Contributor: Missy Matheny
There is a lot of misinformation on the effects of marijuana use. The information available on how it affects sexual function, fertility, libido, and a person’s ability to orgasm is primarily based off archaic ideals that had no basis in fact. Most of the articles in recent history point to anecdotal evidence, but that’s not their fault, because the available research is limited (at best) and skewed in a negative direction.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, with the sexual revolution in full swing, the first real studies into human sexuality were just beginning to take place. With the counterculture movement embracing drugs in their rebellion (especially marijuana), the need to show that cannabis was bad in every possible way warped most studies done at the time. Men having low sperm counts, THC lowering testosterone in men, the lowering of sex drives in both men and women, and many more negative effects of marijuana have been put forth as “truth” for decades. The real problem lies in the research into these claims. Of which, there really is none.
Studies performed decades ago used almost no actual humans in their research. Instead, the information came from tests done on animals. Specifically, mice.
Experts Breakdown The Relationship Between Marijuana And Sex
There are several problems with animal studies. First, animals are biologically different than humans. Some animals don’t seem to have any reaction to marijuana, and most animals don’t seek out cannabis. Second, it’s near impossible to get an animal to use marijuana voluntarily, let alone in the amount humans tend to consume (Source: Sciencedaily.com). Instead, the animals are given THC through processes like injections. Animal studies offer a decent starting point, but seeing these as definitive in demonstrating results that would mirror human reactions isn’t very accurate.
Prolonged heavy use of marijuana was found to significantly decrease the sperm count of mice in one study (Source: The Journal of Urology, October 2019). In the same article, another study of 20 adult men, all of whom were considered heavy marijuana users, were tested and their sperm counts were almost half the size compared to men who had never used marijuana. This study didn’t control for simple things like tobacco use, or alcohol use, nor did it account for anything other than men using marijuana at least once, four days a week. However, a recent Harvard study has trampled the previous idea that marijuana has a negative effect on sperm count.
The Harvard study, published in February of 2019 in Human Reproduction, took a sample size of 662 (mostly white) men in their mid-30s. Although still a small representation, with very little diversity, this is the largest study that’s currently been done on sperm count and cannabis use in humans. The findings were almost the opposite of previous research, with the marijuana users having on average twenty-five percent higher sperm count than their nonsmoking counterparts.
Another study done by the University of Connecticut concluded that states who have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana use are seeing an increase in birth rates (Source: National Bureau of Economic Research). The study shows an increase of approximately four births per quarter for every ten thousand women. This research further dispels the idea that cannabis lowers sperm counts.
So, if marijuana isn’t lowering sperm counts, is it feminizing men?
A very small study on monkeys, with the lab animals being given injections of THC, has shown that heavy cannabis use can lead to a lowering in the levels of testosterone. It can also interfere with growth hormones and lead to a stunted ability to produce testosterone as adults. But this study involved monkeys who were injected with high levels of THC (Source: Doctorsdata.com). Until there is further study, we only currently know that heavy doses of THC over a long period of time does affect hormone levels in animals.
And what about women’s hormones and marijuana use?
There are claims that using cannabis can disrupt menstrual cycles. There is also claims that using marijuana as a pain medication will help menstrual cramps, and cannabis-infused tampons are becoming popular. As for how marijuana affects women’s hormones, well, in rats it seems to affect males and females differently. Some studies suggest that women are less likely to use marijuana. Besides that, there just isn’t any research yet.
With hormone levels being affected by cannabis use remaining an uncertainty, that leaves the question of how does cannabis use affect libido? Originally, it was thought that using marijuana lowered the sex drive in both men and women. Although there are very few studies done on men in relation to marijuana use and sex, the research done on women is even harder to find.
A recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine has shown that previous ideas regarding the issue of sex drive and cannabis use are probably wrong. A self-reporting survey of over 28,000 women and almost 23,000 men compared the frequency of sexual activity and the respondents use of marijuana. Surprisingly, the subjects who reported frequent marijuana use also reported a more active sex life. Across the board, both men and women who use cannabis generally have more sex. While this does not confirm a higher libido, it brings doubt to the old concept that using marijuana decreases sex drives in humans. Currently more research needs to be done on the subject.
And how does marijuana affect orgasms?
First, the effects on men and women are very different. Add that to the fact that marijuana can affect individual people differently, and that different strains can have different effects. Recently, there has been numerous articles put out over a study published in Sexual Medicine that showed promise for marijuana’s role in increasing the frequency and intensity of orgasms for women. Although the size of the study was very small, and the research was done from self-reporting, over half the women reported higher satisfaction with their orgasms overall, with a majority reporting an increase in both the number of orgasms they had in a given time period, and the intensity of their orgasms.
This discovery is exciting. Women have often taken a back seat when it comes to research into sexual function and dysfunction. About 15% of women report difficulties with achieving orgasms, and another 10% have never reached sexual climax, so any research into the issues is promising. For women who struggle to reach orgasm, marijuana shows promise in helping them relax physically (and mentally) enough so they can achieve orgasms easier and more frequently.
The information on how cannabis use affects the male orgasm has mixed conclusions. Although men report stronger orgasms while using marijuana, according to a study published in Sexual Medicine, a study from La Trobe University showed that cannabis users have a higher rate of premature ejaculation, as well as a higher rate of problems reaching orgasm. The problem with these studies is that they were both self-reporting, uncontrolled studies. With the latter study having been conducted by phone interviews, and the former study conducted with write-in surveys.
One common theme among both men and women using marijuana, and how it effects their sex life, was the dosage used. Heavy chronic users reported more problems in the studies focused on men. The study on women discovered that low-to-moderate doses seemed to be optimal for the best results.
The entire problem right now is there just isn’t any research. When the federal government classified marijuana as a Schedule One drug, all research into marijuana halted entirely. The only real answer to any of these questions right now is; there needs to be more research. The research we have isn’t anywhere close to enough, and its decades old. Also, the majority of the studies were done on animals, and usually the research was biased by negative opinions of cannabis that were prevalent at the time.
With the legalization of marijuana taking hold across the United States, and even the rest of the world, more research on the effects of cannabis use and sexual function in humans will follow. Although there is a large amount of disinformation that is considered “fact” concerning marijuana use in general, disproving these myths will take time.
It is becoming more important to separate what science knows about the effects of marijuana on our sexual function from pure fiction. As recreational marijuana use becomes more acceptable, even scientists are getting excited about the possibilities of what cannabis holds, with some researchers finally agreeing to get their test product from cultivators who produce marijuana for the recreational market.
Although the facts behind sex and marijuana use are still questionable, and more research is needed to answer any questions with any kind of confidence, the future is looking better for the simple reason that the research is finally starting to happen.