Cannabis and sexuality have a long and complicated history. Their relationship can be traced all the way back to the seventh century in India when tantric use arose “in practices of Shaivite Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism.”
Educator and Cannabis historian Dr. Michael Alridrich explored these origins in a 1977 volume of the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs.
In its darker historical moments (flashback to Reefer Madness), Cannabis was depicted as a dangerous substance used by predacious and sexually promiscuous people.
Harry Anslinger, fierce pursuer of prohibition and former commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, publicly campaigned against Cannabis, declaring that use encouraged “…sex crimes and insanity.”
From Mexican immigrants to African-American jazz musicians, Cannabis has been widely associated with populations unjustly profiled as a sexual threat to white America. Eric Schlosser – investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling author – reveals Anslinger’s influence and explores other historical connections to Cannabis prohibition in his book, Reefer Madness.
We now understand that the connection between Cannabis and sex stems from how our brains perceive pleasure – a human feeling that has been religiously and politically demonized through history for its association with sexual behavior. Today, access and information have shifted public perception and allowed more Americans to experiment freely.
From couples with chronic pain to libido-seeking lovers, more and more people are ingesting Cannabis before intercourse. Cannabis lubricants have become a dispensary staple, and some strains are even marketed as an aphrodisiac. But what do we really know about how Cannabis interacts with our sexual functions?
Dr. Becky Lynn, a gynecologist in St. Louis, wanted to offer a better explanation when women came to her about Cannabis use and sexual health. In an interview with Global News Canada, Dr. Lynn told reporters that she tried to read up on the topic, but there was almost no research, so earlier this year she started a study. The sample size was small (with only 373 participants), but what she found after adjusting for race and age verified her own experience with patients:
Women with frequent marijuana use, regardless of use before sex or not, had 2.10 times higher odds of reporting satisfactory orgasms than those with infrequent marijuana use.
But the connection between Cannabis use and orgasm is difficult to quantify. So for a closer understanding, we can look at something measurable – like THC’s effects on the brain.
Cannabis and sexual desire both spark a similar reaction in the mesolimbic-mesocortical system, the part of our brain responsible for things like arousal and reward. According to a study by Dr. Bernard Brodie at the University of Cagliari Department of Neuroscience, the dopamine receptors also play a “major role in the control of male sexual behavior.” Dopamine is a chemical most commonly associated with happiness, but this neurotransmitter/hormone has a long history of scientific instability when it comes to Cannabis.
For years, studies were funded and designed to look specifically for a connection between Cannabis use and psychosis – an event generally associated with an imbalance in dopamine functions. Many concluded that Cannabis use interfered with dopamine neurotransmission and in the spirit of this research, dubbed it the cause of abnormalities like schizophrenia.
In 2015, the European Neuropsychopharmacology journal provided a “systematic review of all studies” that had previously examined the effects of THC on the dopamine system. They found “little direct evidence to suggest that Cannabis use affects acute striatal dopamine release.”
But their findings did suggest that “chronic Cannabis use blunts dopamine synthesis and release capacity.”
What does this mean for your sex life as a Cannabis consumer?
Theoretically, Cannabis can make you feel good, and often in a way that benefits our sexual functions, but our individual use varies greatly.
If you feel Cannabis has negatively affected your sex drive, consider your consumption frequency and dosing. Dr. Brodie’s “Dopamine and Sexual Behavior” study provides a peek into the relationship between dopaminergic activity and sexual behavior. Like many substances, an influx of cannabinoids can upset this chemical balance, sometimes resulting in effects like reduced libido.
story & photos by amanda day @terpodactyl_media for leaf nation