Cannabis can heighten the senses. Sunsets become more exquisite, movies more exciting, your lover’s eyes more dreamy. The sense of touch also changes as certain cannabinoids may enhance tactile sensation and lessen discomfort, making everything from a hug to sexual intimacy more enjoyable.
For many people who experience worry around sex, cannabis consumption before the event can make for a more relaxed, less worrisome experience in the bedroom. Read on to learn about how cannabis can help ease anxiety and heighten sexual pleasure.
The endocannabinoid system
Named after the cannabis plant that led to its discovery, the endocannabinoid system is involved in maintaining human health on various levels. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the endocannabinoid system performs different tasks to promote homeostasis in the body despite changes in the external environment .
Within this system, our body’s natural receptors get stimulated by our body’s own endocannabinoids: molecules that have a structural similarity to molecules in the cannabis plant. These cannabis-like molecules move through our bodies, affecting our sensations and perceptions. Similarly, the effects of the cannabis plant occur when cannabis molecules (cannabinoids or phytocannabinoids) engage with our bodies’ cellular machinery and connect with cannabinoid receptors .
Endocannabinoids (made by our body) and cannabinoids (made by plants) play vital parts at various junctions of the body’s systems, allowing the modulation of bodily events. For example, at an injury site, cannabinoids may be involved in sensitivity to pain. The endocannabinoid system’s complex interactions with our immune system, nervous system, and other systems form a bridge between mind and body .
Cannabinoids can also influence a person’s relationship with their environment. For instance, they can alter perceptions and behavior as they bond with the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system, affecting things like social interaction, emotion, and creativity. Through this process, cannabinoids may forge new pathways of open-mindedness and the ability to move beyond limiting patterns of behavior and thought .
Recalibrating these limiting patterns of thought and behavior can be an awakening aspect of sexual health, confidence, and comfort.
The entourage effect in relation to sexual experiences
The entourage effect is a theory that explains how the different compounds in cannabis work together synergistically to enhance the effects of the plant.
Cannabis consists of hundreds of botanical compounds, including cannabinoids (such as CBD, THC, and CBG), flavonoids, and terpenes. Each compound brings its own unique effects and benefits to an experience, and each compound’s behavior can change when combined with other compounds. This interplay among cannabis compounds affects the experience of the user .
The entourage effect can facilitate better sex by affecting your body on multiple levels. For instance, a full-spectrum product—meaning it contains all of the components of the plant— might make for a less anxious sexual experience and promote more pleasure during sex, than if an isolated cannabinoid was used alone.
History of cannabis and sex
For centuries, cannabis has been associated with sex. In seventh-century India, for example, it was included in the Kama Sutra and used in tantric sex rituals. Additionally, cannabis was used to honor the pagan love goddess Freya in pre-Christian Scandinavia, where they believed that cannabis held the erotic powers of the love goddess .
More recently, Victorian Europeans believed that cannabis consumption led to happy marriages. Who knew those buttoned-up Victorians were so sexually savvy? Across the Atlantic in the US, cannabis was declared an aphrodisiac in the Pharmacopeia publication from the late 1850s to 1940s, describing cannabis pills and extracts as “stimulating the sexual appetite” and countering the lack of sexual desire, a condition they referred to as “sexual torpor .”
The late 1930s’ “Refer Madness” brought in new fears. The US Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner claimed that cannabis turned women into nymphomaniacs who sought “relations with Negros and entertainers. ” This sexist and racist nonsense advanced the agenda of cannabis criminalization. Soon, cannabis became a Schedule I controlled substance in the US .
Thankfully, many forms of cannabis have been decriminalized. Indeed, many hemp-derived products are now widely available and legalized on a federal level.
Common issues with anxiety and sex
Sex is supposed to be enjoyable. But it’s hard to enjoy it if you’re worried or stressed. When your mind is preoccupied, it’s tough for your body to get excited.
Common issues around sex and anxiety include:
- Fear that you won’t satisfy your partner
- Insecurity about your body image if you are self-conscious about how you look
- Unresolved struggles in your relationship with your partner
- Performance anxiety
- Worry that you may not be able to reach orgasm or have sufficient sexual enjoyment
- Erectile dysfunction
Most people have experienced some of these issues at some point in their lives. Likewise, many who struggle with sexual anxiety or sexual dysfunction are thrilled to find that cannabis can ease some of that. Undeniably, cannabis can help relax your mind and body, clearing the way for your desires to take the lead instead of your worries. But it’s important to find the right strain or product to meet your individual needs. Not every product is for everyone.
How CBD can help sexual anxiety
Though more research is needed, several studies point to the potential benefits of CBD. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse published a study that showed CBD’s therapeutic efficacy in lowering anxiety and stress in animal models. In additional studies, they showed the efficacy of CBD in human clinical trials where CBD reduced anxiety in patients who were subjected to stressful public speaking events as well as those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) .
These, and other anecdotal reports, indicate the strong potential for CBD to help people who are suffering .
Additional studies reveal CBD’s potential to help ease the destructive thought cycles in which a person can find themself trapped when replaying negative memories. These studies have considered how CBD might serve as both a standalone aid or supplement to current mainstream treatments like medication or therapy . More research is needed regarding CBD in connection with these issues.
Nonetheless, the results of these studies are music to the ears of those who seek less stressful sexual experiences. Mental health is a complicated realm, so if you’re taking CBD to help facilitate less worrisome, more enjoyable sex, it’s important to also nurture other aspects of your sex life, like an emotional connection with your partner and clear communication. Also, you could talk to your doctor about other ways to help your anxiety around sex.
Can Delta-9 THC help anxiety around sex?
Perhaps the most popular cannabinoid for sex, Delta-9 THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. This particular cannabinoid may alter your sexual experience in more dramatic ways than other cannabinoids like CBD. For instance, a Psychology Today blogger interviewed some of his patients about how THC affected their experience with sex and was told by many of them that it transformed their sex lives. “I’m not a frequent smoker,” said one patient, “but when I have smoked [marijuana with THC] and then had sex, it’s been the most amazing sex of my life.” Another reported: “Marijuana engulfs me in sex foam. I’m just pure sex on that stuff .”
Though THC has this wonderfully positive effect for many, it can do the opposite for others. For instance, it can amplify feelings of paranoia and social anxiety in some. For this reason, it’s key to go easy on products containing THC, even the small amounts of THC that may be present in federally compliant hemp products, until you know how your body responds to it. Or, if the effects of Delta-9 are not in your comfort zone, try choosing a different product with CBD, a cannabinoid known for gentler effects.
Keep in mind that it may not be the THC giving you the cerebral angst that you wish to avoid but rather the type of strain or dosage. Many cannabis strains have different combinations of cannabinoids that yield more sensual, less mind-bending effects. Also, lighter doses of Delta-9 THC can generally make for better sexual healing than higher doses.
Cannabis and libido
Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary-care doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and a medical-cannabis consultant, suggests that taking cannabis in low doses can improve libido and enhance orgasm. “At low doses,” he told the New York Times, “cannabis helps libido, but at high doses, it often isn’t as effective.” The wrong dosage, he maintains, will make some people paranoid and anxious. It’s even possible, he argues, that too much THC could inhibit orgasm, creating the opposite of what the user intended .
Sex therapist Amanda Pasciucco explained to CNN why cannabis may help her patients. People who use cannabis, she says, “may have more sex because they put less pressure on themselves when they are high, so they don’t have the same performance anxiety as those who are sober.” She practices in a state where medical marijuana is legal, so she is free to prescribe marijuana to her patients. She maintains that even a small amount may “help increase your ability to communicate your preferences to your partner .”
Other cannabinoids like CBD and CBG can boost libido without the psychoactive effects by promoting vasodilation  and triggering the calming neurotransmitter anandamide .
Menopause, anxiety, and cannabis
Hormonal changes associated with menopause result in fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone that can cause various symptoms, including sleep disturbances, hot flashes, depression, and anxiety; all issues that can get in the way of a good sex life. But researchers have found that cannabis may help menopausal women with some issues. Though more research is needed, certain cannabinoids such as CBD and THC seem to promote increased blood flow, increased sensitivity, relief, better orgasms, and sex drive. Additionally, cannabis may counter some of the worry or fear ushered in by menopause so that women at this time in life can reconnect with their sexual selves without these hindrances .
How much should I take?
To experience a positive effect on your mood in relation to sex, it’s important not to take too much THC. However, your optimal dose depends upon several things: the strength of the strain, cannabinoids present, your body weight, what food or other substances you might have in your system, and your personal chemistry.
Since the effects of different strains vary widely, it isn’t easy to prescribe a specific dose across the board. While products generally have a suggested serving size listed on each package, the strength of its effects on a particular person will differ. Generally speaking, it is recommended that you start with a small amount and gradually increase it until you reach satisfactory results.
Those newer to cannabis products can easily achieve a lighter effect by taking half or a quarter as much as the recommended dosage. More experienced users can take more. Personal preference is the key to unlocking the right dose for the right balance. Go easy on your pre-sex cannabis intake and slowly increase it if you want a stronger effect.
The legality of cannabis
Thanks to the Farm Bills, a wide range of hemp-derived cannabis products are legally available even in states that do not have medical or recreational marijuana programs.
The 2014 Farm Bill removed hemp from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) list of Schedule 1 substances, ushering in the widespread commercialization of cannabis. The Bill defined hemp as cannabis with 0.3 percent or less Delta-9 THC and deemed it federally compliant, allowing long-forbidden research to begin after almost a century of prohibition.
Expanding on the first Bill, the 2018 Farm Bill allowed the production, sale, and consumption of hemp-derived products. Legal experts maintain that all plant materials and substances derived from legally-defined hemp are also federally compliant .
Since this federal legislation defines cannabis plants with less than 0.3 percent of Delta-9 THC per dry weight as hemp plants, hemp production and consumption in all 50 states has burgeoned over the past decade. However, a plant with more than 0.3 percent Delta-9 THC per dry weight is still defined as marijuana, which federal law continues to treat as a controlled substance on the DEA’s Schedule 1 list. Even so, over half of the states allow medical use and/or adult recreational use of marijuana containing much more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC.
Anxiety around sex is understandable in a country whose sexual pressures and tropes seem to leave little room for imperfection. But the truth is, most adults have experienced sexual anxiety at some point, and few can live up to the sexual ideals promoted by media and popular culture. That’s why many of us could use a little help to let go of those worries and pressures, kick back, embrace the life force, and allow ourselves to have good sex.
Medical Disclaimer / Legal Disclaimer – Information is provided for educational purposes. It does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice or medical advice. We attempt to be accurate and up-to-date, but the legality of cannabinoids and the science of cannabis are evolving. The author is neither a legal professional nor a medical expert. Before buying or using any products, you should check with your local authorities and medical providers.
- Clarke, R., & Merlin, M. (2016). Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany. University of California Press