LifestyleHow Cannabis Affects Sexual Function

August 28, 2019by Sonal Thakar
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Euphoric, relaxed, creative, hungry, anxious, paranoid, or more sensitive to all five senses are a few of the possible responses you may have when using cannabis. Cannabis also affects your motivation for and physiological response to sex. How you feel depends on your genetic predispositions, frequency of use, dose of cannabis consumed, and the cannabinoid and terpene content of the cannabis product.

In general, too frequent or too high of a dose of cannabis in men and women results in sexual dysfunction, such as lower libido or erectile dysfunction. Men’s sexual response is more sensitive to the amount of cannabis consumed; while cannabis has been observed to both improve and promote erectile dysfunction, men who consumed too much cannabis in one day reported erectile dysfunction1,2. Finding the right dose can enhance an individual’s experience as shown in a survey of 373 women, 127 who used cannabis before sexual activity and observed increased sex drive, over 2-fold improved satisfaction, and decreased pain3.

Sexual function and desire are mediated by sex hormones (androgen/testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone). As previously discussed, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) modulates levels and activity of sex hormones and sex hormones can in turn regulate the ECS. How cannabis affects hormone levels is important to sexual function and desire. Testosterone plays a critical role in promoting sexual desire in both men and women and low levels can lead to erectile dysfunction in men. In women, low levels of estrogen result in vaginal dryness. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been generally shown to reduce testosterone and estrogen levels, but because of the reciprocal modulation of signaling between the ECS and sex hormones, more research is needed to better understand the optimal dosing/frequency of cannabinoids that would support increased sexual satisfaction4.

Cannabinoids can also interfere or modulate neurotransmitter signaling in the nervous system. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are the body’s chemical messengers and modulate neuronal activity in an excitatory or inhibitory manner. Genetic variants in dopamine and serotonin have been shown to modulate cannabis-related anxiety and psychosis, some of the traits analyzed in the CannabisDNA test. Acute doses of THC causes increased dopamine levels and neuronal activity, while chronic heavy dose reduces dopamine signaling5. Cannabidiol (CBD) also modulates dopamine signaling and has been shown to counter psychosis6. Dopamine regulates the neuronal circuitry involved in reward seeking, craving, and inhibitory behavior, which are all behaviors involved in sexual activity.

Potency of the cannabinoids can also influence how an individual may respond. CBD does not induce euphoria and provides relief from anxiety, which can be an aid to relaxation before sex. THC delivers euphoria and increased sensitivity which can also improve satisfaction, but too much can lead to dysfunction and other adverse side effects. Individuals who suffer from anxiety or chronic pain may also benefit from cannabis by alleviating their symptoms. Because of the widespread expression of the ECS in the body, cannabinoids modulate a wide range of physiological processes. More research is necessary to better understand which cannabinoids and at what dose, frequency, and potency can improve sexual function and desire. Understanding how your cannabis habits and genetics affect your tolerance for cannabinoids are part of the equation to fine-tune your dosing.

Genetics contribute towards THC and CBD metabolism and understanding your predisposition may help to adjust your dosing to improve your experience. Pathway Genomics has developed a new at-home DNA test, CannabisDNA, to help you understand your predisposition to common cannabis-related traits and match you to the appropriate cannabis strain and product. Learn more about how this test can help you personalize your cannabis experience and order your test.

 

References

  1. Shamloul, R. & Bella, A.J. Impact of cannabis use on male sexual health. J Sex Med 8, 971-5 (2011).
  2. Smith, A.M. et al. Cannabis use and sexual health. J Sex Med 7, 787-93 (2010).
  3. Lynn, B.K., Lopez, J.D., Miller, C., Thompson, J. & Campian, E.C. The Relationship between Marijuana Use Prior to Sex and Sexual Function in Women. Sex Med 7, 192-197 (2019).
  4. Gorzalka, B.B. & Dang, S.S. Minireview: Endocannabinoids and gonadal hormones: bidirectional interactions in physiology and behavior. Endocrinology 153, 1016-24 (2012).
  5. Bloomfield, M.A., Ashok, A.H., Volkow, N.D. & Howes, O.D. The effects of Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol on the dopamine system. Nature 539, 369-377 (2016).
  6. Renard, J., Norris, C., Rushlow, W. & Laviolette, S.R. Neuronal and molecular effects of cannabidiol on the mesolimbic dopamine system: Implications for novel schizophrenia treatments. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 75, 157-165 (2017).

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