In the "Ask Well" column, there's been chatter about treatments for low libido in women. After that, a bunch of folks started wondering if cannabis might just be one of those potential remedies.
Now, this isn't just a random question. The U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill decriminalizing marijuana on a federal level. Marijuana, the most commonly used federally illegal drug, is now allowed for medical use in 37 states and for adult use in 18. According to a 2020 survey, about 18% of Americans over 12 had tried it in the past year, and over 67% are all for legalization, based on various polls.
To dive deeper into the connection between cannabis and sexuality, we reached out to some experts, including a gynecologist who's been studying marijuana use in women.
Here's the bottom line: It's tough to say for sure if cannabis will boost sexual desire or enhance one's sex life. But, there's plenty of stories out there suggesting that the right dose of cannabis can make women's sexual experiences more fulfilling and increase their libido. Part of this might be because cannabis can heighten the senses and ease symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, and pain that can put a damper on desire. It might also have some positive effects for men, but there are some potential downsides women should be aware of. So, what's the research saying?
For ages, both men and women have reported that cannabis changes their sexual experience. Way back in 1971, the astronomer Carl Sagan, a regular toker himself, wrote that cannabis "enhances the enjoyment of sex" and gives an "exquisite sensitivity."
But, research on cannabis and libido is kinda thin, partly because of the challenges in funding studies on a federally illegal substance in the U.S. Most of the research leans on survey data, which can be biased towards folks who already use cannabis and doesn't necessarily represent the general population. Plus, these surveys don't give the full picture on dosage, how it's taken, or when.
Despite these hurdles, the limited evidence suggests that marijuana seems to enhance the sexual experience for many women who already partake.
Dr. Becky K. Lynn, a sexual medicine and menopause expert and founder of Evora Women’s Health in St. Louis, has had patients come to her with low libido complaints. Some have said, "I've got low libido. Can you help?" and then mentioned that cannabis helps them climax without a hitch. They also reported a libido boost from using marijuana.
Dr. Lynn, who also teaches at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, led a 2019 study surveying 373 women at an OB-GYN clinic in Missouri. Of them, 34% said they'd used marijuana before getting intimate, and most said it led to increased desire, more satisfying orgasms, and less pain.
Other research has found that some women use cannabis to manage menopause symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and vaginal changes like dryness – all things that can tank libido if left unchecked.
Additionally, an online survey of over 200 women and men cannabis users found that about 60% said cannabis boosted their desire, while nearly 74% reported greater sexual satisfaction. However, this study, done by experts in Canada and published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, noted that 16% said they saw improvements in some sexual areas but not others, and just under 5% felt their sexual experience was worse.
Research on cannabis use and male sexual function is also sparse and has mixed results. The International Society for Sexual Medicine reports that some men say marijuana improves their performance, while others might experience issues like reduced motivation for sex, erectile dysfunction, trouble climaxing, or premature ejaculation. Plus, cannabis use has been linked to reductions in sperm count, concentration, motility, and viability.
Starting low and going slow is key when it comes to any substance, including cannabis.
If a doctor gives the green light for cannabis use in a legal state, Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care doc at Massachusetts General Hospital and a cannabis medicine expert, advises newbies to start with a "small dose", sometimes as low as 1 milligram of THC, marijuana's main psychoactive compound. According to him, in low doses, cannabis might help increase libido, but in high doses, it might not work as well and could even cause anxiety and paranoia. Plus, in high doses, it might inhibit climax, achieving the opposite of what's desired.
Dr. Lynn agrees that it's essential to start small and go slow.
The right amount of marijuana can vary from person to person, so it's crucial to pay attention to how your body responds individually.
Since cannabis can affect judgment, coordination, and reaction times, folks using psychoactive substances before or during intimacy should make sure both they and their partners are in a position to have safe and consensual relations.