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Cannabis-Induced Penile "Shrinkage" Claims Are Back

By David Jenison on April 3, 2018

Nearly a century ago, prohibitionists pushed the claim that cannabis turned people into raving mad psychopaths, but most Americans dismissed the propaganda and simply kept on smoking. A more recent claim could actually be more effective at tapering use, if only it weren't so ridiculous. In 1994, a medical journal reported on anxiety attacks experienced by men who thought cannabis shrunk their junk. The clinical term is cannabis-induced koro, and it's back again with another reported case. 

"Cannabis induced koro in a Nepali migrant," a study published in Asian Journal of Psychiatry, documented a 30-year-old male in India who freaked out after consuming cannabis and sensing shrinkage. He checked into a hospital "with complaints of episodes of retraction of penis into abdominal cavity with pain in genital area during episode. Patient felt as if penis was shrinking and going to disappear." 

I guess feeling paranoid after eating too many edibles doesn't sound so bad now. 

 The term "koro," which comes from a Malay expression for "turtle's head," is a panic attack associated with the perception of penile retraction. Fortunately for the cannabis-loving men having a panic attack right now, koro is a psychological phenomenon, not a physiological one. No cause-and-effect mechanism connects cannabis and penile retraction, and there's little evidence of correlation.

In 1994, the Addiction journal reported the first-known cases of cannabis-induced koro, which involved two Indian men who experienced shrinkage after their first cannabis experiences. Urologia Internationalis documented the first case in Greece in 2006, while University of Albany professor Dr. Mitch Earleywine noted three American cases in a 2001 study for Addiction. Dr. Earleywine, a member of the NORML Advisory Board, reported that all three Americans experienced koro after hearing about the 1994 study and consuming cannabis in a novel new way. 

PRØHBTD asked Dr. Earleywine if he heard of individuals who experienced cannabis-induced koro without previous knowledge of the condition, and he said, "Actually, no. I think the idea that it is culturally limited is really just a product of the expectancy, too. Only those who know about it ever seem to get it." 

For non-stoned koro in general, widespread knowledge has actually led to epidemics. An early version of koro occurred in Europe in the late Middle Ages with men who believed witches shrunk their penises using black magic. Hainan Island in the South China Sea famously experienced outbreaks dating back to the late 19th century, and in 1967, nearly 500 people in Singapore sought medical help for vaccinated pork-induced koro. In 2010, a similar epidemic swept through India affecting hundreds of people in West Bengal, Assam, Mumbai and Tripura. Interestingly, a 2013 study in the World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review looked at 55 cases from the Indian epidemic and found that 95 percent of the patients smoked tobacco, 21 percent abused alcohol and less than four percent consumed cannabis. 

Oddly enough, some studies even associate koro with stopping substance use: A man from Oman experienced shrinkage anxiety during Ramadan-prompted alcohol withdrawal (Transcultural Psychiatry 2008), and heroin withdrawal produced a similar effect per the oddly titled "Drug-induced Koro in a Non-Chinese Man" (British Journal of Psychiatry 1991). 

At the end of the day, is there reason for concern among cannabis-consuming men and the women who date them? Not according to Dr. Earleywine, who said, "It's too rare to be taken seriously." 

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