desire; Hypothalamus; Nucleus accumbens; Prolactin; fMRI.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cannabidiol / blood*
  • Cannabidiol / chemistry
  • Cannabis / metabolism
  • Cannabis / toxicity*
  • Dronabinol / blood*
  • Dronabinol / chemistry
  • Drug Combinations
  • Erotica
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Libido / ethics*
  • Libido / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nucleus Accumbens
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prolactin / blood*


  • Drug Combinations
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Cannabidiol
  • Dronabinol
  • Prolactin
  • nabiximols
  • Hydrocortisone