From Dazed and Confused to That 70’s Show, many industries monopolize the fascinating relationship between cannabis and sex. Now that the use of cannabis has been legalized in Canada, with similar laws as those that pertain to smoking cigarettes, there are a few things that we should know. How does cannabis affect the sexual response cycle in terms of desire, arousal, and orgasm? What does cannabis use mean for consent? Is cannabis use associated with sexual risk-taking behavior?
SEXUAL RESPONSE CYCLE
Cannabis, just like alcohol, has the potential to affect our bodies when it comes to our sexual desire, arousal, and ability to achieve orgasm. Like all substances, everything should be in moderation. The research isn’t conclusive when it comes to whether or not sex can be enhanced or diminished when it comes to the use of cannabis. A side effect of using cannabis is that it can help people relax and focus more on bodily sensations, which could help some people with anxiety issues surrounding sex. However, if you have too much, you could end up feeling distracted and distanced from your partner, which could lessen the intimacy (Chen, 2018). Cannabis contains a range of chemicals, and the most common of which are cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the chemical mainly responsible for producing the feelings of being “high”; it affects a person’s thinking and decision-making processes, and it can produce psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations (Green Relief, 2018). On the other hand, CBD does not produce the same “high” feelings or harmful side effects as THC, and it is more likely to be used for medicinal purposes. If cannabis is being taken to lessen feelings of anxiety experienced during sexual activity, it might be beneficial to focus more on CBD-based methods to avoid the psychoactive effects. Cannabis use can have adverse effects on males, such as not reaching orgasm in the desired time frame, whether that’s too soon or too late, or not reaching orgasm at all (Smith et al., 2010). The only notable effect in women was that some women report that the THC in cannabis can cause vaginal dryness, and in this case, a CBD-based lubricant could help counteract those affects (Kerner, 2018).
When talking about consent while under the influence of a substance, whether it is cannabis, alcohol, or another substance, the laws are the same. When it comes to the amount of cannabis consumed, I like to think of the popular gambling phrase, “know your limit, play within it.” Consent is given when the person is sober and can make the informed decision with a clear head. It’s important to not get too bogged down in the weeds (pun intended) when discussing consent in relation to cannabis use. Consent must be freely given, and not due to any kind of coercion from someone else. Consent is also an ongoing process, so just because someone consented to one activity does not equal consent to all future activities. It’s important to check in with your partner(s) to make sure everyone is on the same page and comfortable with what’s happening. Consent isn’t just the absence of “no”, it’s the presence of an enthusiastic “yes”. This doesn’t always have to be verbal; body language can tell a lot about if someone’s head is truly in it, but it is always a good idea to check in verbally. If you think your partner has been using any kind of drugs or alcohol, then they aren’t of sound mind to make the decision to consent to sexual activity with you. Although it might be upsetting to stop whatever you’re doing, you can always have a conversation with them the next day and see if they’re into it while sober. It’s hard to tell adults that you can never have sex with anyone who has had a drink or a smoke, but this is when you’ve got to use your judgment and make the safest choice for everyone involved.
Research on how using cannabis affects sexual risk-taking behavior is easy to study but hard to generalize, because most research has been done using self-reporting. Using self-report is the only way it can really be studied, because as you can imagine forcing people to smoke cannabis and then engage in sexual activity would be widely unethical! People who reported weekly use of cannabis reported having on average 30% more sex than non-users (Sun & Eisenberg, 2017). When looking at research such as this we have to consider alternative reasons behind this seemingly large increase in sexual behaviour. Because these can’t be true randomized experiments, do people that smoke cannabis generally have more sex? Or are people that have more sex, more likely to frequently smoke cannabis?
When it comes to safer sex practices, a meta-analysis conducted by Schuamacher et al. (2018) found that among adolescents using cannabis, the odds of condom use were significantly lower. However, these results were not transferrable to the adult group surveyed, which makes me wonder if this is due to a lack of education on safe sex practices or a lack of education on appropriate portioning of cannabis. Keeping these results in mind, it’s not hard to imagine how this lower rate of condom use would affect the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Smith et al. (2010) found that women who reported daily use of cannabis were more likely, than men who reported daily use, to report a diagnosis of an STI in their lifetime.
LEGALIZATION: YAY OR NAY?
The legalization of cannabis has brought about a lot of debate among people across Canada, but can we really say for certain who’s right? The age requirements to buy cannabis are the same as the requirements to buy alcohol, and the rules around where you can and can’t use it are predominantly the same as smoking cigarettes. With the legalization in place, it does provide parents and educators the opportunity to have a conversation with youth about use and the effects of cannabis in much, the same way they would with alcohol. It is important for people to engage in educated conversations about cannabis so they get accurate information and can make smart decisions about using a drug that has direct effects on the body and mind. For more information, you can head to http://www.tweed.com, and for readers in the Eastern Ontario area, you can even book a tour of the facility where you can ask questions and gain insight from the staff members. Given that sexual risk-taking behaviour is more common among adolescents and young adults, teaching this population about the effects of cannabis on the body, in combination with sexual consent, is an important part of sexual health education that should be considered.
Natalie Bienias, Queen’s University Psychology Student
CBD vs. THC: A Deep Dive On These Popular Cannabis Componds. (2018, December). Retrieved from https://www.greenrelief.ca/blog/cbd-vs-thc/
Chen, A. (2018, December). What cannabis does to your sex life. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2018/12/4/18123773/cannabis-sex-fertility-cannabis-lubricant-economics-policy
Kerner, I. (2018, June). Does cannabis increase sexual desire? Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/19/health/cannabis-sex-kerner/index.html
Schumacher, A., Marzell, M., Toepp, A. J., & Schweizer, M. L. (2018). Association between cannabis use and condom use: A meta-analysis of between-subject event-based studies. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 79(3), 361-369. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.queensu.ca/10.15288/jsad.2018.79.361
Sun, A. J., & Eisenberg, M. L. (2017). Association between cannabis use and sexual frequency in the United States: A population-based study. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 14(11), 1342-1347. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.queensu.ca/10.1016/j.jsxm.2017.09.005
Smith, A. M. A., Ferris, J. A., Simpson, J. M., Shelley, J., Pitts, M. K., & Richters, J. (2010). Cannabis use and sexual health. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(2, Pt 1), 787-793.http://dx.doi.org.proxy.queensu.ca/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01453.x