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The effect of cannabis on female sexuality

Franjo Grotenhermen

A recent study from the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women's Health at Saint Louis University in the USA suggests that cannabis use before sex can increase women's satisfaction with orgasm. The internet is full of reports on the effects of cannabis on various aspects of sexuality in men and women, including libido and orgasm. However, scientific research on this topic has been limited.

The current study involved 197 women who did not use cannabis, 49 women who used cannabis but not before sex, and 127 women who also used cannabis before sex. The average age in these three groups was 34 to 37 years. About 80 percent were either married or living with a partner in all three groups.

Seventy percent of the women who used cannabis before sex reported satisfaction with their sex life, 68 percent reported satisfaction with orgasm, and 16 percent reported reduced pain during sex. In the group of female cannabis users who did not use the drug before sex, satisfaction with sex life (61 percent), satisfying orgasm (53 percent) and reduced pain (20 percent) were distributed slightly less favourably. Comparing the 84 women who used cannabis regularly and the 86 women who used it only occasionally, the more frequent users reported more positive scores on satisfaction with sexuality, orgasm and pain.

In their conclusion on the positive effects of cannabis on female sexuality, the authors write that "timing seems important".

The study is consistent with previous research on the effects of cannabis on sexual behaviour in women. For example, a 2018 study by researchers at New York University of 679 men and women aged 18-25 who had been surveyed regarding the effects of cannabis, ecstasy and alcohol had found similar results. 39 per cent were women. About half of the respondents reported an increase in sexual pleasure (54 percent) as well as in the intensity of orgasm (45 percent) due to cannabis.

In another study from the USA in 1979, researchers had interviewed a group of cannabis-using students (men and women). The participants indicated that cannabis users reported an increase in sexual pleasure, increased sensations and increased intensity of orgasm. Only more frequent users felt that cannabis was an aphrodisiac. Only 22 percent women participated in the study.

In a study conducted by the Human Vaccines Project in New York in 1974, researchers had examined sexual desire and pleasure after cannabis use in women with a questionnaire. The majority of the participants (58 percent) stated that sexual desire increased as a result of cannabis. For 43 percent, the pleasure of sex increased.

The current study from St. Louis University is the largest conducted with women so far and also includes more age groups. Previous studies mostly surveyed younger women or people of both sexes.

The question of how cannabis brings about these positive changes in sexual experience is debated in the scientific community. It has been suggested that stress and anxiety are reduced by cannabis, which could have a corresponding positive effect on sexuality. In addition, it can change the perception of time and thus prolong the feelings of pleasant perceptions. It could reduce sexual inhibitions and increase the willingness to experiment. Cannabis also enhances sensory perceptions, such as sight, smell, taste and touch. In an earlier 1982 study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, female cannabis users surveyed said they experienced an increase in tactile sensation and increased physical closeness when they used cannabis before sex.

THC activates cannabinoid receptors. It is known that there are interactions between the body's own cannabinoid system and sex hormones as well as messenger substances in the nervous system, so-called neurotransmitters. For example, the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a central role in the modulation of female sexual function. The activation of cannabinoid receptors increases the release of dopamine. Cannabinoid receptors have been detected in various brain regions that control sexual function, including the hypothalamus, frontal cortex and hippocampus. Blood concentrations of endocannabinoids increase with subjective and objective measures of arousal.