Actually, Weed Can Be Great for Your Libido

Sure, it can make you sleepy, but with just the right dose, it can also make you pretty horny.

Weed Can Be Great for Your Libido
Photo: Getty Images/InStyle

When you think of weed, you probably think of the munchies and the drowsy, positive sleep effects (the Indica strain is fondly referred to as "in-da-couch" for a reason). Known for its ability to help you relax and unwind, cannabis is usually associated with making you want to do less, not more.

But a fun, lesser-known fact? Cannabis* can also get you really revved up — yes, sexually.

You may have noticed certain cannabis-infused goodies not-so-subtly dropping hints of this benefit, like Kiva Confections Camino Wild Cherry "Excite", House of Wise's Sex Gummies, or Betty's Eddies Smashin' Passion for instance. But cheeky marketing aside, in the right dose and right setting, cannabis can actually make you horny, increasing excitement, drive, and desire, as well as give you seriously intense orgasms and help you orgasm more easily, while improving overall sexual satisfaction (i.e. "Was it good for you?" — Yes. Yes it was.).

Wondering why you've never heard about the positive impact of weed on libido before? The link between cannabis and women's libido is only just now beginning to be studied, explored, and discussed. Two taboos for far too long, these off-limits topics are now finding their Venn diagram overlap, and the results so far are, well, exciting.

Ahead, everything you need to know about how weed can improve your sex life this 4/20 — and beyond.

How Cannabis Is Closing the Gender Pleasure Gap

Myths of cannabis dampening libido likely come from decades of purposefully negatively biased research (thanks, US government!). To boot, most medical research is still conducted on male subjects, leaving women out of the equation. "The majority of traditional drug development and research is not done with the female body in mind," says Stacia Woodcock, PharmD, clinical pharmacist and dispensary manager at Curaleaf. "An even greater disparity comes with the development of prescription medications for female-focused needs."

Prime example? Men have over 10 erectile dysfunction meds on the market, and they can pop those pills whenever they need. Women, on the other hand, have two (pretty crappy) choices; "A pill that must be taken daily, and an intramuscular injection — neither lend themselves to real-life application in a positive way," says Woodcock. This is where cannabis comes in, she says. "The lack of focus on women's health, in general, has opened up a massive amount of interest in cannabis and how it can change that dynamic by targeting its use for specific women's health conditions."

Stacia Woodcock, clinical pharmacist and dispensary manager at Curaleaf

There is definitely more interest in the euphoric effect of THC and its potential to increase sexual pleasure and the intensity of orgasms for women

— Stacia Woodcock, clinical pharmacist and dispensary manager at Curaleaf

The anecdotal evidence on weed translating to arousal varies, reports Woodcock, with women's stories encompassing anything from clinical applications (like countering vulvodynia pain) to the more playful (simply using weed to get more turned on). "There is definitely more interest in the euphoric effect of THC and its potential to increase sexual pleasure and the intensity of orgasms for women," she says.

And it's not all talk. "Recent studies support anecdotal evidence that cannabis may improve a woman's libido," says Elizabeth Ardillo, PharmD, Director of Medical Education at Green Thumb Industries, who pointed to the work of two (female!) researchers in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. "Many participants in [this] study found that cannabis helped them relax, heightened their sensitivity to touch, and increased intensity of feelings, thus enhancing their sexual experience," the study states. (FWIW, this particular survey was conducted on both men and women.)

Felice Gersh, M.D. ob-gyn, founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine and author of Menopause: 50 Things You Need to Know echoes this. "There are many studies showing a small amount of [cannabis is] associated with an enhanced sexual response," she says. Yet, because of legal limitations (federal red tape), we still don't have a ton of research to go off of. (That said, we do have literal millenia of use in cross-cultural practices … as far back as 10,000 BC in Japan and 2,000 BC in Ayurvedic medicine.)

Although there are very few studies, relatively speaking, about the connection between cannabis use and women's sexual wellness (only 190 on PubMed published between 1970 and 2019 — there are nearly 9,000 about erectile dysfunction), researchers have found enough good stuff to keep digging, says Dasheeda Dawson, molecular biologist & Chief Strategist at Cannabis Health Equity Movement (CHEM).

"Certainly, there is enough [data] for more and more women to try using cannabis as part of a libido-enhancing wellness regimen," she says, pointing to a review of those 190 studies and articles that corroborates the prolonged-and-improved-orgasms claim. Ardillo points to similar findings in a 2019 study on cannabis improving female orgasms, and one on the positive association between 'marijuana use and sexual frequency' (translation: weed made people want to get it on more often).

"We're seeing a powerful movement; women are increasingly comfortable discussing their personal experiences with cannabis, which will benefit us all," says Ardillo. (If you've been one of those women, give yourself a pat on the back — you've done us all a great service).

Dr. Gersh notes that these results come from "very small amounts of cannabis," while, conversely, they're "dramatically reduced with large quantities of use," (we'll get to that shortly). She also points out that because still a lot we don't know, to remember that cannabis is a natural drug, and as with anything — from gluten to caffeine to pharmaceuticals — there can be risks. That being said, if you're only using it occasionally, the worst that could happen is probably a 'bad high.'

Wait, So How Exactly Is Weed an Aphrodisiac?

Without getting too in the weeds (no pun intended), it's important to know that your body has a system that takes cannabis compounds and uses them to make you horny… amongst many other things.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) enables cannabis to affect neurotransmitters and hormones, which both "play a large role in sexual desire and response," says Dr. Gersh. Once you inhale or eat your libido-booster, plant compounds (like THC) interact with the ECS, which then impacts hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Cannabinoid receptors (cells that can receive those weed compounds), are widespread in the female body and are found in the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, vagina, and vulva, explains Dawson. In other words, your vagina is very much 'open to receiving' some cannabis. "The current hypothesis is that cannabis plays a significant role in reproduction, in addition to controlling libido, and the pain and pleasure associated with the reproductive tract," Dawson says. She also points out that increased blood flow to those areas may play a role.

It's not just chemical, though.Just like your inner workings, cannabis is intricate, complex, and multilayered. This isn't like popping a pill (like, say, Viagra) that does one specific job and then gets metabolized out. "Female sexuality is complex and involves the interplay between hormones, neurotransmitters, psychological, social, and environmental factors," says Dr. Gersh. Basically, a lot of things factor into libido, and "cannabis can have varying impacts on the female body and any or all of these factors," she says. So, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly where and how cannabis is working to rev your libido. Is it helping you chill out? Amping up a specific sex hormone? Reducing pain? Who can say! (This is what researchers want to find out.)

says Elizabeth Ardillo, PharmD, Director of Medical Education at Green Thumb Industries

Cannabis has the potential to alleviate anxiety and stress, which often has a detrimental impact on arousal and intimacy

— says Elizabeth Ardillo, PharmD, Director of Medical Education at Green Thumb Industries

And of course, there are the psychological benefits. "Cannabis has the potential to alleviate anxiety and stress, which often has a detrimental impact on arousal and intimacy," says Ardillo, adding that this is why many people feel more relaxed and present when using the right cannabis products. And as with alcohol, Dr. Gersh posits that "reduced inhibitions" may factor in.

It also just helps you physically feel good — the body high is real. "Cannabis consumption can lead to a heightened sense of touch," says Ardillo. This is where those intense orgasms come in!

Does Strain Matter?

Common questions that come up in research and conversation alike: What part of cannabis is producing these effects? Is it the whole plant together, or a particular compound (like THC or CBD)? Does strain matter?

Let's address strains. Is there one that works best for sexuality and libido? As far as the data goes, probably not (but TBD, of course). "Varieties are a debated topic," says Clarenda Stanley, M.Ed, CEO of Green Heffa Farms, the first Black-owned farm to earn Certified B-Corporation status in the US. "Certain [strains] have certain effects on sexual desire and health, but for us, we look at the plants [and their effects] from a more holistic standpoint. When you feel good, that's going to impact every facet of your wellbeing."

As for compounds, Stanley suggests using all of it — the whole flower — positing that western culture puts a heavy emphasis on dissecting the plant into components, as well as compartmentalizing the body. "We make everything a commodity in this country, we dissect nature so much; we don't need to reverse engineer it!" she says. "With the whole flower, you get the entourage working together with your ECS; it's going to put you in a position of being more receptive to intimacy."

Stanley likes to complement the cannabis Sativa flower in her libido-boosting herbal blends, finding other medicinal plants, like damiana, used for centuries as an aphrodisiac, that "play very well with it". (She also makes sTEAms with cannabis that are legally sold as a beauty product, but as she notes on her website, if they happen to fall into your mug, "that is not our business.")

Unfortunately, cannabis as a whole plant is still federally illegal. So can CBD — the federally legal plant compound from cannabis — do all this on its own? Hard maybe. Inesa Ponomariovaite, CEO of Nesas Hemp says that "While there is no official data on CBD and hemp extract," we're relying largely on anecdotal evidence yet again. "I have my own [positive] data, and personal testimony on cannabinoids' effects on pleasure from thousands of people," she says. (More on this topic here!)

How You Enjoy It is Up to You — But Dosage Is Important

As for the best way to consume it (edibles, topicals, and vapes, oh my!), this is massively debated.

"Although still a viable option, most women exploring cannabis for sexual wellness and libido aren't just smoking joints and blunts to get 'in the mood,'" says Dawson. "I'm sure that's the image that comes to mind, and there's value in those experiences as means to reduce anxiety and increase relaxation, among many other benefits. However, many women aren't smoking anything at all but rather applying infused topical products or suppositories directly into the vagina." Dawson points to lubricants like Foria, which she says can "enhance the climax experience without making [you] feel 'high.'"

Of course, your experience and the effects of cannabis will vary depending on how you're consuming it, says Ardillo. "Smoking or vaporizing marijuana has a faster onset time and those products can be used just a few minutes before an intimate setting," she explains. On the other hand, if you're consuming it — say, with an edible — you'll usually feel the full effect in two to four hours, depending on your metabolism.

In the end though, as with most things, it comes down to preference. Whether you prefer a gummy, tincture, topical, or joint, "each of these products is available in different ratios of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, which means the effects can be customized to each individual's needs," Woodcock says. "In a world where women's health is often overlooked, this customization is both exciting and revolutionary."

One thing is for sure though: a little goes a long way. "A high dose [of cannabis leads] to reducing sexual interest and responsiveness," says Dr. Gersh. In other words, if you've ever smoked or eaten an edible and had the exact opposite effect, it wasn't a fluke. Dosage matters!

Multiple surveys across several decades have shown that women have similar results to some of the pre-clinical, rodent tests, says Dr. Gersh (it would appear that rats and humans are on a similar weed journey, here). "In females, sexual excitement, desire, orgasmic response, and overall sexual satisfaction was higher in women using small amounts of cannabis — with a blunting of these effects when high amounts were used." For this reason, Ardillo recommends looking for products that have a healthy balance of THC and CBD so you're not just getting THC which can often result in a 17/10 high — especially if you're new to it.

Weed For Overall Health = A Better Sex Life

"Being in a good mental and emotional space allows you to be in a better space when it comes to physical intimacy because with anxiety and an overall feeling of worry or angst, you're not going to be fully engaged with anything regarding intimacy," says Stanley. Instead of "looking at cannabis as a magic pill or magic bullet," she says, use it as a way to improve your mental and emotional health so you can tap into your own sexuality and intimacy.

Woodcock agrees that cannabis provides an excellent 360 approach. "Because so many of these symptoms overlap, cannabis can be a great option for women; the domino effect allows women to treat their symptoms holistically, which in turn supports their sexual wellness needs."

Of course, like all things with sex (and the female body), this is not a cut-and-dry subject. "It's important to note that all cannabis experiences will depend on the individual consumer, their history, and comfort level," says Ardillo. In other words, the effect is dependent on the user (your own unique makeup and your system's sensitivity!), so if you have experience with cannabis and it didn't jive with your system (ie, you get paranoid or have negative side effects) — you do you. Don't force it.

If you do want to give it a go, Ardillo offers some advice. First: your mindset matters! "I like to encourage a positive 'set,' or mindset, and a pleasant and relaxed 'setting' while consuming," she says. Especially for sex!

And of course: "It's best to first become comfortable with the effects of these products before incorporating them into an intimate setting." Consider that permission to begin your own little sexual wellness experiment. Pop a gummy, crack open a CANN, or grab your rolling papers, and prepare for the imminent flying sparks.

*The word 'marijuana' is rife with racist, anti-Mexican roots, so we use the term cannabis — and sometimes weed! — throughout.

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