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Sep 15, 2019 4 min read

Cannabis and sex: What the science says

by Mary Biles
Medically reviewed by Roni Sharon, MD

Cannabis is consumed by an estimated 147 million people worldwide. While many governments list various unwanted side effects as reasons not to legalize the plant, those who regularly use cannabis report a very pleasurable consequence ⁠— improved sexual experience and in some cases, greater intensity of orgasms. In this article, we’re going to take a look at both what science and anecdotal reports say about cannabis and sexual function.

For something so natural as sex, one would imagine it would always be something that comes easily to us. Whereas in reality, 43% of women and 31% of men have some kind of sexual dysfunction such as difficulties in reaching orgasm or premature ejaculation.  Tiredness, stress, anxiety or just pure boredom can leave our libido lacking and many of us would rather read a good book before bedtime then engage in any bedroom antics. 

If one way of measuring sexual function is how often we have sex (although many would dispute this), statistics suggest that marijuana users have a higher frequency of sexual activity and crucially, without impairment of sexual function. Assuming sexual function is about quality rather than quantity, Marijuana users also report consuming the plant before sex enhances their experience of lovemaking. 

Why cannabis and sex complement each other

People take Marijuana, whether recreational or medical, for a host of reasons, but most share the same common experience: that cannabis consumption tends to create feelings of relaxation and wellbeing.

This is most probably caused by two key compounds within marijuana; Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for the high associated with recreational marijuana, and it is this recreational use that has been most studied in relation to cannabis and sexual function. So, we might assume that effects like the slowing down of time and the intensification of feelings of sexual pleasure reported by Marijuana users might be attributed to the THC dominant strains they are consuming.  

CBD may also have a role in improving sexual function. Many people take CBD oil as a natural way to reduce stress, indeed, studies show that CBD lessens feelings of anxiety and may even relieve depression by activating the 5HT1A serotonin receptors in the brain. Makes sense then if we’re less stressed, more relaxed and happy, our libido will thank us in return. 

The endocannabinoid system and sex

One biological reason why cannabis may enhance how we experience sex is due to its intimate relationship with our endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Discovered in the 1990s when scientists were studying the effects of THC, they found a vast network of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) throughout the body, as well as natural cannabis-like chemicals called endocannabinoids (anandamide, 2-AG plus related endogenous compounds: arachidonic acid (AA), N-palmitoylethanolamine (PEA), and N-oleoylethanolamine (OEA)). These endocannabinoids are produced on demand when some imbalance is detected in the body and are broken down by enzymes (FAAH and MAGL) once their homeostatic-regulating work is done.   

The ECS is involved in the regulation of every key biological function; appetite, sleep, mood, pain regulation, immune health, and of course sexual function. The reality is though, when it comes to understanding ECS involvement in sexual function, it really is early days and some conflicting research exists.

Take for instance the endocannabinoid anandamide – named after the sanskrit word, ‘ananda,’ meaning bliss. Studies show when we exercise, anandamide levels are elevated causing the often reported ‘runner’s high’, so one would imagine the same thing might occur during sex. 

However, one study measuring endocannabinoid concentrations in women during sexual arousal while watching erotic videos found quite the opposite; both anandamide and 2-AG actually decreased. Although conversely, scientists found healthy subjects (male and female) who masturbated until orgasm had elevated levels of 2-AG, concluding that “that 2-AG release plays a role in the rewarding consequences of sexual arousal and orgasm.” 

As THC stimulates the ECS by activating both CB1 and CB2 receptors, it’s probable that many of the reported sex-benefits from cannabis are THC derived. 

Cannabis and sexual function: The stats

Getting reliable data on human sexual function under laboratory conditions is a rather challenging task. So, right now most studies use retrospective analysis or surveys. The most recent and perhaps in-depth investigation surveyed 373 female subjects over the age of 18, half of which were regular marijuana users. 

Of the women who consumed cannabis before sex, 68.5% reported their overall sexual experience to be more pleasurable, 60.6% found their sex drive to be greater, and 52.8% said they had more satisfying orgasms. Not only that, compared to the non-cannabis using women, those using marijuana before sex had a 2.13 higher chance of satisfactory orgasms. 

For men, the results are less conclusive. One study interviewed a group of students, of which 88% were men, found sufficient evidence to suggest “some experienced smokers have derived an enhancement of sexual pleasure while they were using marijuana.” 

However, when it comes to erectile function or dysfunction due to Marijuana use, there’s no hard and fast answer (excuse the pun), with some subjects reporting both superior erectile function, while others the opposite.

While perhaps more related to fertility than sexual function, testosterone production also seems to be affected by Marijuana use, but scientists can’t agree on whether it increases or decreases. Although latest research seems to suggest that testosterone production is indeed augmented.

Cannabis and sexual function — pros and cons

Possible ProsPossible Cons
  • Increased sexual enjoyment
  • Better, more satisfying orgasms
  • 50% more chance of achieving orgasm
  • Increased sex drive
  • People who smoke cannabis
    have more sex
  • Uncertainty about the effect of THC on testosterone production
  • Possibility of erectile dysfunction

So, we might just have uncovered the best-kept secret of marijuana users: that they have both more enjoyable and more frequent sex than their non-cannabis consuming peers. On a more serious note, however, if you are experiencing persistent sexual dysfunction, it is always advisable to consult a medical professional. 

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