Man, 32, experienced painful erections lasting up to 12 hours after smoking marijuana, researchers say

Researchers found that the man did not have any of the other underlying causes of priapism, a persistent and painful erection of the penis that lasts more than four hours and is unrelated to sexual activity


                            Man, 32, experienced painful erections lasting up to 12 hours after smoking marijuana, researchers say
(Getty Images)
ADVERTISEMENT

In what researchers suspect is the first case of its kind, a man who complained of having several prolonged erections, including one that lasted for 12 hours, might have marijuana to blame.

The case was detailed in the Journal of Cannabis Research in an entry titled 'Recurrent priapism in the setting of cannabis use' and was about a 32-year-old African-American male who had painful, long-lasting erections regularly after smoking marijuana.

ADVERTISEMENT

Priapism is a persistent and painful erection of the penis that lasts more than four hours and is unrelated to sexual activity, and if untreated, can cause permanent damage. A variety of illicit drugs, as well as prescription medication like anti-depressants, are well-known causes of priapism, but researchers admitted that this particular case was the first where "cannabis alone was the inciting factor."

ADVERTISEMENT

The researchers wrote that the unidentified man had first gone to the hospital's emergency room complaining of an erection that lasted for 12 hours and was unrelated to sexual activity, and was given an injection of phenylephrine to relieve the problem. He reportedly went to the emergency room again two weeks later, this time for an erection that supposedly lasted over six hours.

ADVERTISEMENT

"On physical exam, the patient was mildly hypertensive with an erect, swollen, and tender penis," researchers wrote. "A repeat needle aspiration with (1000 mcg total) of phenylephrine was completed, again resulting in successful detumescence."

When questioned, the 32-year-old revealed he had smoked cannabis "several nights per week for the past six months," including within the two hours before he got the sustained erections. He said that, over the course of six months, he had at least four instances of erections lasting close to four hours but that they usually subsided on their own.

ADVERTISEMENT

He also told doctors he had started smoking cannabis at the age of 16 and that he had had several long-lasting erections during the time that subsided without intervention. He said he stopped using cannabis in his 20s and did not experience priapism even once during the period.

When doctors looked further, they found he did not have any of the other conditions that could have explained the priapism. He did not have a history of psychiatric disease, never took prescribed or over-the-counter medications, and had no family history of sickle cell anemia.

ADVERTISEMENT

They said a complete blood count revealed no anemia and a "normal mean corpuscular volume" and that a urine drug screen showed he used just cannabis and no other drug. "He had no medical history other than mild hypertension, he took no medications, and used only cannabis, supported by his urinary drug screen," they wrote. "Further, his history exhibited a convincing correlation between his cannabis use and his episodes of recurrent priapism."

ADVERTISEMENT

They did not say how exactly cannabis could have triggered the problem but did theorize that the chemicals in the plant may have switched off signals in the brain that ended erections. They also suggested it might have to do with blood vessels dilating during marijuana use, which could "potentiate the unrelenting erection notable in priapism."

ADVERTISEMENT