Do sex and the endocannabinoid system really go together? They sure do. A woman slips out of her robe and reclines on the bed. Her lover lights up a pre-roll and opens the side table drawer, taking out a peach-flavored Delta-9 gummy. He hands it to her with a wink. Making space for him on the bed, she pops it into her mouth and throws back the quilt where they lie listening to a sultry trumpet solo from the stereo. Soon, the cannabinoids will take effect in their bodies.
What’s happening inside their bodies is this: the cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD) in the Pre-roll and gummy will find their way into the lovers’ endocannabinoid systems, where they will bond with cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2 receptors) and alter things about their experiences. Sense of touch, sexual arousal, modulation, emotions and many other things are affected by the complex interaction of cannabis compounds with the endocannabinoid system .
Anecdotally speaking, many people have found that certain cannabinoids can set the stage for incredible sexual experiences. Read on to discover exactly what happens when cannabinoids enter the body and how they might affect your sexual pleasure, drive, and satisfaction.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex system that has evolved over millions of years. The largest receptor system in the human body, the ECS’s primary role is to maintain homeostasis. Scientists only discovered this system recently as they were exploring the effects of THC on the human body. Part of what they discovered was that the system had remarkably similar structures to compounds of the cannabis plant, yet with a differential expression. These similarities are what makes the relationship between cannabis and the endocannabinoid system so powerful .
Within the ECS, the body makes a class of chemicals called endocannabinoids that interact with endocannabinoid receptors, affecting bodily sensations and functions such as learning, memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses, sexual responses, and eating.
As it happens, the cannabis plant has molecules that are similar in structure to these endocannabinoids. These are called cannabinoids (or phytocannabinoids) and engage with these same receptors, altering the same bodily processes as the endocannabinoids. For example, when someone smokes or ingests Delta-9 THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabinoid receptor expression will be psychoactive and might give the user a euphoric effect. In contrast, the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) will initiate a different kind of functional expression, such as relief or calm. Though scientists are beginning to understand the significant differences in the ways various cannabinoids work in the ECS , more research is needed to determine the exact effects of CBD on humans.
Cannabinoid receptors in brain areas are called CB1 receptors. They serve to control and modulate the activity of many of our neurotransmitters. Giving constant feedback to other systems, they turn up or down things that might need adjustments, like hunger, temperature, pleasure, or alertness .
CB2 receptors, in contrast, are throughout our immune tissues and are crucial to maintaining healthy immune system function. These receptors can modulate things like intestinal inflammation and other immune-related functions. Both cannabinoids and endocannabinoids have been shown to interact with hormones and neurotransmitters that mediate sexual behavior .
Does cannabis use increase sex drive?
Brain research has shown that cannabinoid receptors play an important role in sexual function for both men and women. Indeed, cannabinoid receptors exist in high concentrations in areas of the brain that control sexual sensation and drive. Additionally, evidence suggests that when our bodies are in states of sexual arousal, our blood levels feature an increased expression of endocannabinoids .
Cannabinoid receptor activation may also promote elevated sexual responses, but further research is needed to confirm this theory. Some cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, may have indirect influences as they may help to alleviate anxiety or elevate mood, factors which may lead to significant increases in sexual confidence and receptivity during sexual activity for some .
THC and sex
For centuries people have used cannabis, featuring the famous Delta-9 THC cannabinoid, for male and female sexual arousal and drive. For example, in 2nd century India, Tantrism was practiced in both Hindu and Buddhist cannabis rituals. This type of sex-related religious expression is intended to lift people’s consciousness to find oneness with each other, Tantrism focused on absolute unity. Tantric sex rituals included sessions where the participants would consume cannabis and partake in love making rituals .
Another example of the historical association of cannabis with sex is in the Norse fertility goddess Freya in ancient Scandinavia. The deity was said to protect the hemp and flax fields— places where erotic rituals took place . Even in 19th century America, cannabis was thought to help maintain happy marriages and treat a condition doctors referred to as “sexual torpor;” the state of low sexual desire .
Research on how THC might affect sexual function and overall sexual health is scarce. However, since the Farm Bills, some studies have shed light on the potential medicinal use of cannabis. While scientists are still trying to understand the precise relationship between THC and male and female sexual function, a growing body of evidence points to a meaningful connection.
For example, a recent survey published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that women who frequently used cannabis with THC had heightened sexual desire, more intense orgasms, increased sexual frequency, and greater sexual satisfaction .
CBD and sex
Though different components must be considered when measuring the effects of cannabinoid use, a recent survey illuminated the important role that CBD may play in sexual arousal and climax. Remedy Review‘s survey included 5,398 participants and found that 9.3 percent of respondents who took CBD to improve their sex life found CBD to intensify their orgasms .
Other ways CBD might facilitate better orgasms is by reducing anxiety (including performance anxiety) which may, in turn, promote less inhibited expressions of sexual desire and less self-consciousness during sexual performance. It follows that if CBD can reduce anxiety, as many people anecdotally claim, then it might help to enhance pleasure and orgasms.
Scientists explore why cannabis and sex go together
The authors of the aforementioned Journal of Sexual Medicine survey proposed that there may be multiple reasons why cannabis may enhance sexual experience. “The question of how marijuana leads to these positive changes in sexual function is unknown,” they reported, adding, “it has been postulated that it leads to improvement in sexual function simply by lowering stress and anxiety .”
Additionally, the authors purported that cannabis use may slow the perception of time, and “prolong the feelings of pleasurable sensations.” They expressed that cannabis may influence sex by heightening sensations, “such as touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing.” Additionally, they correlated these theories with the reports that reflected the women’s heightened touch sensations and enhanced feelings of physical closeness when they used cannabis before a sexual experience .
The endocannabinoid system and pain
Scientists have discovered that mammalian tissues contain two types of endocannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors occur in central neurons of the peripheral and central nervous system whereas CB2 receptors occur mostly in immune cells. An endocannabinoid is defined as the endogenous ligand of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), and a growing body of evidence has emerged indicating that shows it may play an important role in several physiological conditions and diseases .
The molecule also appears to have the potential to initiate a significant decrease in certain types of pain, including neuropathic pain. Cannabinoids like CBD and THC, and even synthetic cannabinoids, have additionally shown similar promise in animal studies, yet more research is needed. .
Though cannabinoids are found in cannabis, their cousin endocannabinoids are produced naturally in the body from essential fatty acids. A new study regarding animal tissue revealed the cascade of chemical reactions that convert omega-3 fatty acids into cannabinoids that may provide anti-inflammatory benefits. These benefits may also have implications on pain sensation, yet additional research is needed to know its efficacy in humans .
Another study showed that mice who lacked the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase were impaired in their ability to process anandamide (the “bliss neurotransmitter”) and when treated with THC, showed CB1-dependent pain relief potential. Thus, the researchers concluded that pharmacological sciences could potentially target pain or neuropsychiatric disorders with variations of THC, but further study is needed to determine how and if the conclusions relate to humans .
The legality of cannabis and the Farm Bills
Cannabis’ legal history is a complicated one. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 outlawed cannabis cultivation. This made it challenging for farmers to produce even hemp. Further limiting hemp cultivation, Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which gave hemp the same status as marijuana under the law .
Yet, hemp’s commercial resurgence came after the 2014 Farm Bill removed hemp from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) list of Schedule 1 substances, which made hemp federally compliant and allowed cannabis research to begin.
Expanding on the first Bill, the 2018 Farm Bill allowed people to produce, sell, and consume hemp-derived products. Legal experts assured cultivators, sellers, and consumers that all other plant materials and substances derived from legally-defined hemp were finally federally-compliant .
Today, federal law defines cannabis plants with less than 0.3 percent Delta-9 THC per dry weight as hemp plants and allows hemp production and consumption in all 50 states. On the other hand, a plant with more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC per dry weight is defined as marijuana which federal law still treats as a controlled substance on the DEA’s Schedule 1 list.
Certain states now allow adult use of medical and recreational marijuana containing much more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC.
Cannabis products for sexual arousal and drive
Though some people enjoy smoking cannabis before or after sex, others prefer edibles such as gummies, lozenges, or tinctures to avoid the health risks associated with smoke inhalation. Edibles are enjoyable alternatives to smoking or vaping, not only for the ease of consumption but also because it can be easier to control your dosage.
Alternatively, topical cannabis products are popular for added sensual enjoyment and can be found in myriad THC or CBD massage oils, lubes, or lotions. Though the cannabinoids in these topical products will not be absorbed as efficiently into the endocannabinoid system as with smoking, vaping, or eating.
How much cannabis to take before sex
Dr. Jordan Tishler, a former emergency medicine doctor and president of the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists, usually recommends that his clients who seek a boost in sex drive, to start with a small amount like 5 mg of THC. “Taking one puff on a cannabis flower vaporizer before having a sexual experience can work faster and more predictably than edibles or lubricants infused with THC.” However, he cautioned that more than that could be too much and do the opposite of what the cannabis user had hoped for .
Potential risks associated with cannabinoids
Though cannabis enthusiasts enjoy THC for a wide range of potential benefits, there are some risks associated with it, especially when people who are predisposed to anxiety or depression take higher doses. For instance, some data suggest that cannabis use can worsen bipolar disorder among people who already suffer from the disorder. Also, in some instances, people prone to anxiety may experience increased anxiety after taking THC . Cannabis users should also be wary of synthetic cannabinoids, which tend to have higher levels of THC.
When it comes to sex, higher amounts of THC may decrease arousal. Thus, it’s key to learn individual tolerance and responses to the cannabinoid before taking more than a small amount.
Though CBD has few side effects and is usually well-tolerated, higher doses of it can occasionally cause reduced appetite, dry mouth, diarrhea, or fatigue. Additionally, CBD’s interactions with certain medications, like blood thinners, can be problematic. As with any dietary supplement or medication, there is an increased risk of these side effects with higher doses. Low doses of most cannabinoids have few risks.
Since the discovery of cannabinoid receptors and endogenous ligands for these receptors in the 1980s, it has become clear to scientists that the ECS plays important roles in a wide range of physiological functions, including reward behaviors. Thus, certain studies have addressed the potential for cannabinoid abuse. However, recent studies revealed a low likelihood of abuse potential in animal models .
Key takeaways on sex and the endocannabinoid system
The question of how to best increase sex drive is a complex one that does not have black-and-white answers. However, passionate anecdotal reports, as well as a growing body of evidence, have helped more people understand the potential of certain cannabinoids to help them relax and enjoy sex more. With these little molecular helpers, more of us may be able to move closer to what the ancient practitioners of Tantrism sought: a more fulfilling connection with another person.
Learn more in The Complete Guide to Cannabis and 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.
- Endocannabinoid System
- The Discovery of the Endocannabinoid System
- The Endocannabinoid System – Essential and Mysterious
- Marijuana’s Unexpected Effects on Sex
- The Endocannabinoid System and States of Sexual Arousal
- Global History of Weed and Sex
- Cannabis and Sex a Brief World History
- Women Who Use Marijuana More Often Have Better Sex Study Says
- CBD and Sex Effectiveness -Potential Benefits
- Marijuana’s Unexpected Effects on Sex
- Cannabinoid receptors and pain
- Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation via cannabinoids
- Supersensitivity to anandamide and enhanced endogenous cannabinoid signaling in mice lacking fatty acid amide hydrolase
- Did You Know… Marijuana Was Once a Legal Cross-Border Import?
- HIA Position Statement on Delta-8 and Hemp Cannabinoid
- Cannabis for Better Sex? Here’s What the Science Says.
- What Are the Health Risks of Cannabis?
- Animal models of cannabinoid reward
- Chronic Marijuana Use Alters Female Reproductive System
- Cannabis and Hormones