When you get supremely stoned, you're probably not good for taking care of anything beyond a couple bags of Doritos. However, more and more doctors that specialize in medical marijuana are noticing a surprising side effect from a light buzz: Patients getting cannabis for pain management, anxiety, or chronic conditions are reporting it's helping in the bedroom, too.
"We've known for a while, at least anecdotally, that cannabis can enhance the sexual experiences of women," says Jordan Tishler, M.D., a Harvard-trained physician who now runs a cannabis clinic in Boston. But, a recent survey of medical cannabis users conducted by HelloMD, a telemedicine platform, found that men and women (in equal proportions) had seen a boost in their sex life.
Traditional medical literature doesn't back what doctors in the field are finding. A series of older studies from the '80s and '90s shows that, at best, cannabis doesn't help male sexual function. Some even show that at worst, it could cause problems like erectile dysfunction or low testosterone levels. Rany Shamloul, Ph.D., an Ottawa-based researcher who has conducted several more recent studies that link marijuana use to ED, says that from all the research he's seen, there's no evidence to support cannabis being the new Viagra.
Doctors working with cannabis, however, disagree. They say the traditional literature is out of date and in need of an overhaul. However, because most academic research relies on federal grants and federal law prohibits marijuana, it may be years before new research comes from American universities.
Until then, Tishler and Perry Solomon, M.D., the chief medical officer at HelloMD, say they'll continue to prescribe cannabis as a treatment for men suffering from erectile dysfunction, lack of desire, and difficulty reaching orgasm. "The way I see it, why not try cannabis? There are side effects to Viagra and zero side effects to cannabis when dosed properly," says Solomon. "Maybe it's just making them feel better and relaxed, and that's making it easier for them to enjoy sex, but it's still working," he adds.
If you're curious about using cannabis to enhance your sex life, here's a cheat sheet to getting it right.
Heed this: Too much pot is really, really bad for male sexuality. "You get that classic stoner couch lock and lose your desire to have sex at all," warns Solomon. He recommends male clients stick with a cannabis product that contains no more than 14 percent THC. Also, go slow. A single toke from a vape pen may be all you need to get going. You should be aiming to get buzzed, not high.
This advice is less pertinent for female partners. "Women seem to tolerate nearly any dose," while still maintaining their libido, says Tishler. He adds, "In the anecdotal realm, women tend to report enjoying sex even on very high doses."
Timing Is Everything
As the cannabis industry has grown, so too have the options for delivering THC to your system. Dr. Solomon recommends using a vape pen or smoking a joint a few minutes before hitting the bedroom, since it's going to give you a predictably timed high (in about five minutes).
While edibles are popular, they can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to kick in. If you're doing this with a partner, this means you may experience your highs at different times.
If It Doesn't Work For You, It Probably Will Work For Her
"We've known for a very long time that cannabis really enhances a woman's sexual experience," says Tishler. He points to a 2013 study where researchers had women watch pornography before and after consuming THC (the control was watching CNN). Before cannabis, the porn didn't do much for many of them. After cannabis, their levels of arousal increased significantly.
If you need another example of how much of an impact cannabis can have on women's sexual experiences, look no further than the explosion of Foria, a cannabis-infused lube. "OBGYNS and doctors who are not at all related or interested in cannabis otherwise are interested in its potential," says Mathew Gerson, the company's founder. "For me, as a guy I found that using cannabis during sex was really dependent on the dose, but for my girlfriend it was always a yes."
The Mechanics Are Unclear
"We don't yet know what THC is doing at a neuron level or a receptor level," says Tishler, but he adds that it may be as simple as the cannabinoids increasing blood flow throughout the entire body. "But it almost doesn't matter so long as the person using it feels that it works," he says.
If you've struggled with erectile dysfunction, you know that it can be an extremely stressful problem. Tishler theorizes that THC may work mainly because it allows men to relax and stop stressing about the status of their erections.
It May Help Beyond Erectile Dysfunction
The entire pharmaceutical industry has been so focused on curing erectile dysfunction that it's completely ignored other issues. "We know that as many as 20 percent of men across all ages suffer from a lack of desire and many men suffer from orgasming too soon or trouble achieving orgasm at all," says Tishler. There are no real treatments for these conditions — Viagra and Cialis won't help one bit. In cases like these, both Tishler and Solomon often recommend trying cannabis.
You'll Feel Closer To Your Partner
Oxytocin is a hormone your body releases after sex and in other social situations. "It's called the bonding hormone," says Tishler. A 2015 study found that the release of oxytocin made mice more social, and it's been well-documented as being released post childbirth to help a mom bond with her newborn. Consuming cannabis also triggers the release of oxytocin. So combining an orgasm's dose of oxytocin with the hit you're getting from cannabis will mean you'll likely feel extremely close to your partner after-the-fact.
Like With Alcohol, Consent Becomes Tricky
Tishler says that, for the most part, people can have small amounts of cannabis and still make clear-eyed decisions. But, there's a point where your decision-making capacity goes seriously south. If you're enjoying cannabis with a partner and think there's a chance it's clouded his or her judgment, call it a night. Engaging in sexual activities with anyone who can't clearly consent is rape, says Tishler.