To Be Blunt: Cannabis and sex could make the perfect pair

(Arielle Chen | Daily Trojan)

As if this column wasn’t taboo enough — let’s talk about sex.

As weed continues to be steadily commodified, it becomes harder and harder (yes, the word choice was absolutely deliberate) to think of a product that doesn’t exist in cannabis-infused form. Weed’s mass commercialization has yielded wondrous products like THC- and CBD-based lubricants and sexual enhancement pills, among other tinctures, edibles and flowers specifically advertised to make sex more pleasurable.

This isn’t a new concept — from second century India, to Medieval Europe, cannabis has had a long history of being used to enhance intimacy, develop relationships and magnify human sexuality. Centuries later, though, modern science is still trying to answer a basic question: Is cannabis an aphrodisiac?

Under its current federal classification as a Schedule I drug, cannabis is notoriously difficult to study. Add the complexities of sexual interaction — what constitutes good sex and how it can be quantified — and the conclusions academics have reached are frustratingly inconclusive. 

Most studies not only employ self-reported, survey-based methods, that are hard to verify, but they also tend to focus exclusively on white, heterosexual male experiences, include small sample sizes and rely on the subjective interpretation of concepts such as sexual arousal and enjoyment. These studies also have no way of corroborating subjects’ cannabis consumption, dosage or the chemical composition of the particular strain — THC-dominant, CBD-dominant or hybrid. 

It’s also possible that the people who have had better experiences mixing cannabis with sex are the most eager to participate in these studies, leading to bias. There’s also the placebo effect, where people expect weed to enhance sex, precluding a bad sexual encounter while under the influence. 

Oh, one more thing: Sexual activity and functioning are incredibly difficult to study, given their subjectivity, immeasurability and nuance. Biological, sociocultural, personal, psychological and many other factors drive arousal, attraction and orgasms. Sexual pleasure is also easily impacted by a person’s libido level and mood at a particular period in time.

What I’m saying is we don’t know much about anything, but some linkages have been made among increased sexual frequency, pleasure, arousal and cannabis. 

And theoretically, it makes sense that weed, based on its properties, positively impacts sex. The body’s endocannabinoid system, which is crucial in regulating pleasure, pain, relaxation and homeostasis and plays a significant role in sexual function, is activated through cannabinoids found in cannabis. This means that consuming cannabis produces feelings of relaxation, pleasure and decreased pain. Weed is a vasodilator that promotes increased blood flow and opens capillaries, enhancing sensitivity, which could then lead to better sex and orgasms. Cannabis is also known for its anxiety-reducing effects, which could lower inhibitions and feelings of pressure when it comes to sexual activity.

However, cannabis is also a biphasic compound, meaning that low versus high doses of the substance can result in opposing effects. So even though cannabis can lessen anxiety, high doses can harm cannabis’ supposed aphrodisiac qualities.

Research also seems to indicate that cannabis affects men and women in different ways, especially when sex is a factor. According to sex therapist Lawrence Siegel, THC targets a part of the brain associated with libido and sexual arousal in women. CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabis compound, is associated with relaxation and decreased pain, meaning it could be helpful for women who have endometriosis or who experience pain during sex.

For men, cannabis use has been associated with erectile dysfunction, lower sperm count and trouble orgasming or orgasming too quickly — potentially due to weed’s testosterone-lowering effects, a hormone linked to both men and women’s sex drives. Contrastingly, another study found that moderate cannabis use can contribute to higher sperm count and other reproductive benefits, possibly indicating that only high doses of cannabis lead to negative effects.

Interestingly, a 2017 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found a correlation between sexual frequency and cannabis use, where daily users across all demographics reported having 20% more sex than those who had never consumed cannabis. The study also concluded that weed doesn’t seem to impair sexual function.

OK, that’s all great, but can you even consent to sex if you’re high? The answer isn’t so black and white. 

As legalization blows through the nation, lawmakers and scientists struggle to form comprehensive policies regulating cannabis consumption with certain basic activities, like driving. Legislation regarding consent and cannabis isn’t even on the radar, not to mention some states’ definitions of consent are still ridiculously outdated and inadequate.

It would be much easier to conclude that any mind-altering substance shouldn’t be mixed with something as intimate as sex. But the reality is that legislation and modern culture have concluded that sex and drugs are much more complex: People can and often do consent to sex while under the influence.

It goes without saying, cannabis affects decision-making and sexual behavior in widely disparate ways from alcohol. While there are direct links between alcohol and unsafe sexual behavior and aggression, there is no such evidence directly connecting cannabis with rape and sexual assault.

Ultimately, sex is complex enough as it is without adding cannabis to the equation. The minimal and flawed studies conducted regarding the subject are inconclusive, and there’s no concrete evidence cannabis improves sex or treats sexual dysfunctions.

Regardless, if you choose to experiment with cannabis during sexual activity, it’s important to establish boundaries, start with low doses, go slow and emphasize affirmative consent. It could also be helpful to first experiment with yourself before doing so with a partner. 

Sex should be enjoyable and safe, and thorough research, specifically larger quantifiable studies with more diverse populations, on cannabis’ effects and human sexuality is desperately needed. Meanwhile, make sure to consult a sex therapist or doctor about any sexual health problems or concerns.

Natalie Oganesyan is a junior writing about weed culture and politics. She is also the Associate Managing Editor. Her column, “To Be Blunt,” runs every other Friday.