MAR 04, 2020 6:47 AM PST

Smoking Marijuana Could Cause 12 Hour Erections

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Smoking marijuana is known to have multiple side effects. From getting the munchies to paranoia and memory problems, it is also usually thought to cause erectile dysfunction, despite increasing desire for sex. Priapism however, also known as a stubborn erection, may soon be added as a possible side effect, following the appearance of a 32 year old man in a Georgia emergency room sporting a 12-hour long erection.  

Although an unusual issue, priapism is no laughing matter. Occurring regardless of sexual intent, it can have some serious and permanent health consequences. Seriously damaging penile tissue when sustained for more than 12 hours, studies have shown that over 90% of those who remain erect for more than 24 hours lose sexual function. 

In total, the 32 year old man visited hospital twice for sustained erections after smoking marijuana; the first lasting 12 hours and the second just 6 hours thanks to an injection of phenylephrine to relieve the swelling. He also reported four other separate occasions of having had a persistent erection after smoking the substance, although these cases managed to settle down without medical help. 

The first known case of cannabis-associated priapism, it’s worth noting that the man, an African American, was tested for the four known possible causes of priapism, with none having tested positive. In particular, he was tested for sickle cell anemia, a relatively common condition to people of African descent has been linked previously to sustained erections. 

This means that, ruling out all other possible conditions, it is highly likely that the patient’s cannabis-use was linked to his priapism, although exactly how this came about remains unknown. 

Logged in the Journal of Cannabis Research, researchers investigating the issue said, “While cannabis use has already been noted in educational sources and textbooks as a potential cause of priapism, an electronic literature review was only able to identify four distinct cases of cannabis use coinciding with priapism, none of which were convincingly able to prove cannabis was the sole cause."

They continued, “Because cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance, its link to priapism suggests it may soon become more prominent within the emergency department.”


Sources: BMC, Interesting Engineering and Science Alert

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
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