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Women Get Greater ‘High’ From Cocaine During Menstrual Cycles

Update Date: Jan 11, 2017 09:40 AM EST

One of the findings of a recent study show that women get a greater "high" from cocaine during their menstrual cycles. This greater "high" in women is due to hormonal fluctuations, specifically estrogen, during their period.

According to a study conducted by researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, women are more likely to get addicted to cocaine. This is because of the hormone estrogen, which intensifies the effects of cocaine on women, especially during their menstrual cycles.

The researchers discovered that when estrogen levels are its highest, it also intensifies the brain's dopamine reward pathway. This scenario catapults the effects of cocaine to become more potent. This would lead for women to get a greater "high" from cocaine especially during their menstrual cycles when estrogen levels are the highest. Because of this, women are more likely to become addicted to cocaine.

The study adds that although there are still more men who have a cocaine addiction, women are more likely to become cocaine addicts after one use. Women are also more likely to continue to use cocaine and are faster to transition to full-blown cocaine addiction.

Surprisingly, the study also found that women are more likely to use cocaine at a younger age and in larger quantities. This leads to women having a harder time from stopping or staying clean of cocaine addiction. The study notes that this kind of reactions could also be applicable to other addictive substances.

The study, published in the journal, Natural Communications, conducted tests on mice to further understand the relationship of estrogen to cocaine addiction. The mice, both male, and female were fixed with tiny fiber-optic probes to specific regions of the brain including those connected to the dopamine reward pathway. Female mice at various points of their estrus or menstrual cycle were also studied.

According to the researchers, estrogen affects the quantity of dopamine released by the neurons in the brain in response to cocaine. Estrogen also affected how long the dopamine stays in the synapses of the brain. Both of these factors increases the pleasurable effects of cocaine and is even more intensified by estrogen levels in the female mice.

A portion of the cage where the cocaine is administered is linked by the mice as where pleasure or reward occurs. The researchers observed that most mice frequently stay at the pleasure side of the cage even if cocaine was not administered. More so for female mice who get an enhanced reward based on their estrogen levels.

They also saw that during the estrus cycle of the female mice, even if cocaine was not administered, the female mice's brains stimulated dopamine reward signals.

The study finds a unique insight into the correlation of the functions of the brain with disease pathology that is a result of studying both sexes. "This approach is essential to enable the filed to develop optimized treatments for drug addiction and other conditions for women as well as men", says Dr. Nestler, lead author of the study.

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