When the U.S. Surgeon General publicly linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer in 1965, 42% of all American adults smoked. It took fifty years of concerted effort (and massive cigarette tax increases) before the adult smoking rate dropped to 15%.
Many anti-smoking activists have speculated that the reduction would have happened much faster if they’d focused on the fact that cigarette smoking can also cause erectile dysfunction (which it can).
That brings us to weed.
The U.S. has seen a surge in marijuana use in recent years, undoubtedly spurred by the legalization movement across the country. A Marist College/Yahoo News survey finds that more than half of American adults have tried pot, and almost 55 million of them — that’s 22 percent — currently use it.
There’s no substantial evidence linking weed use to lung cancer. But could anti-cannabis activists make the claim that smoking cannabis may cause erectile dysfunction, impotence, or other sexual issues?
Why Would Weed Affect Sexual Desire or Performance?
When any substance or medication affects the body, it doesn’t have an immediate effect. Its ingredients or components trigger reactions in the body’s organs, systems, or cells, which leads to secondary and tertiary effects. You can think of it as “A causes B, which causes C, which causes D.”
That is why, when you smoke or ingest weed, it doesn’t make you high or lock you to the couch in the blink of an eye. It takes a while for THC and other cannabinoids to be processed by the body. Only then will the effects of cannabis take effect.
In the same way, pot obviously doesn’t immediately cause a penis to droop. It doesn’t induce people to immediately shed their clothes and engage in wild, frantic sex, either.
But as weed’s components interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), they can affect both the smoker’s libido and their sexual performance in a number of ways.
Weed and Sex: The Pros
A recent study looked into the “relationship” between sex and weed use. Researchers surveyed hundreds of women, and more than a third said pot before sexual activity contributed to a higher sex drive, less pain, and better orgasms.
What would explain those results? Once cannabis enters your body, several things begin happening that can boost the desire for sex — and the enjoyment.
It’s true that the THC in weed may increase anxiety in a small number of users. But weed, more specifically the cannabinoid CBD that’s present in cannabis, appears to be an effective treatment for a number of neuropsychiatric issues, including anxiety and stress.
Those who feel anxious about interpersonal interactions — and more specifically, anxious about sexual performance — often relax when they’ve had a drink or two. Many people feel the same anxiety relief when they toke up before sexy time.
The benefit of marijuana that’s led so many states to legalize its medicinal use is pain relief. And weed has not been shown to have the same sexual side effects as many prescription pain medications like opioids.
The potential benefit is obvious for many people who are reluctant to have sex due to chronic pain. Smoking pot before sexual activity can make the experience less painful and more enjoyable.
THC induces the release of a flood of the neurotransmitter dopamine and the so-called “feel-good hormone.” That’s the same chemical produced in response to sexual stimulation, and excess dopamine can make sexual experiences more pleasurable and exciting.
Cannabis is believed to induce vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels, in many areas of the body. One of those areas: the genital region, where increased blood flow enhances both the ability to become aroused and sexual performance.
Weed and Sex: The Cons
It’s not all sunshine, roses, and orgasms for weed smokers. There are possible drawbacks to partying hard before it’s time to hop into bed with a partner.
Less Desire for Sex
If you’ve never been lethargic or locked to the couch after indulging in some primo weed, raise your hand.
OK, since we see no raised hands, we’ll continue. The same effect that can let you get a good night’s sleep after smoking cannabis can also make you too tired or less motivated to have sex. The cliché “all things in moderation” is a good one to remember if you’re planning to hook up after you’ve been smoking up.
Possible Erectile Dysfunction
Research into the possible connection between ED and cannabis use is far from conclusive at this point. We’ve already mentioned the vasodilation effect that might enhance erections, for example, and at least one study found that weed use had no effect on male sexual performance. (Bear in mind, though, that the researchers supposedly found that alcohol use has no effect, either.)
However, other studies have shown very different results. One survey of more than 8,000 pot smokers found that daily cannabis use was associated with men’s inability to reach orgasm, slow climaxing, or premature ejaculation. There was a little good news in that study: weed use apparently had no effect on women’s sexual function.
So can smoking weed cause erectile dysfunction or impotence? There’s no conclusive evidence, but it apparently might.
One Other Possible Effect of Weed to Consider
This may sound bizarre, but it’s legit. The National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic, and other reputable sources have linked the development of gynecomastia to the use of recreational drugs — including weed.
If you’re not familiar with it, gynecomastia is what some people call “man boobs,” the abnormal growth of breast tissue in males. It’s normally caused by an imbalance of sex hormones in the body, but a number of medications are associated with the risk of developing the condition. And the use of anabolic steroids, alcohol, amphetamines, heroin, and marijuana has also been linked to gynecomastia because they all alter the body’s natural production of hormones.
In fact, surgical procedures to reduce the size of male breasts have reportedly increased by eight percent in Colorado since the 2012 legalization of recreational marijuana in that state.
We wouldn’t suggest anyone give up weed for fear of developing man boobs — but it’s certainly an interesting tidbit you can use to spark conversation over a bong.
Can Smoking Weed Cause ED or Impotence: FAQ
Q: Does the amount of weed you smoke make a difference when it comes to possible sexual dysfunction?
A: There’s no hard evidence. Generally speaking, though, the effects of cannabis increase with greater consumption. And there’s no question that the more you smoke, the more likely it is that you become too relaxed or tired for sex.
Q: Is there any evidence that weed can have an effect on female sexual desire or performance?
A: The only study that discusses the specifics is the one we mentioned, which found that it had no effect on functions like genital lubrication. A more general review of the research reported that low doses seem to facilitate female sexual function, but high doses inhibit it.
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