Key takeaways.

  • What causes erectile dysfunction?

    Certain health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes may cause erectile dysfunction, as can tobacco use and certain medications.

  • Do cannabinoids cause erectile dysfunction?

    It's complicated. They may cause erectile dysfunction because of the way they behave in the hypothalamus, which expresses a large number of cannabinoid receptors and governs erectile function. At the same time, this is the same reason cannabinoids might improve erectile dysfunction in men who also suffer from anxiety and depression.

  • What treatments can be considered?

    If you think your cannabis use might be related to your erectile dysfunction, you can take a break from cannabis. There are also natural therapies, counselling therapies and medications available for erectile dysfunction.

There’s a lot of contention surrounding cannabis and the way it affects our sex lives.

You might recall the first few joints of your teenage years, and the sexual feelings that came with them. It’s not uncommon for people to report increased feelings of sexual desire or overall improved sex after consuming cannabis. It gets all of your parts tingling in just the right way. 

But did you know that erectile dysfunction is as much as two times more likely in men that use cannabis compared to men who don’t? There is a lot of evidence that shows a connection between cannabis and erectile dysfunction.

This isn’t a cathartic blog article about the dangers of cannabis — let the record show that smoking cannabis from time to time will not cause erectile dysfunction. However, if you’re a heavy cannabis user experiencing erectile dysfunction, it might be time to consider other forms of therapy or recreation. 

Let’s check out what science has to say about cannabis and erectile dysfunction.

What is erectile dysfunction and what causes it?

An all-male couple sharing intimacy

Erectile dysfunction is essentially the inability to get an erection or to maintain one for long enough to have sex. It’s not the same as premature ejaculation or decreased libido. It’s purely a dysfunction of the erectile ability of the penis.

Each man, at some point in his life, will experience some kind of erectile dysfunction. If it occurs rarely, or as a once-off, it’s not typically a cause for concern. However, for some men, there is the ongoing inability to achieve or maintain an erection, and it’s at this point that it becomes clinical.

There are a lot of contributing factors to erectile dysfunction. Certain health conditions such as heart diseases and diabetes can cause erectile dysfunction, as can some medications. Tobacco use, which restricts blood flow to veins and arteries can also lead to conditions that cause erectile dysfunction. Severe emotional disorders such as depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem can also lead to erectile dysfunction

As we’re coming to learn, cannabinoids might cause erectile dysfunction because of the way that cannabinoid receptors are distributed in the hypothalamus - which is the part of the brain that regulates erectile functions. Let’s check out some of the science behind this theory.

Cannabis, erectile dysfunction, and science.

There has been a tremendous amount of research into cannabis’ effect on female sexual health, but unfortunately, the same attention hasn’t been given to cannabis’ effect on men’s sexual health. Which means our understanding of it is still preliminary.

In the only systematic review and meta-analysis on the topic, researchers found that erectile dysfunction was twice as prevalent in men who used cannabis than men who didn’t. However, the studies compiled for this meta-analysis typically had small sample sizes, and no definition was given for “cannabis user”. It wasn’t clear whether the cannabis-using men were heavy users or recreational users. 

In another review, scientists highlighted the inconsistencies between study results, pointing out that cannabis may enhance the subjective sexual experience, but might contribute to erectile dysfunction in a dose-dependent manner. Essentially, the writers of this study suggested that the dose was a factor in the inconsistencies between studies and probably plays a large role in whether cannabis will or will not cause erectile dysfunction.

In earlier research, scientists pointed out the distribution of cannabinoid receptors in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus. This part of the brain regulates erectile function, and it is dense with cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoids binding to these receptors and disrupting the normal functioning of that part of the brain is one plausible mechanism for how cannabis might lead to erectile dysfunction. Interestingly, this is the exact same reason why cannabis can improve erectile dysfunction in men who experience depression, anxiety, or pain.

The research presented nearly covers the entirety of research on the topic of cannabis and erectile dysfunction. If you browse through other research about cannabis and male sexual health (such as sperm quality), you’ll also find the same inconsistencies and question marks. Much more research is necessary to elucidate the plausible explanations for cannabis and erectile dysfunction if there exist any at all.

Men with erectile dysfunction: don’t despair.

A man and woman lay naked after sex.

There are plenty of gaps in scientific research on this topic, so it’s important for men (and women) to take it all with a grain of salt. You shouldn’t be retiring from your favourite pastime or creative inspiration because of the fear of developing erectile dysfunction. But if you are a heavy cannabis user and you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction, it might be worth trying a break from cannabis. 

Interestingly, if you’re one of the men who suffer from erectile dysfunction because of depression or anxiety, cannabis might actually be able to improve your situation. In any case, there are medicines for erectile dysfunction such as Viagra and herbal medicine. There are counselling services available for men who believe their erectile dysfunction has an emotional origin.

Given the legalization of cannabis in multiple countries across the world, it’s becoming increasingly important to research the effect it has on men’s sexual health. We certainly look forward to learning more about this topic.

Have you experienced sexual health problems from using cannabis? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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