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Sex, Drugs and Love: A Few Good Altered States. Group 10: Keren Alon, Alexander Fields, Dean Martinez and Hayden Rausch. The Neural Basis of Sex as an Altered State. Hormones. Hormones. Testosterone: plays a role in desire and arousal.

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Sex drugs and love a few good altered states

Sex, Drugs and Love: A Few Good Altered States

Group 10:

Keren Alon, Alexander Fields, Dean Martinez and Hayden Rausch


  • Testosterone: plays a role in desire and arousal.

  • Estrogens: no apparent direct role in arousal. However, loss of estrogens impairs physiological arousal response in females.

  • Prolactin: high or low levels inhibit sexual response.

Hormones continued
Hormones Continued

  • Oxytocin: Plays a role in maternal behaviors. Facilitates physiological and psychological sexual arousal.

  • Pheromones: volatile signaling substances secreted from glands. Thought to be sensed in the Vomeronasal organ. May have role in female reproductive cycle synchrony. May also facilitate sexual behavior.


  • Nitric Oxide (NO)

    • Key player in clitoral and penile erection through the NO/guanylate cyclase/GTP/cGMP pathway (Viagra works on the cGMP component).

  • Serotonin

    • Depending on receptor type can facilitate or inhibit sexual behavior.

    • Approximately 95% of 5-HT receptors are peripheral (including the vascular smooth muscle of the genitals).

    • Possible locus for the sexual side effects brought on by SSRIs.

More neurotransmission
More Neurotransmission

  • Dopamine

    • Seems to facilitate sexual feelings and behaviors

    • Cocaine often reported to increase sexual enjoyment. Chronic use impairs sexual function.

Still neurotransmitting
Still Neurotransmitting

  • Epinephrine

    • Plays a role in the maintaining detumescence in males

    • Plasma levels have been shown to increase with arousal, peak at orgasm, and return to baseline within a few minutes post-climax (in females).

    • Norepinephrine has similar effects.

End neurotransmission1
End Neurotransmission

  • Opioids

    • May modulate levels of hormones released, leading to changes in arousal.

    • In male animals opioid levels increase during sexual activity.

    • Chronic opiate use causes sexual dysfunction.

Spinal control of sex
Spinal Control of Sex

  • Some sexual functions are under spinal control.

  • Women with spinal injury are still able to achieve orgasm.

  • Ejaculation is controlled through the Spinal Ejaculation Generator.

    • Located in the lumbosacral spine.

    • Receives sensory input from the penis, and some input from supraspinal nuclei.

    • Ejaculation reflex present even in men with spinal injury.

Sex and supraspinal areas
Sex and Supraspinal Areas

  • Nucleus Paragigantocellul-aris in the Locus Coereleus.

    • Serotonergic projections to spinal efferents

    • May be responsible for inhibiting sexual response.

Sex and supraspinal areas1
Sex and Supraspinal Areas

  • Hypothalamus

    • Medial Preoptic Area: involved in mate selection and recognition. Lesions abolish only copulatory behavior.

    • Paraventricular Nucleus: Causes release of oxytocin during sexual activity. Also has projections to pelvic autonomic and somatic efferents. Heavily connected with medial preoptic.

Sex and the supraspinal regions
Sex and the Supraspinal Regions

  • Forebrain Regions: Medial Amygdala and Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis

    • Strongly activated during copulation.

    • May control sexual motivation.

Rcbf changes associated with clitorally induced orgasm in healthy women
rCBF Changes Associated with Clitorally Induced Orgasm in Healthy Women

  • Georgiadis, et al. 2006.

  • PET study, scans performed under four conditions: rest, clitoral stimulation or arousal, orgasm imitations (motor control), and orgasm.

  • Decreased activity in prefrontal cortex as arousal increases and peaks with orgasm.

Sex and consciousness
Sex and Consciousness Healthy Women

  • Is sex an altered state?

    • There’s a good chance

    • Prefrontal deactivation during orgasm

  • Dietrich’s ladder model.

Introduction Healthy Women

  • Drug addiction is one of the most costly diseases in modern society

  • Passionate love closely imitates substance abuse

  • Uses the same reward system in the brain

Introduction cont d
Introduction Cont’d Healthy Women

  • Consciousness altering drugs have multiple effects

  • The effect of the drug depends on the amount of dosage the individual has taken

  • Also the effects of a psychoactive drug depends on the user’s history and expectations

Effects on consciousness
Effects on Consciousness Healthy Women

  • Drugs vary in how they affect behavior and consciousness

  • Different types such as stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, and other types of drugs such as marijuana and morphine

  • Psychoactive drugs have a variety of effects in various functions, also they do not create new responses, just modify behavioral and physiological responses

Drugs Healthy Women

  • Drugs are used to induce feeling of euphoria, a “high”

  • The neurotransmitter associated with drug addiction and abuse is dopamine, along with other NTs such as serotonin, and GABA

The drug reward system
The Drug Reward System Healthy Women

  • Activated by rewarding stimulus i.e. sex

  • Coe structures of the reward system is located in the limbic system

  • Consists of several brain structures: VTA, nucleus accumbens, and the prefrontal cortex

  • VTA -> Nuc Accumbens -> PFC

Dopamine Healthy Women

  • Dopamine

    - Most directly implicated in positive reinforcement, i.e. rewarding and pleasurable effects of the drug

    - Many addictive drugs enhance dopamine transmission, specifically in the mesocorticolimbic system

    - One of the main forces driving the reward system

Other neurotransmitters
Other Neurotransmitters Healthy Women

  • Serotonin

    • Involved in the modulation of both drug self-administration and dopamine levels

    • May be important in modulating motivational factors of obtaining a drug

    • Serotonin projects to the NA and the VTA to regulate release of dopamine

    • It also modulates the reward pathway through various mechanisms by interacting with different receptors in the brain

Other neurotransmitters cont d
Other Neurotransmitters cont’d Healthy Women

  • GABA

    • Involved in modulation of the dopaminergic reward system

    • Disinhibits dopaminergic neurons making them fire more rapidly and releasing more dopamine in the reward system to induce euphoria

  • Endorphins

    • Also motivate behavior

    • Place preference is elicited when applied in the NA

    • Also increases dopamine in the reward pathway

Love as an asc

Love as an ASC Healthy Women

Helen fisher s recent study journal of neuroscience
Helen Fisher’s Recent Study Healthy WomenJournal of Neuroscience

  • -Analyzed about 2,500 brain images from 17 college students who were in first weeks/months of new love

  • -Students looked at a picture of their beloved while an M.R.I machine scanned their brains.

  • -Researchers then compared the images with others taken while the students looked at a picture of an acquaintance.

Sex drugs and love a few good altered states

Dopamine and love
Dopamine and Love awareness.

  • -When a person feels in love, they activate their pleasure centers in the brain which are rich in dopamine

  • -Dopamine causes a person’s heart to race, pupils to dilate and a slight perspire.

  • -Since it is a natural endorphin (acts like heroin or morphine) it causes the body to respond by relaxing the body and kills pain in high doses.

  • -Also a hormone involved with addictive behavior and OCD

  • -It is the hormone that makes a person feel an “erotic high” when they see their lover, eventually the person will become addicted to feeling that “erotic high”

  • -Also, when there is a continued presence of a lover, there is a gradual increase of dopamine

B phenylethylamine pea or the love chemical
b-Phenylethylamine (PEA) or the "love chemical" awareness.

  • -Falling in love involves the enhanced secretion of PEA in the first 2-4 years of the relationship

  • -This natural drug creates a euphoric high and helps obscure the failings and shortcomings of the potential mate.

  • -High levels of PEA increases sex drive and is thought to be the hormone of libido.

  • -The body as becomes tolerant of PEA like dopamine once the body has been exposed to it for long periods of time.

Oxytocin the cuddling chemical
Oxytocin, the “cuddling chemical” awareness.

  • -Hormone involved with love, also an endorphin and has an opiate-like effect

  • “Produced by the brain, it sensitized nerves and stimulates muscle contraction. Scientists speculate that oxytocin might encourage cuddling between adult women and men.”

  • -Acts as a natural tranquilizer, allows for women to become more sensitive to other’s feelings.

  • -Released during sexual experiences as well as when lovers touch because it activates cell-surface proteins in the nucleus accumbens, which causes release of dopamine---> Euphoric high

Behavior changes associated with love
Behavior Changes Associated with Love awareness.

  • -Love allows for companionship, which gives a person gratification and a feeling of purpose in life

  • -When people first fall in love, they experience feeling giddy, playful, and are preoccupied with thoughts of the one they love

  • -Disinhibition: physical and intimate

  • (-->Lack of normal conc)

  • -Love creates and reinforces the self. People's sense of who they are is strongly affected bywhom they love and whom they perceive as loving them.”

More behavioral changes
More Behavioral Changes… awareness.

  • -When people are in love they feel that they must protect the one they love and will do anything for the one they love.

  • -Priorities shift and motivation is centered around that person versus other responsibilities

  • -Obsessive thoughts regarding the loved one and compulsive acts are common. (similar to behaviors of drug addicts)

  • -Lover becomes salient in everyday occurrences

  • -Primed to think of that person, things that you ordinarily wouldn’t pay attention to suddenly make you think of your loved one (similar t-shirt, etc.)

Is love an addiction
Is Love an Addiction? awareness.

  • -When one is in love, the pleasure parts of the brain are activated by hormones (dopamine, PEA and oxytocin) which act as natural endorphins. They act like amphetamines do on the brain.

  • -The longer a couple is together their brains become tolerant to the hormones being released, which causes the euphoric feeling not to be felt as strongly.

  • -Allostasis: body adjusts to new state

  • -Similar to tolerating drugs

Withdrawal phase
Withdrawal Phase awareness.

  • -Because of this acquired tolerance, when the couple breaks up, there must be a withdrawal period.

  • -The withdrawal of romantic love has serious mental health repercussions.

  • -A study revealed that breakups often lead to depression and anxiety. fMRI-based studies demonstrated how the insular cortex, in charge of experiencing pain, became active when subjects viewed photos of former loved ones.

  • -Symptoms similar to to being addicted to drugs, so people who think they are addicted to love, might really be addicted to the feelings and hormones released during love.

So is love an asc yes
So is love an ASC? awareness. Yes!

  • -The combination of hormonal and behavioral changes, along with the overall change of one’s perception results in a divergence from normal consciousness.

  • -Body adjusts to new state and becomes dependent on their lover.

  • -Areas of the brain undergo change similar to exposure to drugs.

  • -Hence, if being addicted to drugs is considered an ASC, so should being in love.

Behavioral correlations between sex love drugs
Behavioral Correlations awareness.Between Sex, Love & Drugs

  • Attentional/Focus Shift

  • Searching/Wanting

  • Preoccupation

  • Restlessness

  • Excessive Wakefulness/Sleepiness

  • Climactic Arousal

  • Ignoring Negative Effects/Behaviors

  • Withdrawal: Depression/Angst/Anxiety

  • Fantasy

  • Stress

Similarities awareness.

  • Neuroimaging shows the PFC, VTA, and the caudate are active when in love and using drugs

  • Dopamine and Norepinephrine are very much involved in both processes

Pleasure and reward systems
Pleasure and Reward Systems awareness.

  • Control our sexual behavior

  • Reward system may have evolved to get animals interested in sex

  • Sex around longer than drugs

  • Limbic area

  • VTA

  • Caudate Nucleus

  • DA system

Drug highs can be like sex highs

Drug Highs Can Be awareness.Like Sex Highs

“Stimulants like cocaine act on the brain's dopamine system, and so mimic the thrill of desire and anticipation. Depressant drugs like heroin, on the other hand, produce the opposite kind of pleasure - a dreamy satiation and freedom from pain, caused by their action on the brain's opioid system.

A speedball,

a cocktail of cocaine and heroin, can be likened to a rapid, hyped-up sex simulation, moving rapidly from desire to climax.”-

Maia Szalavitz, “Love is the drug”, 23 November 2002 , New Scientist Magazine

Is love an equal state as sex or lust
Is love an equal state as sex or lust? awareness.

  • Brains in love and brains in lust don't look too much alike.

  • when researchers showed erotic photos to people as they underwent brain scans, they found activity in the hypothalamus and amygdala areas of the brain

  • Different areas than “in love’s” reward center

  • the two do become linked. People in love have elevated levels of dopamine. Lots of dopamine, in turn, triggers the production of testosterone

Is love a continuous state over time no
Is love a continuous state over time? No. awareness.

  • Over time, love related activity in the reward center returns to normal

  • Meanwhile, other areas become active

  • Emotion areas, like insula and anterior cingulate cortex, where sown to be active in similar studies with long-term (2+ years) relationship subjects

  • Changing state?

Final thoughts
Final Thoughts awareness.

  • PFC is shut down during peak of sex disabling the highest level of Dietrich's hierarchy of consciousness.

  • When you fall in love, the same system becomes active as when you take cocaine

  • The systems that are built into us to find food and water are the things that were also active when kings renounced their thrones or people turn their backs on their friends and family all in the name of love

References awareness.

  • Esch, Tobias and Stefano, George. The Neurobiology of Love. Neuroendocrinology Letters. 2005; 26 (3): 175-192.

  • Fisher, Helen, et al. Defining the Brain Systems of Lust, Romantic Attraction, and Attachment. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2002 (31, 5): 413-419.

  • Bartels, Andreas and Zeki, Semir. The Neural Correlates of Maternal and Romantic Love. NeuroImage 21 (2004) 1155-1166.

  • Aron, Arthur, et al. Reward, Motivation, and Emotion Systems Associated With Early-Stage Intense Romantic Love. Journal of Neurophysiology. 2005 (94): 327-337.

  • Chiba, Andrea. “Reward and Drug Addiction.” University of California, San Diego. 8 May 2007.

  • Wallace, Ben, et al. Consciousness and Behavior. (Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 2003), 44-50.

  • Neuroanatomy and Physiology of Brain Reward II. Accessed 1 June 2007.

References continued
References Continued awareness.

  • Georgiadis, Janniko, et al. Regional Cerebral Blood Flow Changes Associated with Clitorally Induced Orgasm in Healthy Women. European Journal of Neuroscience. 2006 (24): 3305-3316.

  • Allard, Julen, et al. Spinal Cord Control of Ejaculation. World Journal of Urology. 2005 (23): 119-126.

  • McKenna, Kevin. The Neurophysiology of Female Sexual Function. World Journal of Urology. 2002 (20): 93-100.

  • Pfaus, James. Neurobiology of Sexual Behavior. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 1999 (9): 751-758.

  • Meston, Cindy, and Frohlich, Penny. The Neurobiology of Sexual Function. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2000 (57): 1012-1030.