Masturbation to Orgasm Stimulates the Release of the Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol in Humans

J Sex Med. 2017 Nov;14(11):1372-1379. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2017.09.016.


Background: Endocannabinoids are critical for rewarding behaviors such as eating, physical exercise, and social interaction. The role of endocannabinoids in mammalian sexual behavior has been suggested because of the influence of cannabinoid receptor agonists and antagonists on rodent sexual activity. However, the involvement of endocannabinoids in human sexual behavior has not been studied.

Aim: To investigate plasma endocannabinoid levels before and after masturbation in healthy male and female volunteers.

Outcomes: Plasma levels of the endocannabinoids 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), anandamide, the endocannabinoid-like lipids oleoyl ethanolamide and palmitoyl ethanolamide, arachidonic acid, and cortisol before and after masturbation to orgasm.

Methods: In study 1, endocannabinoid and cortisol levels were measured before and after masturbation to orgasm. In study 2, masturbation to orgasm was compared with a control condition using a single-blinded, randomized, 2-session crossover design.

Results: In study 1, masturbation to orgasm significantly increased plasma levels of the endocannabinoid 2-AG, whereas anandamide, oleoyl ethanolamide, palmitoyl ethanolamide, arachidonic acid, and cortisol levels were not altered. In study 2, only masturbation to orgasm, not the control condition, led to a significant increase in 2-AG levels. Interestingly, we also found a significant increase of oleoyl ethanolamide after masturbation to orgasm in study 2.

Clinical translation: Endocannabinoids might play an important role in the sexual response cycle, leading to possible implications for the understanding and treatment of sexual dysfunctions.

Strengths and limitations: We found an increase of 2-AG through masturbation to orgasm in 2 studies including a single-blinded randomized design. The exact role of endocannabinoid release as part of the sexual response cycle and the biological significance of the finding should be studied further. Cannabis and other drug use and the attainment of orgasm were self-reported in the present study.

Conclusion: Our data indicate that the endocannabinoid 2-AG is involved in the human sexual response cycle and we hypothesize that 2-AG release plays a role in the rewarding consequences of sexual arousal and orgasm. Fuss J, Bindila L, Wiedemann K, et al. Masturbation to Orgasm Stimulates the Release of the Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol in Humans. J Sex Med 2017;14:1372-1379.

Keywords: 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG); Anandamide (AEA); Cortisol; Masturbation; Oleoyl Ethanolamide (OEA); Orgasm; Reward; Sexuality.

MeSH terms

  • Arachidonic Acids / metabolism
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / metabolism*
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glycerides / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Masturbation
  • Oleic Acids / metabolism
  • Orgasm
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides / metabolism


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Modulators
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Glycerides
  • Oleic Acids
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • oleoylethanolamide
  • glyceryl 2-arachidonate
  • anandamide