Pull the curtains and put on a Barry White record. It’s that time of year again. Time to dress in silk robes and warm up the massage oil. Time to lay down next to your lover by the fire, brush the hair from their cheek and whisper, “Let’s get blazed, baby.”
You may not have heard, but cannabis has been spurring on a sexual revolution behind closed doors and between the sheets. Couples everywhere are claiming that it makes sex last longer and feel better. They even say it can help overcome sexual dysfunction and impotency.
But traditional advice has long said the opposite. Fear-mongering propaganda from the early days of the War on Some Drugs led many to believe that cannabis could lower sperm count, cause impotency and even inspire sexual deviancy. (Anything involving eye contact was considered deviant during the Reagan era.)
Both vectors of thought are driving in opposite directions, but neither has done a terribly good job of proving its case outside of anecdote. Is there a scientific basis for thinking that using weed can either turn one into a sexual powerhouse or drain the proverbial love tank?
Cannabis isn’t the only plant touted as a miracle cure for sexual dysfunction. For centuries, humans have looked for special ways to enhance their sexual prowess and performance. These substances are called “aphrodisiacs,” and their efficacy is arguable.
The most recognizable aphrodisiacs that appear in popular culture are probably horny goat weed and Spanish fly. But foods like strawberries, oysters, okra, ginseng, figs, chile peppers and chocolate have all been seen as love-boosters at one time or another. Even animal by-products like rhino horn or deer antler have been touted as substances that will increase sex drive.
A few aphrodisiacs—like the infamous Spanish fly—have been shown to cause genital pain, priapism, convulsions, kidney failure and even death. Most are much safer than Spanish fly, but many of these have been examined and found to have little or no effect on the libido. This is because many of them are simple, everyday foods like strawberries and oysters. Interestingly, the vast majority of these so-called aphrodisiac foods have no scientific basis behind their claims to sexual fame. It also appears that the placement of foods into this category relies heavily on cultural associations. In fact, it seems that most cultures choose their aphrodisiacs based on the shape of the food. Go back through the list of foods listed above and note how many have shapes resembling human genitalia. Go ahead. We won’t tell.
Meanwhile, modern science has thankfully been able to give us new drugs that actually do improve sexual function and libido, shape notwithstanding. Many of these wonder drugs work by increasing blood flow to the genitals or regulating hormone deficiencies. Others alter mood or affect serotonin production.
Cannabis’ ability to affect sexual dysfunction could arguably make sense in this light. We are still learning the medical effects of all the different cannabinoids’ interactions with receptors in the human endocannabinoid system, but what’s absolutely beyond question is that these interactions are vital to the maintenance and regulation of many of our bodies’ processes.
That means it’s likely that one of the multitude of cannabinoids that we know exist (and maybe one of the ones that we haven’t discovered yet) affects the sexual processes in some way. But this won’t do us a lot of good until we’ve narrowed down what all the different cannabinoids do.
The good news is that the number one problem with libido appears, unsurprisingly, to find its source in the mind. Western life has become increasingly stressful in ways for which human evolution did not prepare us.
Stress serves the purpose of pushing our bodies into fight-or-flight mode. When we enter into a life-or-death situation, it’s important that our bodies suspend some nonessential processes while we try to escape. To this end, our blood is flooded with stress hormones that tell the organs in charge of those processes—including those involved in sexual function—to take a break while the rest of our body takes care of the situation.
While this makes sense during a bear attack, the problem is that this same thing happens when we get into an argument, or think about debts, or get cut off in traffic, or work against a deadline. Each day brings more and more of these unnatural stressors with fewer outlets open for us to discharge the tension that builds. One physical response we see is the lowering of our natural sex drive.
And that may be why cannabis is associated with an increase in sex drive—one of its most notable uses is as a sedative. Perhaps weed is making it easier for those suffering from an overabundance of stress and anxiety to relax a little and remove the obstacle that is leaving them frozen in panic mode.
The problem is we won’t know for sure unless we take the time to properly explore and experiment in this exciting field of study. So pick up a pipe, turn the Barry White up and fulfill your duty to science.