“Start low, go slow.” That’s what budtenders usually tell new consumers about dosing to help them partake in cannabis responsibly. The mantra also summarizes the results of a new paper that reviewed current research on how marijuana affects different aspects of sex, including desire.
“Several studies have evaluated the effects of marijuana on libido, and it seems that changes in desire may be dose dependent,” the review’s authors wrote. “Studies support that lower doses improve desire but higher doses either lower desire or do not affect desire at all.”
Although there’s a growing body of research that suggests consuming marijuana can lead to heightened libido and better orgasms, quality studies are limited because of legal restrictions. The review’s authors set out to understand what the data currently shows about how cannabinoids (such as THC) affect female sexual functioning. Their findings were published this month in Sexual Medicines Review.
“When evaluating sexual pleasure, most studies show that marijuana has a positive effect,” they concluded. “Marijuana use with sex has also been associated with prolonging orgasm or improving the quality of orgasm. Only 1 study that we reviewed reported that marijuana use inhibits orgasm; however, that study specifically looked at dysfunction as opposed to overall function.”
“The data indicate dose-dependent effects on female sexual desire and receptivity, such that low doses generally facilitate or have no effect but high doses inhibit.”
For their analysis, researchers reviewed 12 human studies and eight animal studies published between 1970 and 2019. Here are some of their findings:
Preclinical studies involving animals
- Estrogen-primed female hamsters who were given THC were more receptive to mating and more likely to initiate mating with a male hamster than those that were not.
- When estrogen or progesterone were detected in female rats, THC appeared to enhance lordosis, a position in which the back is arched downward. Lordosis is a measure that scientists use to assess female sexual receptivity. When the rats were administered with very high doses of THC, they were not as receptive to mating.
- Some endocannabinoid receptor agonists and antagonists, such as SR141716 and anandamide, were also found to affect sexual motivation. In one experiment, rats given anandamide were found to be more sexually motivated (they visited male rats more). In another experiment, rats given SR141716 were less sexually motivated.
- A number of surveys reviewed in the current paper found that women were more likely to say marijuana increased their sexual desire than men. A 1974 study, for example, found that 57.8 percent of female college students reported an increase in libido, compared to 39.1 percent of males. In that same study, researchers found the effects of cannabis to be dependent on how much participants consumed: “although 71% of female participants reported increasing sexual motivation after 1 joint, the percentage of women reporting increased desire decreased after a larger consumption of marijuana (greater than 4 joints) (49.5%),” the review states.
- Another study from India and Nepal had similar findings regarding the relationship between dose and effects. The authors hypothesized that people may feel less interested in sex after consuming high doses of cannabis because of the associated sedative effects.
- How frequently people consume marijuana appears to matter in sex, too: A study published earlier this year found that women who used cannabis regularly before sex had 2.13 higher odds of reporting satisfactory orgasms.
- One study did suggest marijuana use inhibits orgasm, but, as the review’s authors point out, researchers in that work asked questions that focused on sexual dysfunction, not overall sexual function.
Understanding how cannabinoids affect women’s sexual functioning is imperative, the review’s authors conclude. Not only could better research lead to developing therapeutic options to help women, but it could also help researchers better understand sexual functioning in general.
“The information we have is limited to rodent studies and questionnaires that rely on memory, with none of the human studies yet being capable of delineating dose, timing, or other objective measures,” the authors wrote. “Although there appears to be a dose dependency that separates putative excitatory effects from inhibitory effects on female sexual desire, orgasm, and reproductive function, and frequency of use also plays a role, it is not clear to what extent the psychoactive properties of the various cannabinoids play a role.”
Photo courtesy of Davide Ragusa.