When my friend first started experimenting with weed, she used it to unwind after a long and intense day at her 9-to-5. She would sit on her balcony under the stars and watch her tension dissipate like the cloud of smoke from her vape pen. But what she didn’t expect, she said, leaning in close as if telling me a secret was that when she and her partner would get intimate, the sensations were — incredible. Like every nerve in her body was alive.
The relationship between cannabis and sex stretches back thousands of years. In the ancient Ayurvedic system of medicine, it was considered to have aphrodisiac properties. Today, our understanding of cannabis and sex is just starting to find its footing. Anecdotally, you might have heard that cannabis can make sex better. You might have also heard that marijuana use is associated with erectile dysfunction and delayed orgasm.
Research into sexual health is notoriously tricky because sex, like cannabis use, is different for everyone. And because many studies disproportionately focus on young, healthy white men, current findings aren’t inclusive of the way many other people experience sex — like women, older adults, and non-binary individuals. So, in terms of cannabis and sex, your experience may vary. Here’s what we know so far.
What We Know About Cannabis and Sex
Cannabis has been shown to help people manage pain, improve mood, and ease anxiety. On their own, these benefits are foundational for better sex. Less pain means more pleasure. A positive frame of mind makes it easier to get in the mood. Less anxiety means you can be more present.
Using marijuana before sex is associated with more intense physical sensations and greater post-sex satisfaction. In particular, women who use marijuana before sex appear to have better orgasms, per the results of a 2019 observational study. The findings were based on anonymous questionnaires submitted for one year — which means the experiences of these women were subjective, not definitive.
So, how does it all work? There’s evidence that cannabis changes the way your body operates — and that may explain why people have such dramatic canna-sex experiences.
Getting Intimate With The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
The cannabis plant is made of different plant chemical compounds. We’re going to talk about two types: cannabinoids (CBD and THC) and terpenes.
- Cannabinoids bind to receptors in your body’s endocannabinoid system. Your endocannabinoid system helps your body maintain homeostasis — biological balance in response to changes in the environment.
- Terpenes are plant compounds that give plants their flavor and aroma. When you inhale or consume terpenes (either on their own or in cannabis), they cross your blood-brain barrier and interact with your neurotransmitters to cause different effects, depending on what you take. Terpenes complement the effects of cannabinoids, a phenomenon known as the entourage effect.
- CBD is the non-intoxicating cannabinoid found commonly in hemp and THC – learn more about CBD here.
When you use cannabis products — whether that’s vaping, using whole-plant CBD balm, or using products formulated with specific terpenes to promote arousal — those cannabinoids bind with specific endocannabinoid receptors. Those receptors exist throughout your entire body, from your brain to your blood vessels. You also have receptors in your sex organs and the areas of your brain that deal with sexual function.
There’s evidence that endocannabinoids may be involved in healthy sexual function. In 2017, a series of two studies involving men and women found that the endocannabinoid 2-AG is released after orgasm. In 2012, a review of sexual arousal in women found significant changes in endocannabinoid concentration after arousal. It’s worth noting that these studies seem to contradict each other — but in reality, they reflect the nuances of researching sexuality.
Here’s why: The 2017 study found higher levels of 2-AG after orgasm. The 2012 study found that endocannabinoid concentration of 2-AG and another endocannabinoid, AEA, actually decreased after arousal. Although these studies both investigated elements of sexual function and cannabis use, they measured two completely different things. One study looked at endocannabinoid levels before and after orgasm in healthy male and female volunteers. The other measured endocannabinoid levels as it related to female arousal without completion.
The bottom line: There’s still a lot we don’t know about cannabis and sex. To get there, we need to better understand the role of the endocannabinoid system, and we need more research that investigates marijuana and sexual function among a variety of groups.
Potential Side Effects of Cannabis and Sex
Early research suggests there are some downsides to cannabis and sex, too:
- Sperm production: A 2015 study of 1,215 men found that regular marijuana smoking more than once per week was associated with a 28% lower sperm concentration. However, a 2019 survey of 662 men found that men who had smoked marijuana had higher sperm concentration. The 2019 study was based on self-reported usage. Potentially, higher doses of marijuana may contribute to its potential for adverse effects.
- Difficulty reaching orgasm (for men): According to a 2010 telephone survey, frequency of cannabis use was unrelated to sexual problems in women — but higher numbers of men reported difficulty reaching orgasm, reaching orgasm too quickly, or delayed orgasm.
- Erectile dysfunction: According to a 2011 review examining the impact of cannabis on male sexual health, cannabis may contribute to erectile dysfunction.
However, as noted by the authors in the 2011 review published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, research is limited, and most studies are conflicting and contradictory. We’re still in the early days. Here’s how to take control of your own sexual cannabis adventure.
How To Have a Positive Canna-Sex Experience
Cannabis, like sex, is a highly individualized experience, which means you should start small and see how you feel. And also, like sex, there are tons of different directions you can take your cannabis experience.
Look At Terpene Profiles
These plant compounds can change the way you experience cannabis, whether you want to get high or not. Some terpenes, like myrcene and nerolidol, will promote sedation and couch-lock — not the sexiest vibe. If you’re using a product that is formulated with specific plant ingredients or terpene profiles, you want something higher in terpenes that promote bliss, alertness, and calm without sedation.
Look for soothing yet stimulating terpenes like limonene, pinene, and caryophyllene.
Try Different Types of Products
Broadly speaking, cannabis products for sex fall into a few different camps — and you can try them all, or just one, to discover what works best for you.
- Targeted vape pens: The arouse vape pen by Dosist has a 10:1 ratio of THC to CBD, which is designed to “awaken your senses and arouse your mind.”
- Arousal lube: Pleasure by Foria is formulated especially for women to enhance tactile sensations while decreasing discomfort and dryness. It contains THC and CBD and is also available in a CBD + botanicals version for those who live outside California or Colorado. (Heads up: Don’t use latex condoms with oil-based lubes like these.)
- Oils and edibles: CBD oils are available in varying ratios of THC, which means this is a great way to dip your toe in the water if you want to experience the effects of cannabis without getting high. You can also try CBD and THC teas, gummies, or chocolates, to get in the mood, like 1906’s Love Chocolate.
- CBD topicals: Either by yourself or with your partner, rub CBD lotion, creams, or balms into your skin and give it about 15 minutes to absorb and begin taking effect.
Start Slowly, and Have Fun
With so many unknowns in the world of cannabis and sex, the best place to get started is … with yourself. Try a cannabis product and see how it changes the way you experience physical sensations, how it affects your mood, and even how it impacts your ability to orgasm. What matters is that you feel comfortable, safe, and good — and maybe even a little more “on” than usual.
When my friend told me how much different sex felt after getting high, she framed it like a secret. But the more I think about the way cannabis affected her, the more I think we should be talking about it. Smoking a plant helped her unwind, elevated her sexual experience, and helped her feel more connected to her partner. That’s incredible and worth shouting from the rooftops — and, most of all, worth exploring.
- Anecdotally, you might have heard that cannabis can make sex better. Early research supports this, associating marijuana use with greater post-sex satisfaction.
- Cannabinoids interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoid receptors exist throughout your entire body, including your sex organs and the areas of your brain that deal with sexual function.
- Sexuality is notoriously difficult to research because it’s so individualized and subjective, so a lot of what we know about cannabis and sex is based on limited studies.
- Find out how to have a better canna-sex experience.