Marijuana: The Natural Viagra?

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“I discovered the cure last night,” my friend Celia* announced. Ever since going on antidepressants, she’d been suffering from a common SSRI side effect: difficulty achieving orgasm. “And the cure is, wine and weed and half a tablet of Cialis.” She’d discovered it “by accident” while dating a jazz blogger who liked to toke. She needed all three components, working in concert, to achieve that which had once come naturally: “Smoking weed has always been awesome for my sex life. It makes orgasm much easier. I felt like a teenager, only I was also using a drug meant for elderly men, so I guess I felt like a retiree?” A retiree in California, I suggested, or another state where medical marijuana soothes the elderly. “Yeah, like those cool retirees you see on CNN these days,” she agreed. High and sexually enhanced — the ideal here was an aging hippie with a medical-marijuana card and a boner-pill prescription.

Marijuana has been cited as an aphrodisiac in ancient texts and folk medicine, but treating sexual dysfunction is not among the approved uses for medical marijuana in the states where it is legal. But that doesn’t mean users — both legal and illegal — aren’t enjoying sexual side effects. “I believe there are three broad categories of usefulness for this remarkably nontoxic drug. Two of them are quite available, namely, recreation and medicine,” explains Dr. Lester Grinspoon, the retired Harvard Medical School professor known as “the grandfather of modern medicinal cannabis research.” “But there’s a third category, the capacity to enhance a variety of human experiences. There’s one that comes to everybody: the capacity to turn an ordinary dish into an extraordinary culinary experience. And the second is sexual experience.”

“That CB1 receptor seems to be involved in improved tactile sensations and general euphoria,” says Dr. Mitch Earleywine, professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany. Or, as Celia put it, “Marijuana makes your whole body feel good, so it only follows that sex feels good, too.”

“It makes me super-horny, because I’m so relaxed. It’s akin to vacation sex,” said Elizabeth, a 26-year-old Manhattanite. Some users also report increased sexual staminathough Earleywine notes that weed’s seeming ability to “slow down time” could contribute to the feeling that one is fucking forever. “Pot tends to make time move slowly for me,” one straight man noted. “Orgasms seem to last for 30 seconds and are incredibly intense. The best orgasms I’ve ever had have been while stoned, whether with another person or solo. I won’t be overly graphic, but it seems like I ‘produce’ a lot more, too.”

(He added: “But you can also have the typical stereotypical-stoner stuff, pondering how it’s so weird that you put a part of your body into another person’s body, or how your parents did this one night to make you. There have been times where I’ve gotten lost in my own head, only to realize I’ve been fucking her from behind for ten minutes straight like an oil derrick without making a single sound. So that can be weird.”)

Medical studies on the effect of weed on sex are few and far between. “All we have are self-reported surveys on it; we can’t give it to people in labs,” Earleywine says. Though a “strong subset” of users report sexual enhancement, a polarized minority reports sexual inhibitions. Earleywine and Grinspoon suspect the polarity is “dose-dependent,” i.e., a negative consequence from getting too high. Dry mouth, “anorgasmia,” and getting stuck in your own thoughts are possible side effects of “high dose” use. (“Cottonmouth is the worst,” Elizabeth said.)

Variety in strains of marijuana — the balance of THC and other chemicals in each strain — can also alter results. “I’ve never liked smoking weed,” my friend Lara confessed by email. “But then I started going out with a guy who had this bomb-ass Weed That Changed Everything."

“I don’t know what it was, where he got it, or how much it cost him, but when we’d smoke it, within ten minutes we’d be having the greatest sex in the world. It would last for an hour. Every position felt amazing. What sucks about drunk sex is the sensory impairment and inability to be present in the moment. But the MAGICAL WEED heightened my awareness of everything pleasant and didn’t impair my memory. It was like listening to a perfect album of music: no back tracks, no sour notes, no irritating lyrics. We had sober sex, too, which was pretty good, but the weed sex could go for an entire weekend. Smoke, fuck, eat, nap. Smoke, fuck, eat, nap. On Monday morning, I’d hobble out of his apartment like I’d just gotten off a horse, in my business-casualwear.”

But like all highs, the era of magical-sex weed could not last forever: “After a month and a half of face-meltingly good sex, he ran out of the miracle weed. The stuff he got to replenish the supply was nothing like what we’d had before. I was back to my old weed response — dizzy, crabby, sleepy. He still wanted sex on weed, but the magic was gone. We broke up for non-weed-related reasons. A part of me wonders what that weed was, and where I could get more. Another part of me knows if I got my hands on it again, I’d have to say good-bye to productivity forever.”

Perhaps as powerful as the way weed makes users feel, is how it makes them act and interact. Grinspoon explains, using psychedelic pioneer Timothy Leary’s emphasis on the impact of “set and setting” on drug trips: “The set means all the ideas, thoughts, experiences that you have with this particular drug, and the setting is the surroundings. For instance, are you afraid you’re going to have a knock on the door and the cops will come in? Those things influence the high. So part of the set in having a sexual experience is how the people feel about each other.” Grinspoon, whose first personal experience with weed involved passing the dutch with Carl Sagan, postulates that feelings of communion between weed-smoking partners can be more profound than mere sexual sensation. To the sober or weed-culture averse, this social side effect may be one of weed’s more irritating cultural legacies — earnest hippies hugging and musing about love and the spirit and really connecting, man. But for those who indulge in a romantic setting, the heightened earnestness can free them to interact in new, thrilling, and unapologetic ways.

“One time my ex-boyfriend and I smoked, and for some reason I put on this Britney Spears Spotify playlist, and started talking about Britney Spears as an embodiment of sex with this tragic American backstory,” a 27-year-old gay man said. “You know, high-people insights. Then ‘Slave 4 U’ came on, and I started doing this mock-sexy dance, but eventually I crossed this one point where it wasn’t mockery anymore. I was actually dancing sexily to Britney Spears for my ex-boyfriend, straddling him, rubbing his chest. In that moment I actually felt I understood Britney Spears’s sexuality, the sexuality of her personal brand. I was so high I could appreciate it unironically, and then it got really hot. We had sex for like an hour, listening to Britney Spears.”

So is high sex worth it? Imagining how he might advise a patient like Celia, Dr. Grinspoon said he would do so as follows: "I don’t know for sure if this will help, but there are some indications that it might, and it is remarkably nontoxic. In other words, if I were you I’d try it, because it’s not going to hurt.”


* People identified by first name only in this article are using pseudonyms.