As a result of the huge cannabis legalization wave in the United States, medical marijuana is now legal in 34 states, and 15 states have even legalized recreational use. Inevitably, marijuana use has increased and marijuana users are consuming more weed than ever, making weed the most widely consumed illicit drug, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
However, as marijuana legalization increases, so do the studies regarding the use of cannabis and the effect of its main cannabinoids – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – on the human body. Previously we’ve covered topics regarding the use of cannabis and increased blood pressure, whether weed can affect getting pregnant, and how cannabis Sativa affects the central nervous system.
In this article, we’ll focus on marijuana use and sexual function, specifically erectile function in men. We’ll go over the most common side effects of marijuana, and figure out whether consuming weed can cause erectile dysfunction in men.
What Is Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to maintain an erection firm enough to have intercourse. Along with premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction is one of the most feared conditions related to male sexual function. It can be caused by a variety of medical and mental health conditions, but also as a side effect to the use of some medication and recreational drugs.
ED can cause stress, frustration, and relationship issues, which is why it should be dealt with as soon as it becomes a problem. While ED can happen now and then without a cause of concern, when it becomes a regular occurrence it may be a sign that something else is happening inside the body.
While marijuana use can have various side effects in users, scientists are looking into how (and if) cannabis use and ED are connected.
The Effects of Marijuana on the Body
Consumption of cannabis has various effects on the body. Some of the most common effects of marijuana include euphoria, happiness, increased energy, relaxation, creativity, and other effects, which are explained as the “high” feeling that you get after smoking weed.
On the other hand, some of the long-term effects include differences between the structure of the brain in cannabis users versus non-users, effects on short-term memory, and effects on brain development and learning in adolescents. (NIDA, 2020; Schoeler et al, 2013; Jacobus et al, 2014)
However, cannabis has also been used for medical purposes in treating conditions like cancer, glaucoma, neuropathic pain, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and other conditions. But then, medical cannabis isn’t an approved therapy for treating ED.
The Effects of Marijuana on Men’s Health
Marijuana may help reduce high cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for ED, and increase sexual desire. Therefore, along with the energizing and euphoric feelings that cannabis users get, cannabis may improve sexual experiences in men.
On the other hand, some studies show that while marijuana use can help with some sexual problems, it may also cause others. Some reviews, like the one published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, suggest that cannabis may increase the risk of ED, be a cause for gynecomastia, as well as lead to trouble achieving orgasm, which will affect the overall sexual performance.
Mixing Marijuana and Other Medications
Much like mixing any other drug with prescription medication, marijuana too can have interactions with medication. The most common types of drug interactions between cannabis and medications include:
- Blood thinners like Advil, Ibuprofen Aspirin, Warfarin, and other blood thinners may pose a bleeding risk when taken together with cannabis.
- Blood sugar medications like insulin may affect blood sugar when combined with cannabis.
- Blood pressure medications like diuretics and beta-blockers combined with cannabis may lower blood pressure even more.
- Drugs that help with ED like Viagra, taken with cannabis may increase the risk of heart attacks.
Women and Cannabis Use
Even though there’s limited research related to cannabis use and sexual enjoyment, there are several studies that focus on exactly that.
In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers found out that cannabis use before sexual intercourse resulted in an increased sex drive, decreased pain, and improvement in orgasm in women.
Moreover, a 2017 study published in the same journal, made a correlation between marijuana use and an increase in sexual desire in both men and women. The study went on to conclude that marijuana use didn’t seem to impair sexual function and sexual performance between men and women.
Can Smoking Cannabis Cause ED?
There are some opposing opinions when it comes to the use of weed being related to erectile dysfunction, and a 2018 meta-analysis concluded that more evidence is needed in order to make that link. Even so, there can be an explanation why so many researchers claim that cannabis can cause ED.
Smoking tobacco restricts blood flow in the veins which poses a risk for developing ED, and especially when mixing tobacco and marijuana. Since there are cannabinoid receptors present in the smooth muscle tissues of the penis, THC can possibly impair penile function, and cause men to have difficulty reaching an orgasm. Furthermore, cannabis may increase systolic blood pressure, which is closely linked to erectile dysfunction.
One of the few studies that link marijuana usage to ED includes the 2011 review of study data which claims that marijuana potentially stimulates receptors in the tissue of the penis that can contribute to ED.
Additionally, a 2019 Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, did five case-control studies with a total of 3,395 healthy men, out of which 1,035 were marijuana users, and 2,360 weren’t – and the prevalence of ED in cannabis users was 69.1%.
In the end, a 2010 study found a link between cannabis use and trouble achieving orgasm, together with premature ejaculation.
Figuring out the connection between marijuana and sexual health is not an easy task, as it involves a wide array of processes that happen inside the body. While some marijuana users experience an increased libido after weed consumption, others might feel drowsy and lethargic, which can lead to ED.
While there have been some studies that research this topic, no definitive conclusion has been reached since there are only a handful of studies, and more research needs to be done. Depending on the cannabis strain you use, your overall health, as well as other conditions related to sexual health, cannabis may or may not be the thing for you, and only you can decide on that.
Despite everything, it would be a good idea to consult a doctor if you’ve been experiencing ED and other issues related to impaired sexual performance. Your healthcare provider will help you weigh in the pros and cons of cannabis, and help you determine whether you need cannabis as a medical marijuana treatment (or whether you can take it as a recreational drug).
NIDA. 2020, April 8. What are marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain?. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-are-marijuanas-long-term-effects-brain on 2021, March 8
Schoeler, T., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2013). The effect of cannabis use on memory function: an update. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 4, 11–27. https://doi.org/10.2147/SAR.S25869
Jacobus, J., & Tapert, S. F. (2014). Effects of cannabis on the adolescent brain. Current pharmaceutical design, 20(13), 2186–2193. https://doi.org/10.2174/13816128113199990426