Dopamine and sexual functioning.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells. “Dopamine plays a major role in the brain system that is responsible for reward-driven learning. Every type of reward that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain, and a variety of highly addictive drugs, including stimulants, act directly on the dopamine system.”* That is partly why some dopamine-inducing drugs are difficult to stop using. Some prescription drugs increase dopamine which may be a safer way to administer it. Wellbutrin indirectly increases dopamine in the brain. Many women we give it to find that it increases their sexual functioning, causing great improvement with both arousal, orgasm and mood, and it often has very few, if any side effects. The side effects it causes may be agitation or insomnia, and these frequently resolve within a few weeks of taking it. Obviously it must be prescribed and monitored by a professional, and it is not right for everyone. It can increase anxiety and is not right for anyone with a seizure disorder.

I became interested in dopamine because we have found that it can greatly improve a woman’s sexual functioning. It helps men too! It is frequently prescribed for both men and women, to off-set the negative sexual side effects of SSRI’s (Selective Serotoninin Reuptake Inhibitor). The fact that we have seen this drug help in these ways, made me curious about other ways to increase dopamine in the brain. Marijuana can also improve dopamine yet it has a some negative side effects. “Tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, stimulates release of dopamine in the mesolimbic area of the brain, the same neurochemical process that reinforces dependence on other addictive drugs.” This is from an article in Pediatrics, published in 2004. So though occasional use of marijuana may be helpful in inducing an orgasm, for a multitude of reasons it Is not a good solution to orgasm problems. And in fact, though some patients report that it helps occasionally with sexual functioning, “Scientists have demonstrated that the emotional stress caused by withdrawal from marijuana is linked to corticotropin-releasing factor, the same brain chemical that has been linked to anxiety and stress during opiate, alcohol, and cocaine withdrawal.” As well as, “ Some of the significant neuropharmacologic, cognitive, behavioral, and somatic consequences of acute and long-term marijuana use are well known and include negative effects on short-term memory, concentration, attention span, motivation, and problem solving, which clearly interfere with learning; adverse effects on coordination, judgment, reaction time, and tracking ability….and negative health effects with repeated use similar to effects seen with smoking tobacco.” This is from the Pediatrics article mentioned above by Joffe and Yancy.

The good news is that there are many healthy ways to increase dopamine such as exercise and getting enough sleep. Dopamine itself is not produced in foods, however the precursor essential amino acid required for the production of dopamine can be found in foods. Meats, dairy, soy, nuts and seeds all have this precursor amino acid. So including those foods in your diet is a good place to start. It has been found that more dopamine can lead to clearer thinking and better mood as well and that is obviously a good thing!

* (“Neurobiology of the structure of personality: dopamine, facilitation of incentive motivation, and extroversion.” By Depue and Collins in Behav Brain Sci in 1999.)

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