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.
Like most recreational drugs, cannabis has both positive benefits and potential side effects. These include relief from pain, enhanced mood, and enhanced perception.
Most of these are the result of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of our gold-star ingredients.
Cannabis is also associated with some sexual side effects, including an elevated risk of erectile dysfunction (ED). However, the scientific research behind this link is mixed, with certain studies suggesting that cannabis reduces sexual performance and others the opposite.
For example, some studies show that erectile dysfunction is as much as two times more likely in men that use cannabis compared to men who don’t.
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 regular cannabis user experiencing erectile dysfunction, it might be time to consider other forms of therapy or recreation.
If you are a regular, it’s important to be aware of how it may affect your sexual functioning.
Let’s check out what science has to say about cannabis and erectile dysfunction.
What is erectile dysfunction and what causes it?
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 a sustained 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 and sex: The data.
Can smoking weed cause erectile dysfunction? Like with lots of other things related to cannabis consumption, the jury is currently out on whether frequency of cannabis use is associated with sexual issues.
Many cannabis users report feeling more interested in having sex after smoking cannabis or eating edibles. Some also report that they enjoy sexual encounters more when they feel stoned.
However, others report issues with sexual performance after smoking, including “weed dick” -- one of many terms for cannabis-related ED.
It’s important to keep in mind that most of the sex-related claims you hear about or read online regarding cannabis are anecdotal, meaning they shouldn’t be treated as proven side effects or benefits.
However, over the decades, several researchers have looked into cannabis's potential effects on sex, including the possible link between cannabis and erectile function.
Overall, research findings on cannabis and sex are mixed. For example, one study published in 2017 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that cannabis may be correlated with an increase in sexual desire.
The study, which used survey data from more than 50,000 men and women, found that use of cannabis was “independently associated with increased sexual frequency.”
The study also noted that cannabis use did not appear to impair sexual function in the men and women surveyed.
The researchers concluded that although the findings were reassuring, the effects of cannabis on sexual function “warrant further study.”
Other research has found that cannabis use may make sex more enjoyable for women. In one study published in Sexual Medicine in 2019, researchers found that women who reported using cannabis prior to sex reported increases in sex drive, improved orgasms, and less pain.
However, not all scientific findings about cannabis and sex are positive. Although the potential link between cannabis use and erectile dysfunction isn’t crystal clear, some research suggests that cannabis may have a negative effect on parts of the body responsible for erections.
Can weed cause erectile dysfunction?
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.
Before we get into specifics, let’s briefly explain how erections work. Healthy erections are, to a large extent, all about blood flow. When you feel aroused, blood flows to your penis, causing the erectile tissue to expand and become firmer.
After you reach orgasm and ejaculate, the same process occurs in reverse, causing you to lose your erection and enter your refractory period.
Several studies have found that cannabis use may affect your cardiovascular system, an issue that could affect blood flow to your penis and erectile function.
For example, cannabis contains many of the same substances as tobacco, which can pass into your body when it’s smoked. Many of these substances can harm your heart and lungs over the long term, potentially increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular health issues.
In the short term, cannabis can also cause an increase in systolic blood pressure. High blood pressure is linked to erectile dysfunction, meaning you may find it harder to get an erection after smoking cannabis.
Other research has found a more direct association between cannabis use and sexual function issues such as ED.
For example, in a 2011 review of study data, researchers stated that cannabis could stimulate certain receptors in the tissue of the penis, potentially contributing to erectile dysfunction while certain compounds are still active in the body.
Another study, published in 2010, found a link between cannabis use and difficulty achieving orgasm in men. Interestingly, cannabis use was also associated with elevated rates of PE, or premature ejaculation, in men who participated in the study.
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 regular 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. The writers of this study suggested that the dose was a factor in the inconsistencies between studies and likely 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 is dense with cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoids binding to these receptors 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 above covers nearly 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.
How does weed affect sex?
Research into other sexual effects of cannabis is limited right now, meaning we don’t yet have much data on how weed affects other aspects of sex.
However, a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, which used data from more than 200 online questionnaire participants, suggests that most people who use cannabis before sex have positive or neutral results.
According to the study, 38% of respondents said that sex was more enjoyable after using cannabis, while only 4.7% said it was worse. Participants reported feeling more sensitive to touch after using cannabis, having stronger orgasms and feeling more interested in sex.
However, it’s worth noting that some participants reported sexual performance issues, including difficulty reaching orgasm while under the influence of cannabis.
The bottom line on weed and your sex life.
Does weed cause ED? Can being high affect your erections and sexual function?
Both medical and recreational cannabis have only been legal for a short period of time. Because of this, research on cannabis's effects on male sexual performance is very limited, with only a few large-scale studies available from which to draw data.
There are plenty of gaps in scientific research on this topic, so it’s important to take it all with a grain of salt. You shouldn’t be retiring from your second favorite 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.
Right now, some studies indicate that cannabis can have positive effects on sexual enjoyment, while others suggest that it’s linked to erectile dysfunction and other sexual health issues.
On the whole, there just isn’t enough high quality scientific evidence available right now to give a firm, definitive conclusion on whether weed is good or bad for your sex life.
If you experience erectile dysfunction after using cannabis, it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider. You may be able to improve your sexual function by cutting back on cannabis prior to sex, taking days off from weed, or making other changes to your habits and daily lifestyle.
Interestingly, if you 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 libido-boosters such as Cordyceps, which is traditionally known as "Himalayan Viagra." 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.
Related Reading: Cannabis and Sex: How It Works For Your Sex Life and Against It
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