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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The endocannabinoid system and female sexual arousal Klein, Carolin


Evidence from several lines of research points to the potential role of the endocannabinoid system in female sexual functioning. This evidence includes results from studies describing the subjective effects of exogenous cannabinoids on sexual functioning in humans and the observable effects of exogenous cannabinoids on sexual functioning in other species, as well as the results from studies investigating the location of cannabinoid receptors in the brain and periphery, and the effects of cannabinoid receptor activation on neurotransmitters implicated in sexual functioning. However, while these lines of research are suggestive of a role of the endocannabinoid system in female sexual functioning, no studies investigating the relationship between levels of endogenous cannabinoids (i.e., arachidonoylethanolamide [anandamide or AEA] and 2-arachidonoylglycerol [2-AG]) and sexual functioning, or investigating the effects of exogenous cannabinoid use on physiological measures of sexual functioning in humans, have been conducted. Experiments 1 and 2 of the present dissertation are the first known studies to measure and examine circulating endocannabinoid levels in relation to both subjective and physiological indices of sexual arousal in women. Experiment 3 is the first known study to examine the relationship between exogenous cannabinoid use and physiological sexual arousal in women. Physiological sexual arousal in all three studies was measured via the vaginal photoplethysmograph. Although the results of Experiment 1 did not reveal an association between endocannabinoid levels and female sexual arousal, the results of Experiment 2 revealed a significant relationship, whereby increases in both physiological and subjective indices of sexual arousal were significantly associated with decreases in endocannabinoid (AEA and/or 2-AG) levels. Experiment 3 revealed that women who use marijuana show significantly smaller increases in physiological sexual arousal in response to erotic film stimuli than women who do not use marijuana. The findings from these studies support the hypothesis that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in female sexual functioning. This line of research has broad clinical and research implications, not only in terms of furthering understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying female sexual functioning, but also in terms of finding effective treatments for sexual dysfunctions in women.

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